Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Monday that toxic chemical DDT waste barrels that were dumped near Santa Catalina Island decades ago are impacting marine life and could be a public health hazard.
A deep-sea mission to map the number of DDT waste barrels that were dumped has found more than 27,000 containers spread over the sea floor. Sonar imaging shows vast trails of debris extending across an area the size of San Francisco.
The findings come after The Los Angeles Times reported last fall that the nation's largest DDT manufacturer once dumped its waste into the deep ocean.
“The expedition's findings confirm fears that a large number of barrels containing DDT-laced industrial waste were dumped off the coast of California and are now impacting marine life and potentially public health,” said Feinstein, D-Calif.
“This expedition looked at just one of more than 10 total dump sites,” she said. “Within the 36,000 acres examined, more than 25,000 barrels were identified, with tens of thousands of additional debris objects that could be more barrels. This is a massive and potentially very dangerous problem.”
Feinstein released the statement after participating in a briefing with UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and scientists from UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State University. The briefing reviewed findings from a sea floor mapping expedition led by Scripps and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration of a DDT dumping site 12 miles off the coast of California.
The site is between Santa Catalina Island and the Los Angeles coast in a region previously found to contain high levels of the toxic chemical DDT in sediment and the ecosystem.
“Simply put, this is one of the biggest environmental threats on the West Coast,” the senator said. “It's also one of the most challenging because these barrels are 3,000 feet below the ocean's surface and there aren't many records of who did the dumping, where exactly it occurred or how many barrels were dumped.”
Feinstein said the information gathered by scientists on the research vessel Sally Ride “is critical to finding a solution to this serious problem. But it's just a first step, and I will be following up to ensure that additional research is conducted to determine the best way to address the problem.”
The purpose of the expedition was to determine exactly how many barrels containing DDT were dumped on the sea floor and their precise locations in the target area. The survey on the Sally Ride, one of the most technologically advanced vessels in the U.S. Academic Research Fleet, identified more than 25,000 barrels and more than 100,000 total debris objects on the sea floor in the target area.
“I'm grateful to Scripps, NOAA and their partners for conducting this expedition and then briefing the California delegation today about the seriousness of this issue,” Feinstein said. “It's going to take a whole-of-government approach to solve a problem of this scale.”