David Valentine, a marine scientist at the University of California, has discovered barrels of DDT on the ocean floor just 10 miles off the coast of Southern California. Valentine had long suspected the presence of toxic contamination in this area, but his attempts to get help from government agencies have been futile. However, his recent discovery has government institutions and leaders showing interest.
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DDT was discovered in 1939 and widely used as a pesticide until the 1960s, when it was found to be toxic. It was established that eating foods contaminated with DDT leads the substance to build in human tissue, resulting in negative long-term effects. The chemical was banned in the United States in 1972.
To the shock of many, some of the barrels discovered were buried in the ocean under government approval. Montrose Chemical Corporation, the largest company producing DDT in the U.S. in the 1940s to 1980s, was allowed to dump some of its waste into storm drains while the rest of the waste was loaded into barrels and sent off into the ocean, close to Catalina Island.
Valentine’s discovery is not the first finding of DDT dumped in the ocean. In 1996, a shallow toxic site just 2 miles from the Rancho Palos Verde beaches was discovered. Montrose Chemical Corporation was sued and settled for a $140 million fine. Some of the money was given to the EPA and NOAA to rehabilitate the region.
While Valentine and his team have only researched a small area so far, they have managed to capture video of the leaking barrels and have spotted 60 barrels in a short time span. Samples collected from the ocean floor have registered as having high contamination, with one containing 40 times more toxicity than the most contaminated sample from the 1996 discovery.
While the contamination does not pose any risk to humans swimming in the water, it has an effect on the health of marine life. The Marine Mammal Center in California has published a 30-year-old study indicating that 25% of sea lions suffer from cancer. DDT is believed to be the culprit.
Images via Environmental Science & Technology and Sabrina Eickhoff