LOS ANGELES - New research from the EPA shows a massive toxic dump site off our coast may actually be even bigger than originally thought.
For decades, starting in the 1930s and 1940s, chemical corporations dumped tens of thousands of barrels of the insecticide DDT between Catalina Island and the Los Angeles coast.
"This is a long term story with DDT basically being banned from being manufactured in the United States way back in 1972. The big focus on DDT and the problems posed by DDT has really been right off the Palos Verdes shelf, the Palos Verdes coast. There really hasn't been much of a focus on the deeper waters, but about 2700 feet deep between Catalina and Palos Verdes, where there was a dump site," said Mark Gold, who is currently Gov. Gavin Newsom's Deputy Secretary for Coastal and Ocean Policy.
He explained there are 14 dump sites in Southern California, this being one of the ones that got most of the DDT.
"That was just not an area that had most of the research and science and assessment that was going on. It was part of this long term litigation against the manufacture of DDT, the Montrose Chemical Company. And so now that focus has changed due to research… and the end result now has been a huge focus by the federal government, EPA as well as the state of California, to better understand the scope and scale of that problem," he said.
How much more DDT are we talking about, and what are the implications for us human beings as well as the marine life?
"I think we have worked with Montrose Chemical on cleaning up their actual plant up in Torrance since the late 80s. So we have a good understanding of the volume of DDT produced across over 1 million gallons of acid waste over the years. Some of it went initially to the coast, then they started to refine it to get more product out of it in the 60s, and they started dumping it inland after that and approved dumpsites. But our more recent research, we talk about how much is out there, what we've done, and looking at the records and talking to folks who we deposed during court case that Mark referred to back in the 90s, we talked to folks that actually operated the plant in the 40s, 50s, and 60s," said John Chesnutt, who has been leading the EPA's technical team on the investigation.
The important takeaway that came from the research, Chesnutt said, is that they now believe Montrose actually did not dump the waste in the drums.
"They actually dumped it in bulk, meaning they pulled the waste from the facility in big tanks, had it put into tanker trucks, put it into barges and went out there and let it dribble out. And so we did know these sites for use by a lot of other companies."
Chesnutt added that the challenge rather is to invest in putting a strategy together.
A year of data along the coast has deemed the water safe to swim, surf, and fish, Chesnutt said. But some advisories have been issued by the state warning of certain fish to eat in moderation.
"There's a wide variety of fish that you should be concerned about, and it really covers most of Los Angeles County. You know, some fish, especially if you're a woman of childbearing age, that you really want to stay away from. And what this is definitely showing beyond that in the study, this sort of work that's been going on since the settlement occurred 20 years ago plus, is that we're also seeing impacts to marine life, especially marine mammals. And now we're finding out condors that are far more severe than we had thought. The body burden of the amount of DDT that they've been seeing and the impacts are just beyond what would have been expected if we didn't have this scope and scale of dumping in he deep area," he said.
With this discovery, one may be wondering if there is a possibility of a cover-up.
"These actions were actually permitted waste sites. For the most part, these not just one, but these 14 sites. Industry was permitted actually to go ahead and dump out there. Of course, there's a completely different environmental ethic at the time. But we came into the know on that and realizes the ocean is way more connected to our how we're basically how these can have this could impact the food web impact humans and also. But so that is interesting in that these things were allowed to happen in that day. But now we know better and a lot more controls over preventing things like this happening in the future. But we have a lot of work to do and a lot of things we don't know about these dump sites," he added.