It’s been at least a decade since the last time barrels of carcinogenic waste was found at the bottom of the ocean. Back in 2011, at least 60 barrels of toxic pesticide DDT were dumped off the Los Angeles coast. But during the end of April 2021, marine scientists have found more than 27,000 barrels of DDT, caught by new technology that discovered just how huge the size of the dumping ground actually is compared to what they originally thought.
The site by Catalina Island has long been under observation as a huge underwater toxic waste zone dating all the way back to World War II, but it was only around 10 years ago when scientists got their proof. UC Santa Barbara professor Dr. David Valentine had spotted the original 60 barrels using an underwater camera at that time.
Back in the day, DDT was considered one of the best pesticides after it managed to save crops and fight off malaria. But by 1972, the United States found links with the use of DDT to cancer, while threatening wildlife too, making them ban it’s use all throughout the country.
The biggest producer of DDT in the United States was the company Montrose Chemical Corp, which happened to be stationed on the Los Angeles and Torrance border. And reportedly, they dumped tons of waste between the 1940s to 1970s.
Then in 1990, a $140 million legal battle ensued that actually exposed what had happened, along with another three companies that had also been exposed for their toxic waste disposal, which was done via sewage pipes that led out to sea.
Apparently, regulators claimed that barrels were punctured on purpose back in the 1980s because they were too buoyant and refused to sink. The holes allowed the toxic chemicals to flow into the ocean waters that were filled with a variety of marine life.
Researchers from the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who were on board the Sally Ride research vessel, took at least 27,345 ‘barrel-like’ photos in total, showing how a number of the barrels were leaking and corroding. This was possible due to new technology and the latest in high-tech autonomous vehicles that had spotted all the thousands of discarded and dumped toxic waste barrels as they roamed over the ocean floor.
What researchers fear is that there could actually be a few hundred thousand barrels in total, considering they had found over 100,000 total objects during their search. They also shared that the barrels were found in an area that covered almost double the size of Manhattan off the South Catalina Island coast. It is also said to be home to various endemic species that actually exist there but not anywhere else in the world.
Over the years, DDT has been discovered in dolphins, and has since been linked to aggressive cancer in at least 25% of sea lions. It has also been found in the food chain as it endangers se birds while creating reproductive issues in bald eagles as it supposedly causes their egg shells to easily break.
Aside from DDT being linked to cancers in animals, it also associated with common diseases among humans, alongside ‘mass die-off events in the natural world.’
According to chief scientist of the expedition and director of the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Eric Terrill, explained in a statement, “Unfortunately, the basin offshore Los Angeles has been a dumping ground for industrial waste for several decades, beginning in the 1930s. We found an extensive debris field in the wide area survey.”
A report in the Los Angeles Times shares that it was the disposal company Montrose Chemical Corp of California that was implicated, a company that created and distributed DDT. They were involved in the dumping of around 2,000 barrels of DDT-laced sludge in a designated dumpsite every month from the years 1947 to 1961.
Meanwhile, more logs that came from other entities indicated that there were other Southern California industrial concerns that also used the basin as a dumping ground all the way until 1972, at least until the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act was passed that same year.
Unfortunately, the long-term effects on both marine life and humans are still unknown. In fact, chemical oceanographer and professor of geosciences Lihini Aluwihare also co-authored a 2015 study that looked at DDT and the way it affected blubber of bottlenose dolphins, as well as cancer forming in sea lions.
Aluwihare also explained, “These results also raise questions about the continued exposure and potential impacts on marine mammal health, especially in light of how DDT has been shown to have multi-generational impacts in humans.”
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