Scientists at UCSB discovered what they estimate to be hundreds of thousands of industrial waste barrels in varying states of decay on the ocean floor near Catalina Island, about 22 miles off the California coast.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Commerce Department this week to prioritize cleaning up the barrels of DDT and other toxic chemicals dumped from 1947 to 1961, some of which appear to be leaking.
The Commerce Department oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
At the request of the NOAA, along with Sen. Feinstein and UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography with assistance from the Department of Defense, UCSB and other partners launched a mission to map 50,000 acres of the ocean floor near Catalina Island.
The mission will map the precise location, condition and number of barrels containing DDT waste dumped by the Montrose Corporation, and the effort began on Thursday.
From 1947 to 1983, Montrose was the nation’s largest manufacturer of DDT and despite the 1972 ban on DDT, continued to produce it for the next decade and dispose of it in the ocean. In 1989, EPA added the Montrose Chemical site to the Superfund National Priorities List, and its investigation of the coastal waters revealed that DDT and PCB-laced contaminated sewage created a serious public health risk.
In Sen. Feinstein’s letter to the agencies, she pointed out that a settlement between federal and state agencies and several chemical companies was reached to help fund the cleanup of DDT contamination of the off-shore site known as the Palo Verdes shelf, but after two decades of studies and monitoring, the cleanup is still not complete.
“I know this is a complex undertaking, however I am dismayed at the slow progress despite tens of millions of dollars spent on cleanup over the last two decades,” she wrote.
The senator added in her letter that some areas off Catalina Island have recorded concentrations of DDT at rates 40 times higher than the highest level of contamination at Palos Verdes.
“It is scientifically established that DDT, PCB and other industrial waste are serious threats to wildlife and human health,” she wrote. “DDT pollution has been linked to increased cancer rates among California sea lions and is a known cancer risk to humans.”