Story at a glance

  • New research identified more than 27,000 possible barrels of DDT in ocean sediment.
  • DDT was widely used as an insecticide up until the 1970s.
  • Large-scale industrial dumping took place in ocean waters.

New research from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California identified a potential dump site for the chemical dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT).

Mapping more than 36,000 acres of seafloor between Santa Catalina Island and the Los Angeles coast, scientists found more than 27,000 individual targets that likely had an excess of 100,000 debris objects on the seafloor.

This area was previously known to have abnormally high levels of DDT in its sediments. DDT was commonly used as a pesticide up until regulatory agencies began restricting its use in the 1970s. 

Scientific literature suggests that long-term exposure to DDT can possibly result in cancer. Other effects include vomiting, tremors and shakiness, and seizures. 


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Still, build up from decades of industrial dumping linger, harming the surrounding flora and fauna. New research from Scripps confirms the presence of harmful chemical compounds at the bottom of the sea. 

“Unfortunately, the basin offshore Los Angeles had 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,” said Eric Terrill, chief scientist of the expedition and director of the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Now that we’ve mapped this area at very high resolution, we are hopeful the data will inform the development of strategies to address potential impacts from the dumping.”

The targets identified on the seafloor that are likely barrels of DDT gave off stronger levels of brightness when surveyed with Scripps’s underwater technology. 

Patterns began to emerge while researchers scanned for DDT-laced sludge, which offer clues as to how the chemicals were dumped offshore.

“There are several distinct track-line patterns in the surveyed area, suggesting that the dumping was repeatedly done from an underway platform such as a moving ship or barge. Some of those lines are as long as 11 miles and approach state waters," Terrill said. 

Newly tracked barrels extend further than researchers previously expected.

The identification of continued large volumes of DDT sediments prompts new questions.

“How this vast quantity of DDT in sediments has been transformed by seafloor communities over time, and the pathways by which DDT and its degraded products enter the water column food web are questions that remain to be explored,” added Scripps chemical oceanographer and professor of geosciences Lihini Aluwihare. 


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Published on Apr 27, 2021