How a devastating natural disaster was discovered off the coast of California after 70 years
Working only with rumors and hunting, curiosity led him 3,000 feet below sea level. A few hours of research time and the automatic immersion of robotic mines have been hidden since the 1940s: countless barrels of toxic waste, infused with DDT, pollute the ocean floor between Long Beach and Catalina Island.
The fact that his underwater camera spotted a large number of rapidly decaying drums in the offshore, such as the desert, Valentine said, is proof that the number of barrels is likely to be enormous. Although the exact amount is not known, the historical account estimates that it may be about half a million.
After 70 years and more of inactivity, Valentine’s research has finally helped start a major research effort to reveal the magnitude of pollution.
But this offshore site has been part of the story of natural disasters since the DDT release off the coast of South California – a story that may not be shut down for decades to come because of its ongoing impact, including the recent alarming and unprecedented rate of cancer in state lions, four sea lions are infected.
History of DDT dumping
The chemical DDT was developed in 1939 and was used during World War II as an insecticide that helps protect the immune system from insect-borne diseases such as Malaria. After the war, chemical production intensified and began to be used in plant spraying, and even on dense beaches, to eliminate mosquito-like insects.
But in the 1960’s, DDT was found to be toxic. Over time, dietary intake combined with DDT builds up in the tissues of animals and even humans, leading to serious side effects. The EPA now calls it “possibly a human cancer.” In 1972, when the U.S. government Beginning to take the pollution seriously under laws such as the Clean Air Act, DDT was banned in the United States.
Unusual storm time forecast
The largest producer of DDT in the U.S., Montrose Chemical Corporation, was located off the coast of South California in the city of Torrance. From 1947 to 1982, Montrose produced and distributed DDT worldwide. In doing so, a combination of toxic mud products composed of petrochemicals, DDT and PCBs was incorporated.
For decades, that hazardous waste was disposed of in two ways. Some of the toxic wastes were dumped into the storm’s trenches and sewage system, which was then pumped out of the sea by pipelines, 2 miles off the coast of the town of Rancho Palos Verdes.
All the waste was dumped in bins and loaded on ships floating 10 to 15 miles offshore to dispose of landfill on Catalina Island and then dumped into the sea.
Although it may seem hard to believe, at least half of the landfill was legal. At the time, Valentine says, the idea was that the ocean was so large that it could not be reduced. The mantra “was a purification solution for pollution” – in retrospect a naïve view.
But while the garbage dump was very deep – in the 3,000-meter water – Valentine said shortcuts were taken, barrels were dumped heavily along the coast. Also, in an effort to make the barrels sink, there is evidence that many were removed, allowing the poison to leak, as they were thrown into the sea.
For decades, the existence of these toxic drums was predicted only by a very small group of scientists and regulators. This is in addition to a surprising report made in the 1980s by a California Regional Water Quality Board Board scientist Allan Chartrand, who suggested that there may be 500,000 barrels loaded with DDT sitting on the seabed.
This report was largely ignored. But almost 30 years later, Valentine dusted off as he began his quest to see if the drums were there.
The area in the river is toxic
Unlike the deep water dumps, the shallow area – called the Palos Verdes Shelf – two miles from the beaches of Rancho Palos Verdes was well known and documented. In 1996, the site was declared an EPA as the Superfund cleanup site, now consisting of 34 square miles [34 sq km]. Montrose was also sued after a lengthy legal battle that ended in the late 2000’s with companies involved, including Montrose, paying $ 140 million.
Over the past two decades, most of this money has been spent on a program called the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program (MSRP) to try to rehabilitate polluted areas. Part of this funding was allocated to the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to rehabilitate the toxic environment.
DDT enters the food chain when eaten from the oceans damaged by small marine creatures, then eaten by small fish, and then eaten by large fish and marine animals, such as sea lions. Over time DDT forms in the tissues and blubber of marine animals, a process called bioaccumulation. To this day, signatures throughout the South California coast warn fishermen not to eat certain fish. Without this, you can’t get DDT contamination by swimming in water.