By Ted Apodaca
At its June 1 meeting, the Avalon City Council got a briefing from the UC Santa Barbara who led the team that first located some of the barrels of DDT waste that were dumped in the San Pedro basin in the mid 20th century. UC Santa Barbara scientist, Dr. David Valentine, met with the council via an online pr
Valentine led the 2011 expedition that first located some of the barrels and collected samples of the soil around them.
Those samples were found to have high levels of toxic chemicals related to the dumped barrels.
Valentine said there are still many unknowns about the impact of the chemicals, but work is being done to determine the extent.
Largely, the concern is the overall impact of to the ecosystem.
“Most importantly has, or is that material working its way into animals,” Valentine said.
Decades ago it was determined that the impact created shell softening of some birds on Catalina Island, including the Bald Eagle, leading to its near disappearance from the island.
With help, the birds have made a comeback.
As the toxins work their way through the food chain, potentially, there could be more of an impact on humans.
However, Valentine noted that the depth of the dumpsite, creates a kind of bathtub effect, where the toxins settle down where few animals live or hunt for food.
Valentine said that most of the animals with significant DDT exposure were bottom-dwelling.
He said there is not much concern of DDT in fish that are consumed by people.
However, he noted there could be a long-term route for the toxins to work their way to more of an impact on people.
The toxins from DDT production do not dissolve in water and are fat soluble and been found to store in fat cells of animals.
From 1947 to 1983, Montrose Chemical Corporation, was the nation’s largest manufacturer of DDT.
Their plant was located in the Del Amo community near Torrance.
The chemical waste from the production was dumped into the ocean through sewer lines, as well as off shore in barrels off barges.
A lawsuit and settlement led to the cleanup of the area off the shores of Palos Verdes, known as the Palos Verdes Shelf.
The dump site is several miles off the shores of Catalina and at a depth of about 3,000 feet. Catalina waters are regularly tested by organizations such as Heal the Bay, which gave the Avalon beaches straight A grades in summer dry conditions in its 2020 report.
However, those tests don’t generally test for things like DDT waste, but more for bacteria and sewage-type waste products.
Councilmember Lisa Lavelle asked Valentine about the impact of the chemicals on water activities, such as swimming, surfing or other water sports.
Valentine said that the chemicals will not absorb into skin and that there is not a lot of concern about any negative impact on usual water activities.
He said the primary concern now is tracking the transmission through the ecosystem and into animals.
“The short answer is that there is no concern for swimming, boating, scuba diving, surfing or any of these things,” Valentine said.
State Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell authored Assembly Joint Resolution 2 (AJR 2), which calls on Congress and the United States Environmental Protection Agency to take action on the DDT waste dump site off the north coast of Catalina Island. O’Donnell has been pushing the bill with support from several other local officials, to assess and address the issue.
“This is truly devastating to our fragile ecosystems,” O,Donnell said recently on the house floor.