Push for DDT waste cleanup gaining support

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Pictured is one of the waste containers from AUV and ROV photo-surveys by Dr. David Valentine and his team from 2011 to 2013. Photo courtesy of David Valentine UC Santa Barbara / ROV Jason

Momentum is building to put pressure on Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency to address the recent documentation of an estimated 27,000 barrels of DDT toxic waste that was dumped into the ocean between the end of World War II and the early 1970s. 

California State Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell authored a Joint Resolution that states that the rediscovered DDT dump site represents a significant threat to the marine life and all animals in the food chain that depend on that marine life. It also states that the economy of the Catalina Island and California also depends on the safety of those who experience the water.

“It is incumbent upon both the state and federal government to ensure these precious natural resources are preserved for future generations and protected from further damage by past ecological mistakes,” the resolution reads. 

O’Donnell’s resolution passed unanimously out of committee and was then passed in a full Assembly Floor vote with 70 yes votes and zero no votes. 

“The vote by the Board of Supervisors shows our efforts to educate elected officials and the public about the DDT in our local waters is working. I thank them for their support, and look forward to continuing the fight to clean up our oceans as AJR 2 moves through the State Senate,” O’Donnell said.

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors recently approved a motion by Supervisor Janice Hahn that urges the Board’s support of the resolution authored by O’Donnell. In October of 2020, the Los Angeles Times published an investigative report that outlined how tons of DDT waste were dumped into the ocean near Catalina Island. 

“We now have confirmation that there are at least 27,000 barrels of illegally dumped barrels of DDT off our coast,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “This is appalling and those responsible for this need to be held accountable. We need the EPA to step in to assess the damage this dumpsite has wreaked on the local ecosystem and expedite the necessary cleanup.”

From 1947 to 1983, Montrose Chemical Corporation, was the nation’s largest manufacturer of DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). 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. That clean-up is still ongoing, according to Hahn’s office.

But the extent of the deep see dumping of barrels was unknown until more recent findings, starting around 2011, when about 60 barrels were located. A recent mapping of the ocean floor, about 3,000 feet deep, showed the estimated 27,000 barrels. High levels of toxic waste has been found in the sea floor. 

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the motion by Supervisor Hahn. It does two things:

• Directs the County’s Sacramento Advocates to support Assembly Joint Resolution 2 introduced by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell

• Sends a letter, signed by the Board of Supervisors, to EPA Administrator Michael Regan urging the EPA to assess the DDT damage off the coast of Catalina Island and to expedite cleanup of the extensive dumpsite.

Former Avalon City Manager David Jinkens, now retired and living in Lake Tahoe, also has reached out, sending a letter to California Senators Diane Feinstein and Alex Padilla, as well as Congressman Alan Lowenthal, who represents Long Beach area and Avalon. Jinkens’ letter urges the representatives to ensure that the chemicals are removed at all costs and that analysis be done to determine the parties that are responsible and to hold them accountable. He called the damage to the environment and life in the sea, tragic.

“My reason for writing the letter to Senator Feinstein, Senator Padilla, and Representative Lowenthal is because the dumping of toxic materials in the channel is a thoughtless and corrupt action that deserves immediate resolution and an examination of who perpetrated this crime,” Jinkens said in an email statement to the Islander. “Businesses large and small are no friends of any of us if they destroy our environment and do not look out for our health and welfare. I am glad to see immediate action being taken by Senator Feinstein, Representative Lowenthal and Supervisor Hahn to correct this mess. All Californians should be appalled at this discovery and demand an immediate remedy.”

Push for DDT waste cleanup gaining support