There may be a lot of DDT sitting at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Marine scientists at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography just discovered approximately 25,000 barrels potentially containing the toxic chemical near Catalina Island in southern California.
The researchers already had suspicions that this region was used as an underwater toxic waste site between World War II and 1972, when the Ocean Dumping Act was enacted, but the exact location and extent was unknown until now. Based on the wide-area map created of the barrels using underwater drones and sonar technology, scientists estimate that 320 and 640 tons of DDT were dumped into the sea, though sediment sampling is still necessary to confirm the contents of the containers.
The environmental impact of this dumping is not yet known, but DDT is known to have multi-generational impacts in humans, raising concerns about the health of marine animals in the region. Scientists have already found high amounts of DDT in bottlenose dolphins’ blubber. It has also been linked to cancer in sea lions.
The researchers hope this survey will help rally support for cleanup efforts. If researchers determine that the barrels have not leaked any DDT, they will be moved somewhere for disposal. If they have leaked, scientists will have to take samples from the water, sediment and marine mammals to gain a better understanding of the extent of the damage.