Barrels of Pure DDT Found Buried Off Coast of Los Angeles

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Need to Know from SafeWise
  • Scientists discovered thousands of barrels of leaking DDT on the floor of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Los Angeles.
  • DDT is a pesticide, banned in the U.S. since 1972, that poisons wildlife and environments and causes harm to humans.
  • High levels of the banned pesticide can cause cancer in humans and animals.
  • While DDT barrels are only off the coast of Los Angeles now, other forever chemicals can be found in water sources around the U.S.

A chemical dumping ground containing possibly tens of thousands of barrels of toxic chemical waste was discovered on Thursday, March 23, off the coast of Los Angeles. The primary chemical found was DDT, an insecticide harmful to humans at high doses.

DDT was used as an agricultural and household insecticide in the 1940s and to prevent the spread of illness in soldiers overseas during World War II. However, Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring found that DDT and other pesticides poisoned environments and harm humans. This research led to a ban on DDT, launching the anti-pesticide and anti-chemical movements in the U.S.

DDT is still used in other parts of the world to reduce the impact of malaria.

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Scientist David Valentine, a biology and earth science professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been leading the research into the dumped barrels. He found that DDT has ended up all over the coast of Los Angeles and is not breaking down. Currently, the dumping area is larger than the size of San Francisco.

But now the dumped drums are disintegrating, meaning the DDT will go into the environment and food web next. It has the potential to cause harm to animals and marine life.

The harmful effects of DDT on adults and children

Since DDT was only banned 50 years ago, there’s a lot we don’t know about the long-term effects of the chemical. However, high dosage exposure does cause harm to people and animals

“Long-term studies show that women that had high levels of detectable DDT had daughters [and granddaughters] who had problems with obesity and breast cancer,” Dr. Suman Radhakrishna from Dignity Health-California Hospital told CBS Los Angeles. “Their sons ended up with an increased risk of testicular cancer [and other cancers too].” 

We know that the chemical impacts animals too, as sea lions have a high rate of cancer—about 25%—thought to be an effect of DDT. The disintegrating DDT barrels are a concern for public health because plants, animals, and whole ecosystems in the ocean are exposed. 

DDT can contaminate drinking water, but scientists say humans cannot get DDT contamination from swimming or surfing. Right now, the primary concern is how the substance is affecting animals and the ocean ecosystem. 

However, the CDC notes “exposure to DDT in people likely occurs from eating foods, including fish,” and many people fish in the waters of Los Angeles.

How to know if your area is impacted by DDT waste

The dumping of pure DDT and DDT waste appears to have been exclusively off the coast of California. Montrose Chemical Corporation of California, a leading manufacturer of DDT, is suspected to be behind the dumping in Los Angeles near Catalina Island. 

Mark Gold, an environmental scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Los Angeles Times, “our nation’s ocean dumpsites all have horrible contamination problems. And yet they are unmonitored.”

While DDT does not impact many people right now, harmful chemicals like PFAS are also linked to health issues. Contamination levels vary across the country. However, most PFAS contaminations in the U.S. are in Alabama, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Carolina.

Alex Kerai
Written by
Alex Kerai
Alex began writing for student newspapers and has managed to turn that into a career. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he wrote about small businesses for Biz2Credit and Before that, he spent time in communications for higher education institutions, created marketing materials for nonprofits, and worked for entertainment companies in Los Angeles. Today, he reports on emerging consumer trends and his work can be seen on The Penny Hoarder, SafeWise,,,,,,, and When he's not writing, Alex watches too much TV, plays guitar, reads and writes fiction, and goes on nature walks.

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