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Lawmakers Warned of Potential Widespread Effects of DDT Dump Site

Scientists recommend to a House committee that a DDT dumping ground in California should be investigated. The insecticide is killing marine life and birds and could continue to harm marine ecosystems and human health.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Off the coast of California, 3,000 feet under the ocean, lies a massive DDT waste site that was only discovered last year. But, next to nothing is known about the 100,000 pieces of debris and 27,000 barrel-like objects that were dumped there decades ago — and its effects may be more severe than we think. 

In a House Natural Resource Committee hearing on Tuesday, scientists told lawmakers that a thorough and organized scientific assessment of the dump site is needed to understand the environmental and health impacts. 

“We are only at the beginning of understanding the severity of this situation,” said Representative Jared Huffman of California, the chairman of the committee. “We don’t know the full extent of this dumping or what all of the impacts are to marine life, ecosystems or even human health.”

Evidence of the deadly effects of the infamous insecticide DDT is already scattered throughout coastal California.
High concentrations of DDT and other toxic chemicals have been found in the blubber of bottlenose dolphins that died of natural causes, one in four adult male California sea lions have a cancer associated with high concentrations of the insecticide, and California condors — which are critically endangered — are experiencing reproductive problems due to eating fish contaminated with DDT.

“There is unfinished business at this dump site,” said Lihini I. Aluwihare, a chemical oceanographer and professor of geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. The institute has been researching the site after its discovery, including mapping and counting barrels.

To find out how to minimize risk from the site and potentially clean it up, Aluwihare says a large-scale investigation needs to be undertaken to understand the size, conditions and contents of the dumping ground, how the DDT is transformed and transported and what effects the waste has on ecosystems and human health.

It will cost about $10-$20 million in the first year or two, estimated California Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld.

“And that’s just for the next phase of investigation,” Blumenfeld said. “That pales in comparison to the potential actual cleanup costs. There’s a huge expense of doing anything 3,000 feet under the water.”

DDT and other chemical contaminants with similar properties have been banned for decades, but they don’t easily degrade and they transport through the food web — so humans won’t be exposed to DDT from playing at the beach, but they could be exposed from eating seafood.

“The work required to answer such questions is complicated and challenging but urgent,” said Eunha Hoh, professor of environmental health at San Diego State University. “We believe that a multidisciplinary research team with 21st-century technology is essential for the investigation.”

And, California is likely not the only place with staggeringly large toxic waste sites. 

“I wish that it was the worst we are going to see, but unfortunately believe that it is the tip of the iceberg,” Blumenfeld said. “I anticipate that the more we look, the more we will find.”

Categories / Environment, Government, Health

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