Scientist: Extent of DDT dumping in Pacific is 'staggering'

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UC Santa Barbara / RV Jason

In this 2011 image provided by the University of California Santa Barbara, a barrel sits on the seafloor near the coast of Catalina Island, Calif. Marine scientists say they have found what they believe to be as many as 25,000 barrels that possibly contain DDT dumped off the Southern California coast near Catalina Island. (David Valentine/UC Santa Barbara / RV Jason via AP)

SAN DIEGO – Marine scientists say they have found what they believe to be more than 25,000 barrels that possibly contain DDT dumped off the Southern California coast near Catalina Island, where a massive underwater toxic waste site dating back to World War II has long been suspected.

The 27,345 “barrel-like" objects were captured in high-resolution images as part of a study by researchers at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They mapped more than 56 square miles (145 square kilometers) of seafloor between Santa Catalina Island and the Los Angeles coast in a region previously found to contain high levels of the toxic chemical in sediments and in the ecosystem.

Historical shipping logs show that industrial companies in Southern California used the basin as a dumping ground until 1972, when the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, was enacted.

Disposing of industrial, military, nuclear and other hazardous waste was a pervasive global practice in the 20th century, according to researchers.

Resting deep in the ocean, the exact location and extent of the dumping was not known until now.

The territory covered was “staggering,” said Eric Terrill, chief scientist of the expedition and director of the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Underwater drones using sonar technology captured the images of barrels resting 3,000 feet (900 meters) below the surface all along the steep seafloor that was surveyed.

“It really was a surprise to everybody who's worked with the data and who sailed at sea,” Terrill told reporters Monday.