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Marine life at Catalina Island, near where discarded barrels of DDT were found on the ocean floor during earlier research. Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Marine scientists announced Monday they've uncovered at a former industrial waste site off the Southern California coast some 25,000 barrels that their research indicates contain the toxic chemical DDT.

Why it matters: Scientists had previously detected in the area near Santa Catalina Island "high levels of DDT in marine mammals including dolphins and sea lions," with exposure to DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, per a statement from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.
  • These long-banned chemicals have been linked to cancer in sea lions.
  • Lihini Aluwihare, who co-authored a 2015 study finding high levels of DDT and other man-made chemicals in the blubber of dead Bottlenose Dolphins, noted in a statement, "These results also raise questions about the continued exposure and potential impacts on marine mammal health, especially in light of how DDT has been shown to have multi-generational impacts in humans."

Driving the news: Expedition chief scientist Eric Terrill, who's also director of the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps, said in a statement "the basin offshore Los Angeles had been a dumping ground for industrial waste for several decades, beginning in the 1930s."

  • The Los Angeles Times reported last year that shipping logs from a disposal company Montrose Chemical Corp., a Californian DDT-producing firm, indicated that 2,000 barrels of sludge containing the chemical had potentially been dumped each month from 1947 to 1961 into a designated dumpsite.
  • Other logs show many other industrial companies in Southern California "used this basin as a dumping ground until 1972, when the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, was enacted," Scripps notes in its report.

What they did: From March 10-24, a research team led by Scripps in collaboration with NOAA mapped more than 36,000 acres of seafloor known to contain high levels of DDT between Santa Catalina Island and the Los Angeles coast.

  • The scientists used sonar technology to capture high-resolution images of the barrels at depths of 3,000 feet.

Of note: Terrill told the L.A. Times he believed researchers could have found even more evidence if they'd extended the expedition period.

  • "I was pretty shocked that it just kept extending as far as it did," he said. "We couldn’t keep up with the flow of data coming in."
  • Terrill shared the team's research findings in a briefing to Congress Monday.

What to watch: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who led the briefing, will ask the Justice Department to "look into companies that may have illegally dumped waste into the ocean and whether they can be held accountable," per the L.A. Times.

  • Terrill said in his statement that scientists are "hopeful the data will inform the development of strategies to address potential impacts from the dumping."
  • University at Buffalo chemistry professor Diana Aga, who wasn't involved in the study, told AP if the barrels are proven to contain DDT but have no leakage, they could be relocated to a safer disposal site.
  • Researchers could take samples from the area to assess damage if they have leaked, Aga added.

Threat level: Up to "half a million barrels could still be underwater," per the L.A. Times, citing old records and a 2019 UC Santa Barbara study.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

FDA authorizes mix-and-match for COVID booster shots

Photo: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) on Wednesday gave its approval for Americans to get booster shots that are different from the COVID vaccine they initially received.

Why it matters: The recommendation from the FDA, which also authorized booster shots for people who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines on Wednesday, paves the way for an expansion of booster shots.

GOP congressman forfeits committee seats after indictment

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) on Wednesday stepped down from his committee assignments after being indicted for lying to federal investigators amid a probe into illegal campaign donations.

What they're saying: In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Fortenberry said he is "grateful for the outpouring of support from my friends and colleagues as we work against the injustice confronting me."

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.