Advocates, lawmakers demand response to ocean dumps

June 09, 2021

House lawmakers are expressing concern about chemicals dumped offshore and are seeking legislative and regulatory solutions.

During a subcommittee hearing yesterday on legacy DDT dumping off the coast of Southern California, House Natural Resources Committee members queried local officials and experts on the extent of the damage and potential solutions.

Held on World Oceans Day, the hearing highlighted the limitations that regulators at the local and state levels have faced in addressing legacy contamination.

Ocean dumping was banned many years ago, but lingering toxic material remains a major concern for coastal communities and wildlife.

"The truth is, we don't yet know the full extent of this dumping, or what the impacts are," said Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife Chairman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

The hearing came about in response to emerging research around DDT in the ocean. Earlier this year, scientists reported that they had identified around 25,000 barrels off California's coast that might contain DDT (Greenwire, April 27).

Much of that historic waste is linked to Montrose Chemical Corp., which operated in California and was the largest producer of DDT in the United States for many years.

Montrose dumped barrels of the insecticide off the coast of Los Angeles, an improper disposal of chemical waste that has led to long-term ocean damage.

The company's former plant in LA has also been designated as a Superfund site by EPA because of the toxic contamination.

'Global implications'

States and local governments are hopeful that federal regulators and lawmakers will take action on issues around legacy ocean contamination.

The situation is particularly stark for residents of Santa Catalina island, which is in close proximity to the legacy DDT dumping.

Michael Parmer, assistant city manager for the island's city of Avalon, Calif., told lawmakers he wanted to "express our strong support for all necessary measures" to aid his community.

Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.) similarly emphasized the need for agencies like EPA and NOAA to become more involved in the issue, while also pushing for more information about costs.

"[Is there] any indication of the cost of a cleanup of the type we're contemplating here?" Bentz asked Jared Blumenfeld, California's environmental protection secretary.

Blumenfeld said he could not offer many specifics, but that some $10 million to $20 million might be needed for investigation work alone, with much more involved for actual cleanup costs.

Subject matter experts testified yesterday about alarming test results showing DDT traces in marine and land animals.

"It is critically important to reassess the DDT pollution in the Southern California marine environment," said Eunha Hoh, a professor with San Diego State University's School of Public Health, who noted research showing DDT pollution and degradation appearing in animals around the area.

Lihini Aluwihare, a professor and chemical oceanographer with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, also emphasized the need for ocean mapping and monitoring of animals.

She added that the nature of animal travel through the ocean, as well as through the air, extends the problem far beyond any one area. "To be clear, while this dump site is off the California coast, it has global implications," Aluwihare said.

Beyond Calif.

Subcommittee staffers also said that despite the emphasis on California, they anticipate lawmakers will continue to push on the issue with an eye toward action with more national implications. The Gulf Coast, for example, has also seen notable chemical dumping with health and environmental impacts.

Challenges remain, however, given the remote locations where ocean dumping has occurred. Blumenfeld noted that the depths of the ocean are an "incredibly complex place to investigate anything" and that the sea is a "very tough environment" for research and remediation.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) said the contamination is posing immediate issues for areas like Avalon. That area is suffering from a lack of tourism because of the pandemic, and concerns stemming from DDT are compounding the economic woes.

"We see this shameful legacy of industrial pollution," Lowenthal said, pushing for a new settlement or Superfund site designation that could help Santa Catalina.

Parmer said his community has a "strong environmental philosophy" and remains "troubled and very concerned" about the DDT. He expressed hope that any future actions would help sustain the island's fragile ecosystems and bring some relief to its inhabitants.

House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) yesterday introduced broad ocean conservation legislation also to coincide with World Oceans Day (E&E News PM, June 8).


By:  E. A. Crunden
Source: E&E News