Padilla, Carbajal Lead Bipartisan Call for Long-Term Funding to Research DDT Impacts on Southern California Oceans

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Representative Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.-24) led 22 California lawmakers in calling on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to include robust, long-term funding for research on the harmful impacts of the dumping of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and its associated chemicals in the ocean waters off the coast of Southern California. Specifically, the bipartisan, bicameral letter urges OMB to request specific funding for DDT surveying and remediation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the President’s forthcoming FY 2025 Budget Request.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, millions of gallons of DDT manufacturing waste was dumped from barges directly into the ocean waters off the coast of Southern California. Originally developed as an insecticide during World War II, DDT was banned in 1972 due to adverse effects on the environment, wildlife, and human health.

Since the discovery of chemical waste barrels off the coast of Los Angeles in 2011, increased funding for detailed oceanic surveys has led to alarming new discoveries, including 21,000 barrel-like objects, unexploded munitions and depth charges from World War II, an expanding footprint of seafloor DDT contamination, and a skeleton graveyard of nearly 60 whale carcasses.

“Dedicated funding is needed to continue to define and quantify the degradation of the marine environment, assess the health of the marine environment and living marine resources, and develop remediation methods,” wrote the lawmakers.

“While DDT was banned more than 50 years ago, we still have only a murky picture of its potential impacts to human health, national security, and ocean ecosystems,” continued the lawmakers. “We encourage the administration to think about the next 50 years, creating a long-term national plan within EPA and NOAA to address this toxic legacy off the coast of our communities.”

Due to slow degradation, DDT lingers in the environment and represents an ongoing hazard to humans and wildlife, accumulating in California condors and bottlenose dolphins and contributing to a major cancer epidemic among California sea lions. In addition to DDT, EPA has documented that from the 1930s to the early 1970s, 13 other areas off the Southern California coast were approved for the dumping of military explosives, radioactive waste, and various refinery byproducts — including 3 million metric tons of petroleum waste.

In addition to Senator Padilla and Representative Carbajal, Senator Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) and Representatives Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.-44), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.-26), Ken Calvert (R-Calif.-41), Judy Chu (D-Calif.-28), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.-10), Robert Garcia (D-Calif.-42), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.-02), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.-51), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.-37), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.-12), Mike Levin (D-Calif.-49), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.-36), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.-18), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.-31), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.-19), Scott Peters (D-Calif.-50), Katie Porter (D-Calif.-47), Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.-38), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.-30), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.-52), and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.-43) also signed the letter.

Senator Padilla has long been a leader in supporting ocean research. He and the late Senator Dianne Feinstein secured $5.6 million in FY 2022 and $6 million in FY 2023 to survey the Southern California DDT dumpsites. Padilla also previously participated in a Senate Budget Committee hearing about the importance of the ocean economy under a changing climate. Furthermore, in 2021, he secured $7.6 million to fund ocean surveys and kelp forest restoration.

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Director Young,

As you develop the Administration’s FY 2025 Budget Request, we urge you to include robust, long-term funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to continue vital characterization of the ocean dumping of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and its associated chemicals.

Beginning in 2011, researchers have been unraveling the story behind the discovery of chemical waste barrels currently littering the sea floor off the coast of Los Angeles. From the 1950’s to the 1960’s, millions of gallons of DDT manufacturing wastes were pumped from barges directly into the ocean waters in Southern California. DDT was developed as an insecticide during WWII but banned in 1972 due to adverse effects on the environment, wildlife, and human health. Due to slow degradation, DDT has lingered in the environment and represents an ongoing hazard today, for example accumulating in California condors and bottlenose dolphins, and contributing to a major cancer epidemic among California sea lions. 

Initial characterizations of these historic dumpsites were supported through Congressionally-directed funding of $5.6 million in FY 2022 and $6 million in FY 2023. This funding boost has enabled detailed surveys with alarming new discoveries: 21,000 barrel-like objects, unexploded munitions and depth charges from WWII, an expanding footprint of seafloor DDT contamination, and a skeleton graveyard of nearly 60 whale carcasses. In addition to DDT, EPA has documented that from the 1930s to the early 1970s, 13 other areas off the Southern California coast were approved for dumping of military explosives, radioactive waste and various refinery byproducts — including 3 million metric tons of petroleum waste. Clearly, this issue will require a long-term focus, and dedicated, multi-year funding is needed.

Since 2021, members of the California delegation have urged EPA and NOAA to include funding in their budget requests to address this critical problem. Dedicated funding is needed to continue to define and quantify the degradation of the marine environment, assess the health of the marine environment and living marine resources, and develop remediation methods. While initial research has focused on the San Pedro Basin, chemical dumping is an issue that affects coastal states beyond just California. A long-term program at EPA and NOAA could focus on Southern California as a pilot program to model efforts across states.

While DDT was banned more than 50 years ago, we still have only a murky picture of its potential impacts to human health, national security, and ocean ecosystems. We encourage the administration to think about the next 50 years, creating a long-term national plan within EPA and NOAA to address this toxic legacy off the coast of our communities.

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