‘The more we look, the more we find’: Researchers Using Advanced Underwater Camera Find Radioactive Waste Dumped Off California Coast

By: May Man Published: May 22, 2024

Los Angeles scuba divers might expect to encounter marine life such as fish, sea lions, and giant kelp forests.

However, just off the coast, there lies a vast graveyard of old, rusting barrels filled with radioactive chemical waste.

What’s Inside the Barrels?

According to Phys.org, scientists investigating the site discovered that these barrels likely contain radioactive waste.

Gasoline barrels travel by sea to the United States

Source: Freepik

During the 20th century, it was common practice to dump toxic waste from hospitals, laboratories, and industrial manufacturers into the ocean.

Radioactive Waste Dumped Close To The Coast

Researchers believe that the companies responsible often dumped the waste much closer to the shore than regulations allowed.

A black and yellow radioactive warning sign in the middle of green plants

Source: Kilian Karger/Unsplash

In addition to radioactive waste, significant amounts of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) were found around the barrels.

Military Explosives Also Dumped in Southern California Sites

The EPA’s review of historical records revealed that several dumping sites in Southern California also received military explosives, radioactive waste, and toxic refinery byproducts, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Military grenades and guns on a green table

Source: Wikimedia, Kassim Traoré

These chemicals are extremely harmful to marine life and do not degrade over time. DDT, banned in the 1970s following Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” remains active and poses significant threats to marine environments.

Carson’s “Silent Spring”

Rachel Carson spent four years completing “Silent Spring,” in which she meticulously detailed how DDT infiltrated the food chain, accumulating in the fatty tissues of animals, including humans, and leading to cancer and genetic damage.

Portrait of Rachel Carson

Source: Wikimedia, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

She explained that a single application on crops could kill insects for weeks or months, affecting not only the intended pests but many other species as well. Even after being diluted by rainwater, DDT remained toxic in the environment. Carson concluded that DDT and other pesticides had caused irreversible harm to animals and contaminated the global food supply.

DTT Causing Cancer In Sea Lions

A recent study linked the persistent presence of DDT to an aggressive cancer in California sea lions.

Colony of sea lions on Galapagos Islands

Source: Wikimedia, MusikAnimal


Sea Lions’ Lives Are Threatened

This finding is particularly concerning because cancer is generally rare in wild animals. The incidence of this cancer in sea lions is the highest among all mammals, including humans.

Male sea lions

Source: Wikimedia, Alan D Wilson

Since its initial discovery in 1979, 18-23% of adult California sea lions admitted to the MMC’s hospital have been diagnosed with and succumbed to the disease.


There’s No Going Back

Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity highlighted the issue.

Photo of a whale's tail fluke emerging from the ocean, with water cascading off the sides in a sunlit environment

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Buessler commented “The problem with the oceans as a dumping solution is once it’s there, you can’t go back and get it. These 56,000 barrels, for example, we’re never going to get them back.”


More Harmful Than People Realise

Mark Gold of the Natural Resources Defense Council added: “The more we look, the more we find, and every new bit of information seems to be scarier than the last.”

An underwater image of a sea turtle swimming

Source: Richard Segal/Pexels

Gold continued “This has shown just how egregious and harmful the dumping has been off our nation’s coasts, and that we have no idea how big of an issue and how big of a problem this is nationally.”


What’s Being Done to Address the Threat?

Several members of Congress are urging the Biden administration to allocate long-term funding to address the issue of radioactive waste.

A blue carton with a white sticker on the side that says “Toxic.” The carton is lying on some sand next to the sea.

Source: Beth Jnr/Unsplash

They advocate for a national plan that addresses this toxic legacy over the next 50 years.


Lawmakers Make A Stance

The lawmakers stated “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,”

A judge's gavel rests on its sounding block on a wooden surface, with a person in the background


“We encourage the administration to think about the next 50 years, creating a long-term national plan within EPA and [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] to address this toxic legacy off the coast of our communities.”


How We Can Help

Environmental advocates can contribute by raising awareness about climate issues and supporting pro-environmental politicians.

A large group of friends run and splash in the water at the beach

Source: Freepik

Engaging in these efforts is crucial for working toward a more sustainable future.