Scientists who set out to map an underwater dumping ground for industrial waste off the California coast last month say they were stunned by what they found: endless waste barrels spread across a site larger than the city of San Francisco, some 3,000 feet under the sea. After a two-week sonar survey of more than 36,000 acres of seafloor between Santa Catalina Island and the Los Angeles coast, "the scientists could find no end to the dumping ground," reports the Los Angeles Times. "I was pretty shocked that it just kept extending as far as it did," Eric Terrill of the University of California San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography tells the outlet. His team ultimately identified more than 100,000 objects, including at least 27,000 barrel-sized objects, which are thought to contain the banned pesticide DDT. More barrels may be buried. Some records suggest there are half a million in all, per the Times.
"This mission confirms my worst fear: that possibly hundreds of thousands of barrels and DDT-laced sediment were dumped just 12 miles off our coast," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who was briefed on the findings on Monday. She said she would ask the Justice Department to investigate. Records indicate numerous companies began dumping industrial waste in the area in the 1930s. Montrose Chemical Corp., formerly the nation's largest DDT manufacturer, reportedly dumped 2,000 DDT-laced barrels into the ocean each month from 1947 to 1961, before the pesticide was banned and the Ocean Dumping Act was passed in 1972, per the AP. Terrill's team found patterns suggesting barrels were dropped from moving ships or barges. The effects are unknown but DDT has been tied to an aggressive cancer in sea lions, and been found in high levels in the area's dolphins. (Studies link DDT with Alzheimer's and breast cancer in humans.)