The Price of Ignorance: Illegal DDT Dumping in Local Waters

Illegal dumping is defined by the EPA as “the disposal of waste in an unpermitted area, such as in the back of a yard, along a stream bank, in an alley, in a public right-of-way or at some other off-road area.” Unfortunately, people illegally dump waste in order to evade fees for hazardous substance transport/disposal or simply because they don’t care to spend time managing the waste correctly. 

When it comes to waterways, illegal dumping can occur anywhere. Dumping, whether illegal or not, was once  widespread. Practices like pouring motor oil down drains were commonplace. While it is illegal today, many people are unaware about these laws and the dangers of dumping motor oil or other hazardous substances improperly. Today, it is harder for industries to get away with illegally dumping their waste. Hazardous waste from industrial and/or commercial operations is generally collected in sumps/clarifiers or industrial-sized drums which are transported off-site by a licensed transporter. 

Individuals or businesses that do not dispose of their hazardous waste properly risk fines or jail time. California Penal Code 374.3 makes illegal dumping punishable by a fine up to $10,000. According to Section 117555 of the California Health and Safety Code, a person who dumps illegally is also punishable by up to six months in jail. 

Dangers of Illegal Dumping:

  • Acute and chronic illnesses in people & animals
  • Air pollution
  • Drinking water contamination
  • Food contamination
  • Ecological harm
  • Pest outbreaks such as mosquitos, flies, rodents
  • Fires
  • Flooding 

Other Concerns of Illegal Dumping:

  • Dumpsites encourage others to dump illegally
  • Costs taxpayers millions of dollars in cleanup costs
  • Decreases property values


The Incident 

In 1985, the Los Angeles Region of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board published a report regarding the dumping of barrels of chemicals in the ocean. No further investigation was conducted after the report was completed and the findings were completely ignored. In 2019, David Valentine started new research on the issue. He discovered some barrels on the seafloor using a remote control robot. He took photos of the barrels and samples of the sediment in the area, which were laden with DDT. Nearly half a million barrels are located approximately 3,200 feet below the ocean’s surface in the Santa Monica Bay. California has since allocated over $10 million dollars to fix this issue.

Through conducting research about this site, an additional 13 dumpsites were identified. These sites had been used to recklessly dump explosives, radioactive waste, and other chemicals in the ocean. Despite being banned in 1972, concentrations of DDT still remain high in the ocean. This means there has been little to no breakdown of the chemical after approximately 50 years. Sea lions, birds, and other marine animals have been severely affected by the exposure to DDT. Shockingly, approximately 1 in 4 sea lions in California develop cancer. DDT is still found in sea lion blubber today. The negative effects of DDT are not confined to marine animals. DDT has also been widely documented to cause acute and chronic health issues in people such as seizures, cancer, reproductive harm, and other health issues. The majority of human exposure to DDT comes from the consumption of contaminated foods like fish, meat, and dairy products. Local fish species such as rockfish, white croaker, kelp bass, rockfish, queenfish, black croaker, sheepshead, surfperches, and sculpin contain the highest levels of DDT in the area. Consumption of these fishes is highly discouraged.

Many agencies are conducting research to find evidence of dumping by corporations like Montrose Chemical Corporation. It was once the largest producer of DDT in the world. In decades past, Montrose Chemical Corporation had already been prosecuted for DDT dumping via sewer lines that lead to the Palos Verdes coastline. Illegal dumping comes with steep costs. Depending on the substance that has been dumped, it can cost millions of dollars to clean up, take decades of work to be done, and cause millions of people and animals to suffer from debilitating health issues.

Who Pays for the Cleanup?

The DTSC requires the “Responsible Party” to investigate and clean up contaminated sites. If the responsible party is unable to be located, the DTSC uses state funding to conduct the investigation and cleanup process. Hazardous sites without an identifiable or financially viable responsible party are known as ‘Orphan Sites.’ Orphan sites encompass projects from California’s industrial past. 

In this case, Los Angeles County is pressuring the EPA to conduct cleanup, and quickly. Montrose Chemical Corporation has been defunct since 1982, making it harder to conduct research and collect cleanup funds. Local and federal agencies are still trying to come up with a strategy to properly investigate the area and devise a plan to remediate. 




Household Hazardous Waste Disposal




Illegal Dumping

LA County:  LACPW



California: CalRecycle



Hazardous Discharges

LA County: LACFD

323-890-4317 (business hours) / 323-881-2455 (after hours)


California:  Cal OES State Warning Center



Nationwide: National Response Center  


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