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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to clean up an immense deposit of DDT and PCBs off the Palos Verdes coastline, a federally designated Superfund site The current plan is to spend $5 million on a sample project this summer to cover up approximately 180 acres of the 17 square miles of the toxic deposits with a thick layer of uncontaminated soil.

Within the 180 acres, four plots of 45 acres each will be created and examined individually for the effect of variations of thickness of soil, course vs. fine materials, and placement methods. The proposal to bury the contaminated soil is an experimental pilot program. The EPA does not know if it will work or not.

For nearly five decades the Palos Verdes shelf was where L.A. County discharged their sewer pipes and, during that time, accumulated enough DDT and PCBs, estimated at 1800 tons, to make it the nationís largest single deposit of these toxins. The deposits range from 2 inches to 2 feet deep, with the higest levels of DDT at 1 foot deep. Recent studies by USC suggest that DDT does not break down and that previous variations of concentration found in different areas corrilate with variations in bottom concentrations of the toxin. It was found that DDT is readily transported from sediment into the water column, even in the absence of physical disturbance.

In 1998, the EPA received a $9.5 million settlement from CBS Corp. for past PCB discharges. CBS is part of the former Westinghouse Electric Co. who discharged approximately 38,000 pounds of PCBs (used as insulating material in electrical transformers) from their Compton plant before it was banned in 1971. The settlement ends CBSís involvement in the nationís largest lawsuit seeking damages to natural resources.

All totaled federal and state environmental agencies are seeking an estimated $250 million from companies and municipalities. L.A. County and 150 municipalities that use the county sewer system have already paid $45.7 million. The 8 year case still targets five other businesses and Montrose, the predominant manufacturer of DDT from 1940ís to the 1970ís. Montrose continues to deny that the toxic deposits are a problem.

Even though DDT has been banned for 27 years, the brown pelican, peregrine falcon and bald eagle are still affected. The bald eagles on Catalina Island are still unable to reproduce because of the high levels of DDT in their eggs from ingesting tainted marine food sources. The DDT causes the egg shells to be too thin and break open before gestation is complete.

DDT can also effect the nervous systems of organisms from bacteria to humans and is found in many bottom feeding fish such as the white croaker which sometimes makes it to backyard barbecues and local fish markets. As a part of this project, the EPA is looking to reinforce the commercial and recreational fishing ban on white croaker or kingfish.

The EPA is seeking public input on their remediation plan. Contact Fred Schauffler at

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