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Researchers using advanced underwater camera find radioactive waste dumped off coast: 'The more we look, the more we find'

"We're never going to get them back."

"We're never going to get them back."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

There are many things a Los Angeles scuba diver might expect to see — fish, sea lions, giant kelp forests, etc. But instead, in one section just off the coast, there lies a massive graveyard of old, rusting barrels.

And, as it turns out, those barrels are full of radioactive chemical waste.

What exactly is inside the barrels?

Scientists exploring the site discovered that the barrels likely contain radioactive waste, according to Phys.org. In the 20th century, it was common for toxic waste from hospitals, labs, and industrial manufacturers to be sent to sea to be dumped — and, researchers speculate, the companies responsible for dumping it often did so much closer to the coast than they were permitted.

There are also concerning quantities of the compound dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, concentrated around the barrels. And in the course of investigating old records, the EPA found that several other dumping sites in Southern California had been the recipients of military explosives, radioactive waste, and toxic refinery byproducts, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

Why is marine radioactive waste so concerning?

Broadly speaking, these chemicals are extremely harmful to all marine life — but worse, they simply do not break down. While DDT was banned from commercial use in the 1970s, following the publication of environmentalist Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring," high amounts of the chemical are still active today — and they're posing significant threats to marine environments. One recent study linked the lingering presence of DDT to an aggressive cancer in California sea lions. 

"The problem with the oceans as a dumping solution is once it's there, you can't go back and get it," said Ken Buesseler of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity. "These 56,000 barrels, for example, we're never going to get them back."

Mark Gold of the Natural Resources Defense Council agreed: "The more we look, the more we find, and every new bit of information seems to be scarier than the last. 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 remedy the threat?

Several members of Congress are urging the Biden administration to dedicate long-term, rather than one-time, funding to address the issue of radioactive waste.

"We encourage the administration to think about the next 50 years, creating a long-term national plan … to address this toxic legacy off the coast of our communities," they said. 

For concerned environmental advocates, there are many ways to pitch in and work toward a more sustainable future — from speaking with friends and family about climate issues to voting for pro-environmental politicians.

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