DDT, Plastic, Oil, Other Hazardous Chemical Waste Pollution Risks Ocean Health
Scientists recently discovered the extent of toxic DDT contamination occurring in the deep ocean off Los Angeles, California from historic dumping is far greater than previously thought, with new estimates of hundreds of thousands of barrels and documentation that many are degraded and leaking. Hundreds of thousands of barrels are scattered over an area larger than San Francisco and more than half a mile deep. Scientists have found DDT, a known human carcinogen, accumulating in Southern California dolphins, and causing cancer in California sea lions.
Oceana urges the Biden Administration in coordination with the state of California to engage its experts to fully survey the area and assess the extent and magnitude of the situation. A comprehensive action plan for mitigation and cleanup must be developed, funded, and implemented. This must be made a priority to ensure that our Southern California waters can be free of these contaminants, to protect marine life and public health. The parties responsible for these unacceptable actions must be held to account, as their actions will continue to harm ocean wildlife and potentially humans for years to come.
The disposal of industrial waste in the ocean was a pervasive global practice in the 20th century. Dumping in waters off Southern California allegedly stopped in 1972 when the U.S. government enacted the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, also known as the Ocean Dumping Act. The U.S. government also discontinued the use of DDT in 1972, in response to its adverse environmental effects.
Oceana campaigns to protect the health and abundance of the world’s oceans by stopping current leading sources of ocean pollution, like plastics, oil, and mine tailings.
How Oceana campaigns to protect our oceans from these threats
Ending the Ocean Plastic Pollution Crisis
The oceans face a massive and growing threat from something you encounter everyday: plastics. An estimated 33 billion pounds of plastic gets into the oceans every year—this is roughly equivalent to dumping two garbage trucks full of plastic into the oceans every minute.
Ocean plastic pollution threatens the viability of critical marine ecosystems, and plastics never go away. Instead, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, which act as magnets for harmful pollutants. When eaten by fish, some of those chemical-laden microplastics can work their way up the food chain and into the fish we eat.
Oceana campaigns in nine countries and the European Union to achieve meaningful reductions in ocean plastic pollution by reducing the production and use of throwaway plastics.
Our teams have already helped win policies that reduce plastic pollution on the national level in Belize and Peru, as well as in U.S. states including New York, Virginia and Washington, and we continue to campaign for additional policies to address this growing threat. Oceana also calls on companies like Amazon and sectors like the non-alcoholic beverage industry to reduce their use of throwaway plastics and give their customers a plastic-free choice.
Preventing the Expansion of Offshore Oil Drilling
Offshore drilling for oil and gas threatens marine life, coastal communities, and the very health of our planet. Oil can persist in the environment long after a spill and is composed of toxic compounds including trace metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons many of which are carcinogenic. The burning of fossil fuels, like oil and gas, is also the leading source of carbon pollution, which causes climate change and ocean acidification.
The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster shows the danger of offshore drilling. 200 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days leading to extensive loss of marine life, severe impacts on area businesses, and oil washing up on 1,300 miles of shoreline. Where we have drilled, we have spilled, but oil interests are still pushing for access to areas that have until now been free of that threat.
Oceana campaigns to prevent the expansion of offshore drilling in the United States and Belize.
Oceana’s team in Belize successfully won a moratorium on offshore oil exploration and drilling in the entirety of Belizean waters, protecting the Mesoamerican reef – the second largest barrier reef in the world – and the livelihoods of tourism-dependent communities. Oceana continues to defend the drilling ban and campaign to restore the abundance of Belize’s ocean territory.
In the U.S., Oceana campaigning helped lead to Shell abandoning its plans to drill in the U.S. Arctic Ocean in 2015, safeguarding this unique ecosystem and its marine life. Our campaign also convinced President Obama not to expand offshore drilling, and prevented President Trump from moving forward with new drilling. In the final year of his presidency, Trump placed a 10 year moratoria on drilling for four southeast states – Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. In January 2021, President Joe Biden paused all federal offshore oil and gas leasing, following grassroots campaigning by Oceana to protect all U.S. waters from the expansion of offshore drilling.
Oceana continues to campaign for permanent protection of U.S. waters from expanded drilling. Stopping new leasing for offshore oil and gas – if made permanent – could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas from being emitted and forestall more than $720 billion in damages to people, property, and the environment.
Stopping Toxic Mine Tailings from Poisoning Ocean Ecosystems
In mining, once rock comes up from the earth, it’s ground into very fine particles, which are generally refined using chemicals, to separate the valuable material, like copper or cobalt, from the waste. The process results in a toxic sludge byproduct called “mine tailings,” which contain substances like arsenic and mercury that threaten both human health and wildlife.
Mine tailings dumped into the ocean can result in severe ecosystem impacts at dumping sites, smothering seafloor habitat and reducing biodiversity, as well as damage to human health due to the intake of polluted seafood. Tailings can also travel hundreds of miles along currents and damage pristine ecosystems far from the dump site.
Chile is among a handful of nations in which the dumping of mine tailings into the ocean still occur. For more than 40 years, Compañía Minera del Pacífico (CAP) in the Huasco commune, in Chile’s Atacama region has dumped its mine tailing into the ocean, causing irreversible damage to the ecosystem and risking the lives and livelihoods of the local communities.
Oceana campaigns to end the dumping of mine tailings into Chile’s ocean.
CAP must stop the dumping of tailing into the ocean in 2022 or face legal consequences, following successful campaigning by Oceana. No other company in Chile is currently dumping mine tailings into the ocean.
Oceana continues to campaign for government regulation to legally ban the disposal of tailings at sea and prevent other mining companies in the future from engaging in this activity.