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Historical Disposal of Radioactive Waste Off the Coast of Los Angeles

For many years, an underwater graveyard of corroding barrels has been a haunting secret, lurking just off the coast of Los Angeles. For decades, these barrels went unnoticed, harboring toxic secrets, until a team of researchers stumbled upon them with the help of an advanced underwater camera.

Speculation abounded as to the contents of these mysterious barrels. Shocking amounts of DDT near the barrels pointed to a little-known history of toxic pollution from the once-largest DDT manufacturer in the nation. Recent revelations from federal regulators determined that the manufacturer had not bothered with barrels; instead, its acid waste was poured directly into the ocean.

Now, scientists have concluded that these barrels may contain low-level radioactive waste. Historical records indicate that from the 1940s through the 1960s, it was common for local hospitals, labs, and other industrial operations to dispose of barrels containing tritium, carbon-14, and similar waste at sea.

“This is a classic situation of bad versus worse. It’s bad that there is potential low-level radioactive waste just sitting there on the seafloor. It’s worse that there are DDT compounds spread across a wide area of the seafloor at concerning concentrations,” said David Valentine, from UC Santa Barbara. This revelation was published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal as part of a large-scale study.

Public concerns have only intensified since an article was published in 2020 by The Los Angeles Times reporting that DDT, which was banned in 1972, is still present and causing harm in the marine environment. Scientists have traced significant amounts of this decades-old chemical all the way up the marine food chain, with recent research even linking it to an aggressive cancer in California sea lions.

In an effort to further investigate and understand the impact of ocean dumping on the marine environment, dozens of ecotoxicologists and marine scientists have been trying to fill key data gaps. The results have been multiple plot twists, including the recent discovery of discarded military explosives from the World War II era.

In addition to the DDT and radioactive waste findings, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has discovered that between the 1930s and the early 1970s, 13 other areas off the Southern California coast had also been approved for dumping military explosives, radioactive waste, and various refinery byproducts, totaling 3 million metric tons of petroleum waste.

Valentine’s study found high concentrations of DDT spread across a wide swath of seafloor larger than the city of San Francisco. His team has been collecting hundreds of sediment samples to analyze the movement of the chemical through the water and whether it has broken down. Despite many trips out to sea, they have yet to find the boundary of the dump site, but concluded that much of the DDT remains in its most potent form.

In the process of investigating the DDT history, clues emerged pointing to the presence of low-level radioactive waste. Historical records indicated that California Salvage, the same company responsible for disposing of the DDT waste, had also dumped low-level radioactive waste while at sea.
The company received a permit in 1959 to dump containerized radioactive waste about 150 miles offshore, but these records also showed that California Salvage advertised its radioactive waste disposal services and received waste in the 1960s from a radioisotope facility in Burbank, as well as barrels of tritium and carbon-14 from a regional Veterans Administration hospital facility.

Recent revelations about the extent of dumping off the Los Angeles coast have raised concerns about the nation’s other dump sites. Mark Gold, an environmental scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, voiced his concerns about the potential worldwide impact of ocean dumping and called on federal officials to act boldly on the information available.

As the research efforts intensify, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Salud Carbajal, along with other members of Congress, have called for long-term funding to study and remediate the issue. They are urging the Biden administration to create a long-term national plan within the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Regulators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have also been refining a sampling plan in collaboration with several government agencies to understand the scope of the chemicals dumped into the ocean. They hope that the combined research efforts will ultimately inform future investigations of other offshore dump sites.

The recent revelations about ocean dumping off the Los Angeles coast have underscored the need for a comprehensive and long-term plan to address the toxic legacy of these dump sites. The evidence of DDT, military explosives, and radioactive waste has highlighted the far-reaching and potentially serious impact of ocean pollution on human health and marine ecosystems.

As scientists continue to uncover the scale and scope of ocean dumping off the coast of Los Angeles, the urgent need for action and awareness of this environmental issue is clear. The consequences of ocean dumping are vast and have long-lasting effects that continue to threaten the health of ecosystems, marine life, and human populations.

The more we learn about the impact of ocean dumping, the more pressing the need for dedicated research, funding, and preventive measures to mitigate the damage caused by these toxic legacies. The revelations about the extent of ocean dumping off the Los Angeles coast reflect a global environmental challenge that requires proactive and sustained efforts to address and remediate.

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Forest Lawn Drive now free of RV encampment and parking

Nancy Sexton was thrilled when city crews cleared out more than 50 RVs in December that had been parked near her business for months, blocking parking spots and leaving behind trash and waste on Forest Lawn Drive.

Then she realized the long stretch of road near Barham Boulevard in the Hollywood Hills was suddenly off limits for not just parked RVs, but all parked vehicles. Much of the curb was painted red. No parking signs lined the sidewalk.

“It’s a dumb decision,” said Sexton, who owns the Muse Rooms, which offers leased office spaces. “It’s frustrating.”

The more than 50 RVs, which had been stationed along the winding road for months as a semi-permanent living encampment, were removed in December as part of the city’s operation known as Inside Safe. One goal of the program, which is part of Mayor Karen Bass’ initiative to bring people living on the streets indoors, is to end the cycle of homeless encampments being cleared by the city only to return a few weeks later.

But days after the RVs were removed, Sexton said, the curb was painted red and parking was limited. The new red zone is about a quarter mile long, running between Warner Bros. Studios’ Gate 9 entrance and North Coyote Canyon Drive.

The areas that do allow parking, meanwhile, have two-hour limits.

City officials also said the decision to restrict parking was done out of fire safety concerns, not to keep the RVs from resettling along the road. Sexton has her doubts.

The lack of parking along the street suddenly imposed a new, unexpected expense on her clients, prompting some to look elsewhere. The red curb has also become an irritation for some students and workers at the New York Film Academy and businesses nearby.

A road with RVs lining its right side.

RVs are parked on Forest Lawn Drive on June 27, 2023, in Burbank.

(David McNew/Getty Images)

Since the no-parking signs went up, Sexton said, she’s lost two regular members and two potential clients. All of them had aired concern about the lack of street parking and the added expense of paying $12 a day at the parking structure on site.

The parking fee, Sexton said, doubled the monthly costs for some members.

“I didn’t know how much of a problem it was going to be until there were people saying, ‘I can’t pay $12 a day,’ ” she said. “I’m really feeling it now.”

The situation highlights some of the unintended results as city officials look to address homelessness and the concerns of businesses and homeowners affected by makeshift encampments, whether they involve tents, vehicles, or both.

RV encampments have sprung up across the city amid a housing crisis that has left many people priced out of permanent homes. Local officials have looked for ways to address the issue, including new regulations that have targeted overnight RV parking.

According to the mayor’s office, the Inside Safe program has addressed 39 encampments so far, moving more than 2,400 people into interim housing and an additional 440 into permanent housing since December 2022.

Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl said the RVs that were removed from Forest Lawn Drive were themselves causing parking issues in the area, as well as raising other significant safety and public health concerns.

Members of the surrounding community have said removing the RVs “has helped on all three fronts,” Seidl said in a statement. “This operation has saved lives.

Stella Stahl, spokesperson for Councilmember Nithya Raman, said the city has helped many of the RV residents along Forest Lawn Drive to find housing indoors.

In a statement, Stahl credited the decision to limit parking to a request by the Los Angeles Fire Department, which called the area a “high fire severity zone.” A 2019 brush fire in the area burned more than 30 acres and threatened homes and businesses.

In a Sept. 19, 2023, letter, LAFD Assistant Chief Dean Zipperman asked the city Department of Transportation to install “Tow Away No Stopping Any Time” restrictions on the road due to the stopped and parked vehicles there.

To avoid the hassle of looking for parking, cinematography students Sanchin Vinay, Yifan Xiang, and Davide Picci carpool to their classes at the New York Film Academy, which shares a building with the Muse Rooms. Eliminating the RVs has opened some spots to them, although Picci said they’d been able to find spaces on the street before — “really far down.”

A couch on a sidewalk near an RV.

The curb along Forest Lawn Drive, where someone has left a couch.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Sometimes they pay the $12 for the daily parking to avoid being late for class. Carpooling helps cushion the cost.

Leslie Bates, a film production instructor, said she heard of students and faculty members having “volatile” interactions with the RV residents.

Now that the RVs have

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