April 27, 2024 at 12:35 pm

Barrels Of Radioactive Waste Turn Up Off The Coast Of California

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

Mysterious radioactive waste showing up anywhere would be cause for concern, but today it’s barrels full of it off the coast of Los Angeles.

There is a notorious “graveyard” of discarded barrels off the coast of Los Angeles. They’re half-sucked into the seafloor and now scientists believe they contain not only toxic chemicals, but low-level radioactive waste as well.

For a long time, people assumed the barrels contained a dangerous pesticide called DDT, but this new study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, suggests they contain radioactive isotopes tritium and carbon-14.

Source: Shutterstock

These chemicals were once used in hospitals, labs, and industrial operations in the area.

David Valentine, lead researcher at UC Santa Barbara, says this might not be the worst thing they could have learned.

“This is a classic situation of bad versus worse. It’s bad we have potential low-level radioactive waste just sitting there on the seafloor. It’s worse that we have DDT compounds spread across a wide area of the seafloor at concerning concentrations.”

To be clear, they’re both bad, even if one compound might be a little bit worse.

The barrels were first discovered in 2020, and scientists have been working since to analyze the surrounding sediment and water to understand what could be inside of them.

They also went through hundreds of pages of old records to find evidence for who might have been dumping waste in the area.

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One of them, California Salvage, could have been dumping radioactive waste.

They had received a permit for disposing of the stuff, but the US Atomic Energy Commission claims this permit was never activated.

There’s pretty much no accountability and no way to retroactively apply any now, either. Researchers say it’s more than possible that the radioactive material was dumped within 150 miles of shore.

The Atomic Energy Commission has a map that shows that, between 1946 and 1970, more than 56,000 barrels of radioactive waste was dumped on the US end of the Pacific Ocean.

Source: Shutterstock

Marine radiochemist Ken Buesseler, who was not involved in the study, says these are grim findings.

“The problem with the oceans as a dumping solution is once it’s there, you can’t go back and get it. These 56,000 barrels, for example, we’re never going to get them back.”

As always, it seems today’s scientists are hamstrung by the actions of the past.

And all of the ways we have to correct them aren’t working fast enough to keep up.

If you think that’s impressive, check out this story about a “goldmine” of lithium that was found in the U.S. that could completely change the EV battery game.