By Associated Press, Erik Anderson

Marine scientists say they have found what they believe to be as many as 25,000 barrels that possibly contain DDT dumped off the Southern California coast near Catalina Island, where a massive underwater toxic waste site dating back to World War II has long been suspected.

Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego

The sightings of 27,345 “barrel-like” images were captured by researchers at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

They mapped more than 36,000 acres of seafloor between Santa Catalina Island and the Los Angeles coast in a region previously found to contain high levels of the toxic chemical in sediments and in the ecosystem.

“This is really the first of its kind, really kind of pulling back the covers to see what’s been lying under the seabed here for decades,” said Eric Terrill, chief scientist of the expedition and director of the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The debris field shows distinct lines that Terrill says indicate the items were dumped into the ocean from a moving ship.

Historical shipping logs show that industrial companies in Southern California used the basin as a dumping ground until 1972, when the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, was enacted, Scripps said.

The exact location and extent of the dumping was not known until now.

The territory covered was “staggering,” Terrill said.

The dump was not completely mapped, but researchers estimate it is more than twice the size of the island of Manhattan.

The search entailed work at depths up to 3,000 feet (900 meters), along a steep seafloor between Catalina and Los Angeles. The robots flew 65 feet (20 meters) above the seafloor.

Sonar technology would send signals that would reflect the seafloor and create images of what was resting on it.

That helped researchers get a high-resolution map that so they could identify the barrels. The sonar settings enabled them to detect objects as small as a coffee cup, Scripps said.

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