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“Underwater Roombas” are sucking up decades of human waste in the Pacific

The United States banned the toxic pesticide DDT in 1972 due to its environmental and human health risks. When the ban came into effect, a former DDT producer in California dumped thousands of barrels of the toxic chemical into the ocean. Today scientists are attempting to clean up the mess using what could be coined as underwater Roombas. (1)


Underwater Roombas Cleaning Up Toxic DDT Mess In The Pacific Ocean

The Montrose Chemical Corporation in California was the United State’s number one producer of DDT prior to its ban in 1972. (2) Between 1950 and 1970, the company poured 1,700 tonnes of the chemical into the ocean. (1)


When the company closed 10 years after the ban, they still had plenty of waste they needed to dispose of. Their solution was to dump the barrels in the ocean as well. The problem? Those barrels are leaking. (1)


A Superfund Site

The Environmental Protection Agency declared Montrose’s known previous DDT dumping ground a Superfund site. This means that it is an extremely polluted area requiring extensive cleanup. (3) The barrels, however, went largely unknown until researchers discovered 60 of them buried in the ocean floor in the early 2010s. Upon studying the area, they realized that the DDT concentrations around the barrels were 40 times higher than the known superfund site. (1)


Not only is DDT a known carcinogen, but it has devastating impacts on the lifespan and productivity of countless undersea species. (4)


The Devastation Of DDT

DDT is a known carcinogen and can have many effects on the human body. These include (5):

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Tremors and convulsions
  • Chronic effects on the nervous system, liver, kidneys, and immune system
  • Chromosomal damage

It is stored easily in fat, and therefore can be passed along through breast milk. It is insoluble in water and takes generations to break down, so it can wreak havoc on ecosystems that it pollutes. (5)


It has long-term effects on aquatic life – both plants and animals. Not only can it destroy these ecosystems, but it can be passed along all the way up the food chain to us, human beings. (5)


Using Underwater Roombas to Clean Up The Mess

Researchers have begun mapping out 50,000 acres of the ocean floor. The goal is to find all the barrels so they can be removed and the waste cleaned up. They are doing so using robots, sort of like underwater Roombas, to seek them out. (1)


Once they determine the extent of the damage, the clean-up can begin. Unfortunately, though cleaning up will help to protect the future of this ocean ecosystem, the damage that DDT has already done cannot be recuperated. The hope is that the thousands of tonnes of DDT poured into this area of the Pacific won’t destroy it entirely. (1)


Thanks to the quick work of the researchers, who did about two years of work in only five months, it might not be too late. (1)

Keep Reading: Meet Leydy Pech, the Mayan Woman Who Stopped Monsanto and Won the ‘Nobel For the Environment’


  1. L.A.’s coast was once a DDT dumping ground.” LA Times. Rosanna Xia. October 25, 2020
  2. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT).” CDC.
  3. MONTROSE CHEMICAL CORP. TORRANCE, CA Cleanup Activities.” Cumulis.
  4. DDT: Environmental Impact, Dangers, History.” School Work Helper
  5. Environmental Effects.” Udel.
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.