Archive for the ‘Contamination’ Category

Bald eagle landing on a nest in the Channel IslandsDid you know that the DDT pollution off the coast of Southern California affects other animals, in addition to fish and the humans who consume the contaminated fish?  Bald eagles nesting on the Channel Islands have been heavily affected.  In the middle of the 20th century, bald eagles began to lay thin-shelled eggs that did not successfully hatch.  The bird disappeared from the islands by the early 1960s.

FCEC’s partner, Montrose Settlements Restoration Program (MSRP) has focused on bringing America’s national bird back to the Channel Islands.  MSRP celebrates its ten-year anniversary this year and the program’s staff has a lot to share about the success of their Bald Eagle restoration project–an effort which has existed even before MSRP’s official establishment.

Biologists began efforts to reintroduce the bald eagle to the Channel Islands in 1980, starting with Catalina Island.  Bald eagles were then reintroduced to Santa Cruz Island, one of the Northern Channel Islands, in 2002, following a study conducted by MSRP.  By 2006, the program had its first successful breeding on the Northern Channel Islands.  Today, Bald Eagles on the islands are breeding without the help of humans and their chicks are growing up healthy enough to leave their nests.

To celebrate the program’s success and its ten-year anniversary, MSRP has released a short film that chronicles the bald eagle’s recovery, titled “Return Flight: Restoring the Bald Eagle to the Channel Islands”.  Watch this amazing and educational film, and let us know which part you particularly liked by leaving a comment below.

Kelp Program volunteer diver bagging sea urchinsWhile FCEC’s mission is to protect people from the contamination found in local fish, there is also a need to protect and restore the local environment and its wildlife.  Activities, such as overfishing and pollution, that happen near our coasts affect not just fish, but also the health of other marine life and the quality of our water.  Marine environments particularly off the coast of the Los Angeles area have shown less diversity and more contamination.

Santa Monica Baykeeper to the Rescue

Santa Monica Baykeeper, a local nonprofit organization, has made it its mission to keep our coastal environment healthy and clean.  It was founded in 1993 to protect Los Angeles County’s fresh and saltwater systems from pollution through advocacy and litigation.

Today, Santa Monica Baykeeper members help to protect and restore Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay and adjacent waters through programs such as kelp restoration, water quality monitoring, and advocacy and litigation.

Q&A with the Staff

FCEC team members met Santa Monica Baykeeper’s Marine Programs Manager, Brian Meux, at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium’s Earth Day celebration last April.  We thought the work of Brian’s organization was worth sharing, so we decided to ask the staff a few questions; here are their responses:

What is Santa Monica Baykeeper’s philosophy?  Why do you do the work you do?

Baykeeper’s origin, history, and current work are based on the principle that somebody has to get their hands dirty and directly pressure polluters and governments to better care for our environment.  For the past 14 years, our staff and volunteers have also been engaged in hands-on habitat restoration of kelp forests, creeks and lagoons.

Could you tell us about your Kelp Program?  How often do members hold research, monitoring and restoration activities?

Kelp Program staff and volunteers go to sea about twice a week to conduct monitoring and research of marine habitats and relocate sea urchins, which heavily feed on kelp.  Excessive hunting and fishing have greatly reduced the number of sea urchin predators, which has resulted in kelp forests being turned into barren fields of urchins.  In order to restore the balance, Kelp Program volunteer divers collect urchins in bags and relocate them over a wide area.  Since the program was founded, divers have directly restored about 10 acres of kelp forest habitat off the Malibu and Palos Verdes coasts.

The DrainWatch team regularly tests the quality of LA's waterSanta Monica Baykeeper’s DrainWatch team focuses on water quality monitoring.  How often do team members take water quality samples and what have the samples shown about our water quality?

The DrainWatch team collects water samples once a month from storm drains that flow directly into Ballona Creek, which is a nine mile long channel that empties into Santa Monica Bay.  The Ballona Creek watershed—the area of land where water drains into the creek—covers Culver City, parts of Santa Monica, Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles.  Since 80% of the watershed has been developed, water that flows into the creek—also known as stormwater—is contaminated with metal, fertilizer, pesticides, detergents and bacteria.  The DrainWatch team’s water quality samples have shown that bacteria levels are higher than water quality standards.

What would you say has been Santa Monica Baykeeper’s biggest success?

One of our greatest successes was holding the City of Malibu and Los Angeles County responsible for stormwater pollution in our region.  The lawsuits filed against both governments tasked them with preventing pollutants from entering a certain marine preserve in Malibu.  These cases set a tone for enforcing regional stormwater standards throughout the nation.

What are some ways community members can get involved?

Santa Monica Baykeeper welcomes local residents and students to join in restoration, clean-up, monitoring and research activities to help improve our local waters.  Most residents can get involved in our creek restoration project at UCLA, where we remove non-native plants and plant native ones.  Rescue-certified divers are welcome to volunteer in our Kelp Program.

The members of Santa Monica Baykeeper are Los Angeles’ watchdogs.  Help them to look after our local waterways by spreading the word and volunteering for one of their programs!

For more information or to get involved, visit

Photos courtesy of Dave Witting, NOAA Scientist and Santa Monica Baykeeper

FCEC team members celebrated Earth Day at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium last Saturday.  They spoke with a lot of great people about fish contamination and the pollution off the Palos Verdes Shelf.  Even the children got involved by participating in a fishing game.

What we are most impressed with at  events like these is the number of organizations that are working toward a goal we share: protecting the public from the harmful effects of pollution and keeping our environment healthy.

Meet Brian from Santa Monica Baykeeper

Brian Meux visited our table at the event and shared with us his insights.  Santa Monica Baykeeper is a nonprofit organization that works to protect and restore the Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay and adjacent waters.  As Marine Programs Manager, Brian is involved in outreach and advocacy for stronger prevention methods of and faster responses to oil spills.  He also works on advocating for sustainable fisheries, and monitoring and enforcing the new Marine Protected Areas.

Watch the video below to hear Brian talk about the far-reaching effects of the pollution off of our coasts.  He definitely makes a point in saying “it just goes to show, let’s not pollute in the first place.”


Gowanus CanalWe mentioned in a previous blog post that the Palos Verdes Shelf Superfund site was one of over 1,200 sites under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program.

In March of 2010, the EPA designated another Superfund site in Brooklyn, New York.  The Gowanus Canal Superfund site covers a 1.8 mile canal stretching from Gowanus Bay to New York Harbor; it’s highly polluted with more than a dozen contaminants.  A remedial investigation completed this past February confirmed the presence of PCBs; metals such as mercury, lead, copper; and PAHs—a group of chemicals formed during the incomplete burning of coal, wood, garbage or other organic substances.

Similar to how Southern Californians are strongly discouraged from eating fish caught off the Palos Verdes Shelf—protecting the public’s health is key to FCEC’s mission—residents near the Gowanus Canal are being told not to eat any of the fish they catch.  In fact, the health risks posed by people eating fish from the polluted waterway were the main reason why the Gowanus Canal was designated a Superfund site.

In addition to consuming fish, swimming in the canal or coming into contact with its water or sediment also presents risks.

Image via listenmissy on Flickr

It’s time for a cleanup

The EPA is now working on a feasibility study that will report on possible options for cleaning up the Gowanus Canal.  An important issue they will need to address is stopping continuous contamination of the site as a result of groundwater runoff and combined sewer outfalls (CSOs) that contain harmful pathogens such as e. coli along with PAHs and heavy metals.

The canal’s old bulkheads and the large amount of debris on the canal’s floor could also pose challenges if the EPA decides to clean up the contaminated sediment by dredging—or excavating—it.

Completion of the feasibility study is set for the end of this year.  Overall, the cleanup effort is expected to finish between 2020 and 2022 and cost $300-$500 million.  The costs will be split amongst parties found responsible for the pollution, including the city government, the Navy and seven companies.

As for public outreach, it’s unclear whether a plan will be implemented to educate residents on the risks of consuming fish caught from the canal; we will be sure to update you if any new information comes out following the feasibility study.

Looking on the bright side

On top of a cleaner, less odorous waterway and a healthier place to live and develop, local preservationists are also hoping that cleanup efforts will turn up historical treasures.

Recent sonar scans of the canal show evidence of sunken sailing vessels, including a ship that might possibly date back to the 18th century.

Want more info on the Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup project? Visit its Superfund page on the EPA’s website.

Palos Verdes ShelfLately, we’ve been talking a lot about fish contamination in Southern California, but we realize we haven’t said much about the source of contamination: the Palos Verdes Shelf Superfund site.  The Palos Verdes Shelf Superfund site is an area of the Pacific continental shelf off the Palos Verdes peninsula contaminated with the pesticide DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) and waste from industrial lubricants called PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).  Here are a few Q&As about the Superfund site and why it matters to you.

1. What is a Superfund site?

Superfund” refers to a program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that cleans up hazardous waste sites.  The program included a fund to pay for the cleanups, and that’s the source of the name “Superfund.” There are over 1,200 Superfund sites nationwide and over 100 in California.

2. How was the Palos Verdes Shelf contaminated?

After World War II, as the Los Angeles population and businesses grew, the world’s largest manufacturer of DDT, the Montrose Chemical Corporation of California, opened in Torrance, California.  During its 35 years of operation, Montrose produced 800,000 tons of DDT.  A lot of DDT waste entered the county sewer system.  An estimated 1,000 tons of DDT ended up being discharged with treated waste water into the ocean; a fraction of this, 50-100 tons, settled onto the Palos Verdes Shelf. A much smaller amount of PCBs also settled on the shelf.

Today, the Palos Verdes Shelf is the largest known DDT contamination site in the world.

3. Why should sediment contamination matter to me?

Although the contaminated sediment is too deep for human contact, chemicals such as DDT and PCBs can enter the food chain through marine animals that feed near the ocean floor.  The contamination travels up the food chain as these animals are eaten by other marine life.  People who catch and regularly consume contaminated seafood risk developing health problems, including cancer, liver disease and effects to the nervous system.

4. What is being done to remedy this problem?

The EPA has designed a three-pronged approach to address the contamination: capping the most contaminated sediment; monitoring recovery in sediment and fish; and market regulation, public education and outreach.

The EPA is working with the following agencies to conduct regular inspections of markets to ensure that contaminated fish caught in the area are not sold to consumers: California Department of Fish and Game, LA County Department of Public Health, Orange County Health Care Agency, and Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services.

As for public education and outreach, the EPA is overseeing the efforts of our program—the Fish Contamination Education Collaborative—to reduce the consumption of local contaminated fish.  FCEC reaches out to fishermen and other residents of the community through events, presentations, online communication and the distribution of educational materials.

Southern California fishing zones5. How can I protect my health against fish contamination?

Our Southern California Fish Consumption Advisory page has guidelines for fish caught from Ventura Harbor to San Mateo Point.  The area is divided into two types of zones: red and yellow.  The Palos Verdes Shelf is a red zone while the zones between Ventura Harbor and Santa Monica Pier, and Seal Beach Pier and San Mateo point are yellow.

There are different consumption guidelines between red and yellow zones.  Make sure to follow the guidelines for your sex and age as well.

You can also watch videos with tips on identifying contaminated fish on our YouTube channel.

More Information

For more information about the Palos Verdes Shelf contamination site, visit FCEC’s Project History page and the EPA’s Palos Verdes Shelf Superfund page.