Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Superfund site of the Week: Palos Verdes Shelf

We're launching a regular feature I'm pretty jazzed about: each week we're going to profile a Superfund site in California. 

Superfund is a more fun way to refer to CERCLA - the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980. In that law, the United States recognized that we have places where we've dumped toxic wastes. And we recognized that it's worth designating them as such, putting them under federal Environmental Protection Agency supervision, and cleaning them up. 

That last part is where it gets tricky. Superfund sites sometimes are superBIG. Or superTOXIC. Or superCOMPLEX…you see where I'm going. If you make a law in 1980, for example, and a company that dumped toxic materials someplace did it during World War II and promptly went out of business, it's hard to get anyone to pay for it. 

And so it is with our first site - one near and dear to my heart. The Palos Verdes Shelf is the largest underwater Superfund site in the US.

In an earlier blog I mostly talked about the fish advisory - what it means to anglers and consumers of fish caught in that area. This time around, I'll focus on the 5 Ws: a cheat sheet to what's happening on the P.V. Shelf. 

And as for the 6th W, WHAT THEY'RE DOING: Working with LA Sanitation to monitor a grid and a cluster of sampling sites. Talking to fishermen to warn them of the risks for eating certain species. "Capping" the part of the site with the highest concentration of the pollutants - which means taking core samples to figure out what kind of sediment the pollution is in, then figuring out what kind of silty sediment that's clean will cover it best. And, to a certain extent, waiting for dilution - the natural solution to pollution. Prognosis: unclear. Completion date: unknown, but probably years. 

More at EPA's Superfund site for Palos Verdes Shelf. Feel free to nominate places you're curious about in the comments. 


(Image via NOAA. The site is roughly in the center-right of the picture, on the Crest-colored underwater shelf.)