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Scientists-turned-detectives look to crack the case of the missing DDT

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Bill Power of the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County prepares to drop a core into the ocean to gather sediment samples in the waters off Palos Verdes. In the 50's and 60's, Montrose chemical company dumped DDT into the water.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Joe Gully, a supervising environmental scientist for the Ocean Monitoring Research Group at the Sanitation Districts of LA County, prepares to gather samples in the water near Palos Verdes.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Bill Power demonstrates how sediment gets trapped in a core when it is dropped into the ground.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The core is lowered into the water to gather a sediment sample. Remote video cameras and a tilt sensor attached to the core help ensure the core goes upright into the ocean floor.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Deck hand Robert Harper of the Sanitation Districts of LA County calls out how deep the core is in the water as it is lowered.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Water pours out of the top of the core after they gather a sample. It takes about two weeks to gather 79 cores from 69 different locations in the waters near Palos Verdes.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

A sediment sample is pushed out of the core and sealed. The sample will be split and tested by both a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contract lab and the Sanitation Districts of LA County.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Sanitation Districts of LA County Biologist Chase McDonald pours dry ice around the sediment sample to freeze it.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Biologists Terra Petry, left, and Chase McDonald of the Sanitation Districts of LA County look at data from the tilt sensor on the core. The data shows that the core did not go in straight, and need to redo the sample.


Something's afoot in the ocean off the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and it's drawing out the detective instincts of scientists. Call it the case of the missing DDT.

Over decades, tons of the pesticide flowed through LA County's sewers. It settled into the world's largest underwater toxic hotspot, but in recent tests, that contamination has all but vanished. KPCC's Molly Peterson talked with researchers working to crack the case.


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