In 1953, the world's largest producer of DDT, Montrose Chemical Corporation, began to discharge process wastes into sewers of the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts (LACSD), California. By 1971, when the sewer connection was terminated, approximately 1,500-2,000 metric tons of DDT had been introduced to the LACSD treatment plant in Carson, CA. After treatment, effluent from this plant was released to the ocean through a submarine outfall system on the Palos Verdes Shelf (PVS) near Los Angeles, resulting in the accumulation of highly contaminated marine sediments. Numerous investigations of the PVS have been undertaken since the late 1960s, but few have focused on the biogeochemical fate of DDT and its transformation products.
In the early 1990s, it was shown that DDE, the major DDT compound in the sediments, was being reductively dechlorinated by microorganisms resident in sediments on the PVS. The U.S. Geological Survey undertook a study in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide a better understanding of the range of reductive dechlorination rates on the PVS and the environmental factors that control them. Existing data show that rates of reductive dechlorination are variable spatially. A comparison of data from two cores collected approximately 7 kilometers downcurrent from the outfall systems in 1992 and 2003 yielded an average first-order transformation rate of approximately 0.05 yr-1. A multistep reaction model suggests that inventories of DDE in PVS sediments at the study site will continue to decline, whereas the inventory of the metabolite DDNU will reach a maximum around 2014.