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U.S. Department of Justice Honors USGS Scientists for Role in Hazardous-Waste Lawsuit

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The U.S. Department of Justice honored nine USGS scientists—Homa Lee, Brian Edwards, Marlene Noble, Robert Eganhouse, Monty Hampton, Robert Kayen, Christopher Sherwood, Florence Wong, and Michael Hamer—on July 10th in San Francisco for their diligent work on a hazardous-waste lawsuit.

For 24 years (1947-1971), Montrose Chemical Corporation had been discharging DDT into a Los Angeles County sewer system that empties into the ocean. As a result, sediment that accumulated near the mouth of the discharge pipes on the shelf off the Palos Verdes Peninsula became contaminated. The sediment body contains more than 100 tons of DDT, making it the largest known deposit of DDT in the world.

USGS award recipients stand with their award plaques
Award recipients: Broad smiles celebrate the end of a decade of diligent, sometimes exhausting work on the hazardous-waste lawsuit "United States, et al., v. Montrose Chemical Corporation of California, et al." In this photo, Ellen Mahan (second from right, representing Acting Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Department of Justice) and Steve O'Rourke (far right, lead Department of Justice attorney in the trial) present Department of Justice Certificates of Commendation to USGS scientists who contributed to the lawsuit. The awards were presented in San Francisco on July 10th, 2001. From left to right are Brian Edwards, Florence Wong, Chris Sherwood, Marlene Noble, Monty Hampton, Homa Lee, Mahan, and O'Rourke. Rob Kayen, Michael Hamer, and Bob Eganhouse were unable to attend. Photo by Ray Wong.

In a lawsuit that spanned approximately 10 years, the Federal Government and State of California sought compensation from Montrose and other parties for damages caused by the DDT contamination that affected, among other wildlife groups, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, sea lions, and fish. A team of USGS scientists joined the case in 1991 to help describe the nature and extent of the contamination, as well as its potential fate and transport (see related USGS Web site). The scientists completed expert-testimony reports in 1994 and continued to fill intermittent requests for exhibits and depositions over the next six years, until the trial in October 2000.

The USGS team was well prepared to testify at the trial, having endured hours of antagonistic questioning by defense attorneys during pre-trial depositions under oath, as well as rigorous preparation by Department of Justice prosecuting attorneys. Three of the USGS scientists— Homa Lee, Brian Edwards, and Marlene Noble—were called to testify at the trial. In a letter commending contributions by the USGS team, Acting Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden praised Homa's "compelling and clear" testimony, Brian's "unassailable ability to interpret" his comprehensive seafloor photographs, and Marlene's "blunt, plain-spoken" testimony, which Cruden called "one of the highlights of the trial."

The Acting Assistant Attorney General's letter expresses the opinion that it was "a direct result of the USGS team's years of diligence" that the five-day trial "was very favorable for the governments, and the Defendants agreed to settle the case." (see DOJ press release) The plaintiffs received approximately $140 million for projects that will benefit the affected environment. These projects include:

  • ensuring that Los Angeles residents do not eat fish contaminated by the DDT-containing sediment,

  • sustaining populations of bald eagles and falcons on the islands near the Palos Verdes shelf until they can reproduce naturally,

  • constructing artificial reefs to make cleaner fish available to subsistence fishermen,

  • possibly burying the effluent-affected layer under a cap of clean sediment.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Cruden praised the entire USGS team for handling the painstaking work "with professionalism, patience, and most importantly, a sense of humor." USGS data are an integral part of the remediation phase that is now underway (see related EPA Web site).

Related Web Sites
Contaminated Sea-floor Sediment on the Shelf Offshore Los Angeles
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
U.S., California Announce Settlement to Clean Up Toxic Pollution in the Pacific Ocean
U.S. Department of Justice
Cleaning Up the Palos Verdes Shelf
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Related Sound Waves Stories
Expert Witnesses from CMG at Environmental Trial in Los Angeles
November, 2000

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