Becoming a part of DDT history

September 20, 2022, Amulya Jasti

Hello! My name is Amulya, and I am a rising junior majoring in Environmental Science and Health at USC. I’m excited to share more about my experience as a Zinsmeyer intern this summer, and how it has inspired me to pursue environmental policy. When I came across the Zinsmeyer Summer Internship offered on DDT impacts, policy, and research, it felt like it was meant to be. The first scientist I learned about in elementary school was Rachel Carson, an environmentalist and author of The Silent Spring, which was a catalyst for the ban on DDT in America. I met her in a picture book, but she is still the most inspiring scientist that I have come across to date. Her research and writing have served as a great inspiration to me, and it made me eager to learn more about DDT’s role today. In recent years, information has been resurfacing on harmful DDT dumping practices in the Southern California Bight from decades ago. As a result, more scientists, government agencies, and nonprofits are trying to have a voice in funding research and finding solutions. For the past two months, I worked with Amalia Aruda Almada (USC Sea Grant), Lian Guo (California Sea Grant), and Allegra La Ferr (Delta Stewardship Council) towards a report that can aid in identifying priority research needs related to ocean disposal of DDT+ (DDT, its 45 daughter compounds, and related byproducts) in the San Pedro Channel. Our primary focus to support the report was to design and implement a stakeholder workshop to assess their perspectives on research needs regarding the impacts and management of DDT+ at two dumpsites.


A map showing all 14 deep ocean dumpsites documented by EPA in the region. Our research focused on the dumpsites labeled 1 and 2.


To get started on background material prior to the workshop, we conducted a review of literature, where I read papers, articles, and reports about the bulk dumping of DDT in the San Pedro ocean basin from the 1940s to 1970s. It was very elucidating to draw parallels between historical and modern findings. For example, an archived report from decades ago could influence our policy work today, while new journal articles describe how DDT has been linked with biotoxicity since before The Silent Spring. My understanding was that environmental policy depends on history, and the future depends on environmental policy. So, in order to contribute to effective environmental policy, an accurate and thorough understanding of the past is absolutely necessary. Learning that policy considered such a broad array of records and information was an eye-opening experience and made me appreciative of the process that it undergoes.


While our purpose was to help others understand the scope and aspects of the problem before tackling it, we still met with some resistance from different stakeholders, whose ideas of what the report and proper response should be were different from ours. Although I saw a steeper learning curve to form some of these cross-cutting connections, it was enlightening to see how much time, cooperation, and compromise went into taking criticism and strengthening our initiatives. Our project was definitely an evolving one, as we were always open to new contributions and changes. Also, as we met with important people with larger roles, it became clear that environmental policy is a place that activists, Indigenous people, private companies, researchers, government officials, and others could all contribute to and have a voice in. Meeting so many people from different backgrounds helped me understand what they each hoped for from this intersection between policy and science.



Our next mission was to inform and gather our stakeholders. This involved developing a briefing document and a draft of current research needs which we pulled together from our literature review. In the background, we were finalizing details like the agenda, activities, volunteer facilitators and notetakers, and invite list for the big two-day workshop. On the days of the workshop, I helped out by managing the technology and coordinating some of our volunteers. Attendees listened to panel discussions from DDT+ experts, participated in brainstorming activities, and shared ideas to help us understand their perspectives on site characterization and management, environmental and ecosystem impacts, and human health and well-being. Post workshop, I took charge in synthesizing dozens of pages of notes and activities, so we could perform a quality assessment of our work so far. In the near future, we will begin the initial blueprints of our report. By the end of these ten short weeks, I feel like I am leaving the Zinsmeyer internship as a new person. I am amazed at how policy can be a moving and flexible experience and how it can be very introspective to work with diverse stakeholders. The best parts of this internship had to be learning from my mentor, Amalia, and it meant a lot to be able to provide meaningful insight during meetings and take initiative on different projects. I am hoping to extend my work with USC Sea Grant this year so I can see this project through and keep working with this amazing team. Although DDT was banned long ago, its impacts have shown to be lasting. Hopefully, I can create a lasting legacy, like Rachel Carson’s, to continue the fight for environmental protection through science-based policy.