Santa Barbara Channelkeeper reveals initial results of mud test from debris flow

Surprisingly high levels of ammonia & trace DDT

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara Channelkeeper has hired a special lab to test mud from the January 9 disaster in Montecito. One recent round of toxicity testing focused on a species of mussels. 

"Unfortunately, they did find that the mussels died when they were exposed to the mud," said Ben Pitterle, Channelkeeper's Watershed and Marine Program Director. "But what we know from the other tests that have been done that show us what's in the mud, looks like it was most likely caused by high levels of ammonia and low oxygen. So, smothering." 

Pitterle suspects those high levels of ammonia could be linked to charred soil from the Thomas Fire. He also said the high concentrations will break down once they hit the surf and tides at the beaches where the mud is being dumped.  

Recent testing also revealed a lack of certain substances you might expect.

"Chemicals that people look for that might come from destroyed homes and some of the infrastructure damaged -- thankfully, they're not finding those chemicals," Pitterle said. "Things like asbestos and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl). Those things haven't been detected." 

Pitterle said the primary health concern at this point is high fecal bacteria levels at disposal beaches and surf zones.

"Something that was surprising was that some of the county results did detect some of these legacy pesticides that were applied in prior decades," Pitterle said. "Trace amounts of DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), things that weren't associated with the destruction of homes, just in our landscape, unfortunately." 

For more information about Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, visit http://www.sbck.org.

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