I have chosen an article in The New York Times titled, “New Hurdle for California Condors May
Be DDT From Years Ago” written by John Moir. As I read this article I was troubled and compelled to
share it. The author explains the present circumstances regarding the condor recovery program in
central California and the continuing effort to save the nation’s largest bird from extinction. Four years
ago, two California condors made the region's first known nesting attempt in more than a century.
When this first breeding attempt proved fruitless, Mr. Burnett attributed it to the young birds'
inexperience. But when he climbed the giant tree to observe the abandoned nest, he was bewildered at
what he discovered: the first indication of a potentially significant new hurdle for the condor program.
The condor eggs were abnormally thin similar to the eggs from birds like brown pelicans and peregrine
falcons, which had been devastated by DDT but are now on the rebound.
According to Carmen White, the Environmental Protection Agency's remedial project manager
for the site, in the 1950s and '60s Montrose discharged its raw DDT waste directly into the Los Angeles
County Sanitation District's sewer system. The author proposed the question: could DDT – the deadly
pesticide that has been banned in the United States since 1972 – produce condor reproductive problems
nearly four decades later? The journalist then compiles historical facts and past studies to help analyze
this question. There have been large studies in other areas of California where the condors are
reproducing normally in the wild and in captivity.
The Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) have been scientifically studying the thickness of the
eggshells recovered from the Big Sur birds with those produced by the Southern California condor flock
that lives many miles from the coast. The Southern California birds do not feed on marine mammals,
and their eggs are normal. Mr. Burnett says that preliminary results from Ventana's study suggest that
the Big Sur eggs are "substantially thinner" than those from the inland birds, and that early indicators
point to DDT as the principal cause of the thinning. After further investigation, the VWS has discovered
that sea lions feeding on marine life near sediment deposits from the Montrose discharge site contain
high levels of DDT within their blubber. According to David Witting, a fishery biologist for the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, diet determines how DDT affects various species. The Big Sur
condors’ diet is obviously being adversely affected. James Haas, the environmental contaminants
program coordinator for the Pacific Southwest region of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service,
noted that other birds in the region that feed higher on the food chain, like bald eagles, continue to
suffer from DDT-induced eggshell thinning. Concerns about condors and DDT have prompted the Fish
and Wildlife Service to initiate a new one-year project to study how marine mammals might be carrying
Montrose DDT up the California coast. The main researcher, Myra Finkelstein at the University of
California, Santa Cruz, is also leading a four-year study to explore risk factors and management
strategies to ensure the condor's long-term sustainability.
The journalist for this article gathers information and research from numerous organizations –
both government and non-government organizations. The one thing I noticed is that the author went to
organizations who specialize in the particular topic. For example, when it came to the diets of marine
animals, David Witting, a fishery biologist for the NOAA was sought. The history of the DDT pollution at
the Palos Verdes Shelf was provided by Carmen White, the EPA’s remedial project manager for the site. I
feel the author wanted to ensure the information he found was coming directly from the source and not
from a third party.
The organizations providing information for the article are a mix of government funded and
private money groups. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an agency of the federal
government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by
writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress. The National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a scientific agency within the United States Department of
Commerce focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere. Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS)
is a non-profit organization founded in 1977 by a group of private citizens to restore endangered species
native to Central California. VWS has five full-time staff biologists, together with seasonal interns,
monitoring, tracking and researching endangered species, songbirds and butterflies. The United States
Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is a federal government agency within the United States Department of
the Interior dedicated to the management of fish, wildlife, and habitats.
I think the author of this article did add some of his own bias into the paper and it would be
hard not to, considering the topic and evidence stacked against it. There was no mention of why or what
the reason for the DDT dump was nor anything about the company of Montrose Chemical Corporation.
With the lack of opposing views, I would have to say that the writer had an agenda and set out to write
an article educating the public about the continual effects of DDT on the environment and ecosystems.
It is mentioned though that the company was “forced” to stop its discharge – soon after the
contamination source disappeared and some wildlife rebounded fairly quickly. The article finished with
words of hope stating that there is light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just a matter of how far out that
light it is.
Before I read this article, I had no clue about the condors in California or that the effects of DDT
were still causing issues within the environment. I also learned that that lead poisoning that comes from
ingesting lead-bullet fragments found in hunter-shot game is causing other health issues for the
condors. Lead poisoning was a major factor in the bird's close encounter with extinction and remains the
primary danger today to released condors. Fortunately for the condors, recently there has been
legislation to stop hunters from hunting with ammunition containing lead in the areas the condors
I am grateful for the authors attempt in educating the public on this issue. I do feel it is very
important and think that more should be done to assist in finding and providing solutions for the plight
of the condor. In 1982 the population of California condors had been reduced to 22 birds. Although
problems remain, bringing back the condor has been a conservation success story. There are now 380
California condors in the world, with about half of these titans of the sky flying free in the Western
Moir, J. (2010, November 16). New Hurdle for California Condors May Be DDT From Years Ago. The New
York Times, pp. D.3