LOS ANGELES, JUNE 18 -- The federal government today sued eight companies, including Westinghouse Electric and Chris-Craft Industries, for damage they are accused of doing to marine wildlife and its habitat off Southern California.

In a move with potentially wide national implications, the companies were accused of releasing the pesticide DDT or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) -- chemicals suspected of causing cancer and reproductive defects -- into sewers. In some cases, the pollution occurred as long as 40 years ago.

This is one of the first times that government regulators have attempted to require polluters not only to clean up their mess but also to pay for restoring damaged wildlife and natural habitat.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the lead agency bringing the suits, the pollutants were dumped into Los Angeles County sewers in the course of manufacturing and ended in coastal waters, harming marine life.

NOAA filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under a little-used provision of the 1980 Superfund act that requires certain federal and state agencies to act as trustees in pursuing damages from companies accused of despoiling publicly owned natural resources.

Also named in the suits were Montrose Chemical Corp. of California, Stauffer Management Co., Potlatch Corp., ICI American Holdings Inc., Simpson Paper Co. and Atkemix Thirty-seven Inc. All eight companies operate or operated in the Los Angeles area.

NOAA biologists say their tests show that fish caught off Los Angeles carry high levels of the pollutants.