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East County News Service

August 14, 2015 (San Diego)—Fruits, nuts, and other crops including some sold as organic have been grown using irrigation from oil fracking wastewater laced with toxins in drought-stricken California.

Now some consumer advocacy groups including Food & Water Watch are calling for a halt to the practice.  Courage Campaign has launched a petition for consumers to pledge that they won’t buy food products grown with oil wastewater, or what Courage Campaign calls “toxic sludge.”

 A shocking investigation by Mother Jones magazine reveals that oil wastewater has reportedly been sold to 90 landowners in Southern California, including Bee Sweet Citrus and  Halos, a citrus company which has the slogan “pure goodness” and Sunview, which sells grapes and raisins including some certified as organic.  Another company reportedly irrigating with oil wastewater is Trinchero Family Estates, which supplies grapes for winemakers including Sutter Home.

Oil companies used to dispose of wastewater by injecting it under the ground, but recently environmental groups have sued the state of California seeking to stop injection at 2,500 sensitive sites near groundwater used for drinking water.  Now  the state’s largest oil company, California Resources Corp, has announced it will quadruple the amount of wastewater it sells to farms.

A scientific study by Water Defense found treated oil wastewater sold to California farmers contained acetone, oil and methylene chloride, which can cause cancer. Methylene chloride levels were four times higher than the amount found in a contaminated river after the 2013 ExxonMobil tar sands pipeline spill in Arkansas, a spill which was declared a federal disaster.

Wastewater from Chevron  oil wells used to irrigation food crops has been found to contain contaminants such as benzene , at levels higher than allowed in drinking water. No limits have been set for its use in irrigation water, thus far. 

The State Water Resources Control Board recently ordered broader tests for more compounds in oil wastewater, but meanwhile has allowed irrigation with oil wastewater to continue. The state has not even set limits for many contaminants—and tests may not cover all the toxins potentially found as a result of fracking, in which oil companies add numerous chemicals to help pump oil or gas from deep below the earth.

Some water districts mix fracking wastewater with cleaner water from other sources. But nobody knows if these blends are safe, or if carcinogens such as benzene are making their way into the foods irrigated with those waste products – including food brands sold in major supermarket chains.

Courage Campaign concludes that with regulators failing to protect the public, the public should take action.  “As consumers, we msut hit these companies where it counts, their financial bottom line,” an e-mail from Courage Campaign reads. “If we don’t show them this is unacceptable, the use of toxic wastewater to grow produce will only expand.”  You can sign the Courage Campaign petition  pledging not to buy food products from companies  that use toxic wastewater for irrigation by clicking here.

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