'Stop watering our food with fossil fuel chemicals!' Californians pressure governor to abandon practice of spraying crops with fracking wastewater

Jul 21, 2016 12:00 AM

California residents are gathering signatures for a petition calling for Governor Jerry Brown and the State Water Board to take action against the use of oilfield wastewater for food crop irrigation.

Concerned citizens gathered Saturday at grocery stores throughout the state, talking to fellow Californians about the issue and collecting more signatures for the petition, which has already been signed by more than 250,000 people.

The citizens are upset about the widespread use of minimally treated wastewater from oil drilling operations to irrigate food crops, the use of which they believe may pose serious health risks to consumers.

Oilfield wastewater contains hundreds of chemicals – many of which are extremely toxic – that are almost certainly being absorbed by the crops they are irrigated with, and in turn, ending up in the digestive systems of humans who consume such products.

There are several oil companies now providing wastewater to California water districts to be used for irrigation, replenishing underground water supplies and other uses.

From KQED Science:
"Chevron and the California offshoot of Occidental Petroleum are among the oil companies supplying oilfield wastewater for irrigating tens of thousands of acres in California. Almond, pistachio and citrus growers are the main farmers already using such water."

Oilfields produce huge amounts of wastewater – billions of gallons annually in some areas of the state – and in the face of California's four-year drought, someone had the bright idea of using the oilfield wastewater to help ease the ongoing water shortage.

No research proving the safety of oilfield wastewater irrigation on food crops

State regulators are currently planning to expand the practice, despite the fact that no comprehensive studies have yet been undertaken to determine whether or not it is safe to begin with.

California mother Carolyn Norr is concerned that the practice of oilfield wastewater irrigation may threaten the health of her family and others.

In a Sacramento Bee opinion piece, Norr wrote:

"What we do know is that there are hundreds of chemicals used in fossil fuel operations, some of which are known to cause cancer, kidney failure and liver damage. The Center of Biological Diversity found that oil wastewater contained dangerous levels of benzene, chromium-6 and toluene – chemicals that are all linked to cancer and reproductive issues.

"As a parent, I can't afford to wait any longer for regulators to act as they did, tragically, in places like Flint, Mich."

Effects are 'largely unstudied and unknown'

In fact, it seems that no one has a clear picture of just how dangerous the toxins found in oilfield wastewater actually are.

The Pacific Institute, a nonprofit which deals with water issues, said that the effects of these chemicals on food are "largely unstudied and unknown."

Up to 80 percent of the chemicals used in oil production have not been tested for long-term toxicity, according to Pacific Institute researcher Matthew Heberger.

Although California Water Board authorities say that only "negligible amounts" of chemicals have been found in recycled oilfield water, many experts say that there are far too many unknowns to be able to declare the crops safe for human consumption.

"We're not able to answer the public definitely and say there's no problem," said environmental engineer William Stringfellow.

The California drought is indeed a serious issue; the state is the leading food producer in the United States, and farmers are in desperate need of water supplies to keep their crops alive.

But, irrigating crops with toxic wastewater is clearly insane, right?

Of course it is, unless you happen to be a bureaucrat or an oil company executive. ...

The situation underscores the growing need for citizens to become as self-sufficient as possible in terms of food production. Planting a home garden is one of the best ways to minimize your family's exposure to toxic chemicals, along with buying locally-grown organic products whenever possible.

Don't expect the government or the food industry to protect you from consuming products tainted with harmful industrial toxins. You need to take the necessary steps to make sure the food your family eats is 100 percent organic and chemical-free.

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