A group of Californians concerned about their state’s growing practice of allowing industrial wastewater to irrigate hundreds of farms gathered outside the state capitol building in Sacramento August 9 to deliver a wheelbarrow full of petitions urging an immediate halt to the practice.
The 350,000 petition signatures were collected by CREDO, Care2, Food & Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, RootsKeeper, Center for Environmental Health, Breast Cancer Action, Center for Food Safety, Courage Campaign, and the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment.
The petition urges Governor Jerry Brown and the California Water Resources Board to stop allowing Chevron and other companies to sell wastewater from drilling operations for use in agricultural irrigation.
The wastewater is currently used to irrigate more than 90,000 acres of farmland in the Cawelo Irrigation District and the North Kern Water Management District, with more expansions planned.
“Californians want to know what is in the water and the soil that is used to grow their food. This should not be a problem, especially if there is nothing to hide,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who was among those delivering the petition signatures.
But the problem affects consumers across the nation, as about half of all the fruit, vegetables, and nuts grown in the U.S. are grown in California. Some of the nation’s most popular brands, in fact, are grown in the water districts using wastewater in agricultural applications, including Sutter Home wines, Halos Mandarins (formerly known as Cuties), and the makers of Cupcake and Fish Eye Wines.
Opponents of the practice say that no comprehensive, independent studies have been conducted to determine if the wastewater is safe to use on crops. The limited analysis that has been done used outdated methods and failed to screen for all the chemicals used in oil extraction that would be present in the wastewater, many of which are known to cause cancer.
For example, oil-industry wastewater may contain high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen that can produce a spectrum of side effects (headache, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, tremors and loss of consciousness) as well as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. Individuals who have experienced benzene poisoning requiring treatment show a substantially increased risk of mortality from leukemia.
Other chemicals used in oil drilling operations are linked to other cancers, kidney failure, reproductive disorders, and liver damage.
“As a nurse, one of the simplest yet most important recommendations I can give a patient is to eat more fruits and vegetables,” said Lisa Hartmayer, nurse practitioner at the University of California San Francisco and one of those delivering the petition. “How can our governor and water regulators sleep at night knowing that the fresh foods that millions of people eat to stay healthy may actually be threatening their health? We don’t know if our tangerines, almonds and grapes are contaminated with water that could be carcinogenic.”