• ECHO Action Editor

Fruit & veggies may be grown with frack wastewater


Our energy choices impact poison people living in the fracking fields, but we all suffer from the practice. We don't know which foods are treated with or animals that drink frack wastewater. How do we stop it? #BanFracking

While this article is from 2015, it's just as timely now. We are still not informed as to which foods are irrigated with frack wastewater.

These Popular Fruit and Veggie Brands May be Grown With Oil Wastewater


"Was your California orange irrigated with wastewater from oil wells? Quite possibly yes.

Under a 20-year-old water recycling program, wastewater that is generated as a byproduct from oil extraction is treated and sold to some 90 Southern California landowners—including one with certified organic operations—which use it to grow crops such as citrus, almonds, apples, peaches, grapes, and blueberries sold in major grocery chains around the country.

As California’s epic drought wears on, Southern California farms are using an increasing amount of oil wastewater. In 2014, oil companies such as Chevron provided half the water that went to the 45,000 acres of farmland in Kern County’s Cawelo Water District, up from about 35 percent before the start of the drought in 2011. And California Resources Corp., the state’s largest oil company, recently announced plans to quadruple the amount of water it sells to farmers.

Recent tests of irrigation water supplied by Chevron, for instance, turned up benzene, a carcinogen, at higher concentrations than what is allowed in California drinking water. Another reason for that increase is tighter rules around oil wastewater disposal. Though oil companies usually get rid of wastewater by injecting it back underground, the practice has come under increased scrutiny in recent months after regulators admitted that injections occurred near aquifers that supply drinking water. Environmental groups have sued the state to stop the practice at 2,500 sites considered most sensitive.

Water officials praise the practice of using oil wastewater on farms as a model for water conservation at a time when California needs every drop, but there are unanswered questions about its safety. The State Water Resources Control Board requires periodic testing of oilfield water that is used for irrigation but has not set limits for many contaminants. Recent tests of irrigation water supplied by Chevron, for instance, turned up benzene, a carcinogen, at higher concentrations than what is allowed in California drinking water. The state has not set a standard for benzene in irrigation water.

“I admit that [some oilfield contaminants] are in there,” says David Ansolabehere, the General Manager of the Cawelo Water District, “but they are at such a low level I wouldn’t think they are doing any harm. But we are looking into that to make sure there isn’t any harm being done.”

Until recently, the Water Board only required oilfield water to be tested for naturally occurring toxins such as salts and arsenic; in April it expanded the tests to include a broader range of compounds used in oil extraction, including fracking. The Board has appointed a committee to determine if the chemicals in oilfield water “pose a threat to public health at the concentrations detected,” says spokeswoman Miryam Barajas, but in the meantime has no plans to rein in the practice.

California’s own safety consultants appear concerned. “Current water district requirements for testing such waters before they are used for irrigation are not sufficient to guarantee that [oil well] stimulation chemicals are removed, although some local treatment plants do use appropriate protocols,” says a state-comissioned fracking report released this month by the California Council on Science and Technology. “If produced water used in irrigation contains well stimulation and other chemicals, this would provide a possible exposure pathway for farmworkers and animals and could lead to exposure through the food."

Further adding to concerns, the current tests still may not cover every potential toxin. Though fracking is uncommon in the oilfields that supply California farms, oil companies may still add chemicals such as biocides, surfactants, and corrosion inhibitors to the wells to aid extraction. And they are not required to disclose these chemicals, much less test for them. “I am not seeing anything to indicate that they are testing for the full suite of compounds that are being used in oil and gas extraction,” says Seth B.C. Shonkoff, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley who co-authored the fracking report. “I think this is a pretty significant hole that should really be filled, frankly, before we can even start getting systematic about what to look for in crops.”

The environmental group Food & Water Watch is calling for a moratorium on irrigation with oil wastewater until the safety questions are resolved. “We don’t think it should happen at all until the public can see after rigorous testing and analysis that these chemicals are not being transported into these crops,” says the group’s California Director, Adam Scow. “Consumers need to know what’s going on.”

The Cawelo Water District blends oil wastewater with water from other sources such as the Kern River before sending it to farms. Last month, Food & Water Watch received from the district the names and addresses of companies that use its water. A few examples of the brands owned or supplied by those companies are listed below (though some of their fruits and vegetables may come from other parts of the state).

Halos mandarins, formerly marketed as Cuties, are grown by Wonderful Citrus, part of the farming mega-conglomerate owned by the Beverly Hills billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick. The Resnicks, who also own Fiji Water, POM Wonderful, and the world’s largest pistachio and almond growing operation, are major players in California water politics.

Sunview, which did not return a phone call, grows table grapes, raisins, persimmons, and prune plums. Some of its raisins and grapes are certified organic. At least some of Sunview’s crops are grown in Cawelo Water District.

Trinchero Family Estates, maker of Sutter Home and other wines, buys wine grapes grown in the Cawelo Water District from the grower DM Camp & Sons, according to farm owner Edwin Camp. “From a safety standpoint, I think it has been well-proven for 20 years that it’s fine,” Camp says.

Bee Sweet citrus, which sells oranges, mandarins, and lemons, would not confirm or deny irrigating with oilfield wastewater. “As I am sure you know, essentially all farming operations in the Cawelo Water District receive some water from the Cawelo Water District,” James Sherwood, the company’s VP of Operations, said in a short emailed statement. “I hope the focus of your article will be raising awareness for the need for more above ground water storage in California as our state’s population continues to grow and as California farmers feed our nation.”

35K Californians Boycotting Produce Grown With Oil Wastewater


"Over 35,600 people have signed a Courage Campaign pledge to boycott several popular California produce companies after news that they may be using contaminated oil industry wastewater to grow their crops.

A Mother Jones article exposed Sunview, Halos mandarins, Trinchero Family Estates, and Bee Sweet Citrus as companies that use water from Kern County's Cawelo Water District, where oil companies provided half of the water supply in 2014. According to the Los Angeles Times, oil giant Chevron recycles 21 million gallons of water each day that is used on 45,000 acres of crops, about 10 percent of the county’s farmland.

“How in the world do these corporations think this is OK? This is scary. Hundreds of thousands of Americans put Halos Mandarins into their kids’ lunch boxes every day and by all appearances, Halos and other major California growers — some even considered ‘organic’ — are irrigating their crops with oil wastewater, laced with carcinogens,” explained Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the California-based Courage Campaign. “These brands have no plans to stop. If anything, Big Oil wants to find more takers for this toxic water. Consumers and parents all over the country need to take action immediately, educate each other, and stop buying food from these misguided, short-sighted companies.”

In California, wastewater that is generated from oil extraction is treated under a 20-year-old water recycling program and can then be sold to landowners. Selling the wastewater is particularly appealing to oil companies in light of tightened rules around its disposal and the severe drought that the state has been experiencing since 2011. Using the wastewater is good for water conservation and oil companies’ bottom line, but the wastewater contains oilfield contaminants, and toxin concentrations and effects are unknown.

Farmers and food processors assume the water they purchase passes health requirements and rely on the decades-old monitoring standards. Tests were updated in April to include a broader range of compounds used in oil extraction, including fracking, and a committee has been appointed to determine if the chemicals in oilfield water pose a threat to public health. The current tests may not cover all potential toxins from the oil industry, particularly from chemicals used in fracking that may be used without disclosure or testing.

Environmental group Water Defense, founded by actor Mark Ruffalo in 2010, found high levels of the toxic compounds acetone and methylene chloride in wastewater from Chevron used for irrigation purposes. The tests also found the presence of oil, which is supposed to be removed from the wastewater during recycling.“All these chemicals of concern are flowing in the irrigation canal,” Scott Smith, chief scientist for Water Defense, told ThinkProgress. “If you were a gas station and were spilling these kinds of chemicals into the water, you would be shut down and fined.”

Another environmental group, Food & Water Watch, received the district, names and addresses of companies that use water from the Cawelo Water District — a blend of oil wastewater and water from other sources such as the Kern River. Using this information, Mother Jones highlighted:Wonderful Citrus, the producers of Halos mandarins;Sunview table grapes, raisins, persimmons, and prune plums, including certified organic products;Trinchero Family Estates, maker of Sutter Home and other wines, which sources some of its wine grapes from the Cawelo Water District; andBee Sweet Citrus oranges, mandarins and lemons.

"As I am sure you know, essentially all farming operations in the Cawelo Water District receive some water from the Cawelo Water District," James Sherwood, VP of Operations at Bee Sweet Citrus, said in an e-mail to Mother Jones. "I hope the focus of your article will be raising awareness for the need for more aboveground water storage in California as our state's population continues to grow and as California farmers feed our nation.

"The Courage Campaign boycott against Halos mandarins, Sunview, Trinchero and Bee Sweet Citrus joins several other petitions on the California-based non-profit organization’s site that focus on issues related to water and the California drought. Current campaigns include boycotts against Nestlé bottled water and Walmart bottled water, as well as pleas to Governor Jerry Brown to take action against the use of toxic wastewater and overhaul the water system in California entirely."



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