Are families around the country—and around the globe—eating California produce grown with toxic water from oil drilling? If they consume Halos Mandarins, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Wonderful pistachios, Sunview Raisins, Bee Sweet citrus or Sutter Home wine, they may well be. Those companies grow some of their products in four water districts in California’s Central Valley that buy wastewater from Chevron and other oil companies’ drill sites. Now, Food & Water Watch is announcing a campaign to ban the practice, which threatens our food, farm workers and the environment, with a new documentary by noted filmmaker Jon Bowermaster and a campaign video capturing shocked reactions from people who previewed the video last week in front of Whole Foods’ headquarters in Austin, Texas.
“It’s time to shine a light on the risky yet under-the-radar use of toxic oil wastewater to grow our crops,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “People are shocked when they hear that the food—even organic food—that they give to their kids is grown in districts where this is happening.” Nearly 40 percent of all organic produce grown in the U.S. comes from California.
“This practice is more deceptive than even pink slime,” said Food & Water Watch California’s director, Adam Scow, referring to the controversial industry practice of mixing heavily processed, disinfected beef scraps into hamburger. “So-called healthy brands grown in these districts are using toxic waste to grow crops and then labeling them as pure goodness.”
According to the state, four water districts in California (Cawelo Water District, North Kern Water District, Jasmin Mutual Water District, and Kern-Tulare Water District) receive up to 16 billion gallons of wastewater each year—enough to fill 25,000 Olympic-sized pools—from oil companies that can be used in the systems that provide water for irrigating crops. The oilfield wastewater is minimally processed and mixed with fresh water and sold to farmers for crop irrigation.
The crops are not routinely tested for toxic chemicals. A recent study found that nearly 40 percent of the chemicals used by the companies providing oil wastewater to the districts are classified as “trade secrets” or could not otherwise be identified, and known chemicals include several that cause cancer or reproductive harm, such as ethylbenzene and toluene.
This use of toxic water for crop irrigation is seen as a convenient disposal mechanism for oil companies that are running short on places to dispose of their wastewater. “The irony of California’s biggest corporate agribusinesses using the oil industry’s waste as a source of water is not lost on us,” said Scow. “Instead of finding uses for the industry’s pollution, California should instead be a true climate leader and transition off of fossil fuels.”
Food & Water Watch’s campaign, Stop Tainting Our Produce, demands that this oil wastewater be removed from the irrigation supply. The organization also hopes to introduce a bill in Sacramento that would outlaw the practice in the state of California. So far, Food & Water Watch and partner organizations have garnered nearly half a million signatures from people opposed to the practice and calling for action to stop it.
“This is the produce industry’s dirty little secret, but word is getting out,” said Hauter. “Now, it’s time to demand that the state stops endangering our health with the toxic byproducts of the noxious oil and gas industry in the state.”
To learn more about the campaign or to view the documentary and campaign video, visit foodandwaterwatch.org/JustBanIt.
To view the documentary, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8jcRfsPCBo.
To view the campaign video, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hq-vwV5fHh8.