Most U.S. consumers are unaware that so-called "organic" produce can be grown with fracking wastewater, much less that the practice is common in drought-stricken regions such as California. Two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and the Cornucopia Institute, today publicized a petition asking the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ban toxic irrigation of organic food.
"Consumers buy organic produce to support sustainable agriculture that doesn’t use toxic chemicals," said Alexander Rony, Sierra Club's senior digital innovation campaigner, in a press statement. "Oil wastewater puts the entire organic system at risk. If you can’t be sure what’s in your organic fruits and vegetables, what food can you trust?"
Federal regulations currently allow "produced water," a euphemism for wastewater produced by the fracking process, to irrigate organic crops.
The practice has grown more common in regions desperate for new sources of water.
Big Oil has seized on the drought currently underway in California, for example, as an opportunity to rid itself of the tens of millions of gallons of toxic fracking waste it produces annually in the state. Back in 2015, Bloomberg Business noted that "companies are looking to recycle their water or sell it to parched farms as the industry tries to get ahead of environmental lawsuits and new regulations."
Areas desperate for water are taking fracking corporations up on their offer, and farmers irrigating their crops with wastewater are still permitted to sell that produce under the USDA's organic label.
Current organic certification regulations ignore the fact that "recycled and treated oil or gas wastewater used for irrigation can be contaminated by a variety of toxic chemicals, including industrial solvents such as acetone and methylene chloride, and hydrocarbons (oil components)," wrote Cornucopia staff scientist Jerome Rigot.
Testing by Scott Smith, chief scientist for the advocacy group Water Defense, of the irrigation water provided by Chevron was shown to contain a multitude of contaminants, ranging from several polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, xylenes and acetone, methylene chloride, several hydrocarbons, high concentration of sodium chloride (table salt), other halide salts (bromide, fluoride, chloride), heavy metals, and radioactive metals (2 radium isotopes). Many of these compounds are potential and known carcinogens.
Furthermore, "published research indicates that certain plants are very efficient in taking up chemical and pharmaceutical residues from the soil where they then can accumulate in the plant’s tissue," the petition notes.
An orange "is 90 percent water," says Tom Frantz, a Californian orange farmer featured in a February episode of the documentary series Spotlight California, "and where did that water come from?"
Watch the episode of Spotlight California here: