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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.

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; and
  • Bee 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.