Cawelo Study Fails to Test for Dozens of Oilfield Chemicals in Wastewater Used to Irrigate California Food Crops

Sacramento, Calif. October 28, 2016 – A study presented today to the Central Valley Water Board’s Food Safety Expert Panel by the Cawelo Irrigation District fails to address major concerns about potential food contamination from using oil waste fluid to irrigate crops, according to the Protect California Food coalition.

A coalition scientist says the study, which tested citrus for just a handful of chemicals, is too limited to assess oil waste fluid’s threat to consumers and farm workers, and to California’s water supply. The Cawelo study did not test for most of the 173 chemical additives used in oilfields supplying wastewater for irrigation.

The Cawelo Water District buys wastewater from Chevron and other oil companies. Chevron funded a previous study of Cawelo’s use of oil waste for irrigation, and the Water District’s Board is made up of big growers that have a considerable stake in using oil wastewater.

“This study fails to address the real threat of food contamination from irrigating crops with the oil industry’s toxic wastewater,” said Adam Scow, California Director of Food & Water Watch. “We cannot count on test results paid for by the Cawelo Water District and Chevron to be independent or sufficient. Governor Brown should direct the Water Board to place an immediate moratorium on this risky practice and conduct true independent testing of this wastewater and its effects on the soil and the food we eat.”

A recent report by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy, UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of the Pacific found 173 chemical additives used in oil operations that supply wastewater to Cawelo — yet Cawelo’s study tested for only 9 chemicals.

PSE researchers found that, “chemical use from routine oil and gas development activities appears to be widespread, necessitating further investigation for public health concerns.” Ten of the oilfield chemicals evaluated by PSE researchers are either carcinogenic or possibly carcinogenic in humans.

“Using oil wastewater to irrigate our food crops raises grave concerns about potential health risks, and this very limited study fails to answer troubling questions about this controversial practice,” said John Fleming, a staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without full disclosure by oil companies of the chemical additives in oil wastewater and appropriate testing for those chemicals, consensus cannot be reached and this potentially hazardous practice cannot continue.”

In addition to Cawelo, the North Kern Water Management District also purchases oil wastewater and is authorized to use it to replenish its groundwater, raising concerns about contaminating the groundwater supply. Public records and press reports have shown that companies such as Wonderful, which owns Pom Wonderful and Halos mandarins, are sourcing some of their food products from these districts.

Protect California Food is a coalition of environmental justice, agriculture, health, political, and environmental organizations working together to stop the dangerous practice of irrigating California crops with toxic oil waste.

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