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350,000 People Call on Gov. Brown to Stop Irrigating Crops With Oil Wastewater

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350,000 People Call on Gov. Brown to Stop Irrigating Crops With Oil Wastewater

Pushing a wheelbarrow filled with 350,000 petition signatures, concerned Californians gathered outside the capitol Tuesday to urge Gov. Brown and the California Water Resources Control Board to stop the potentially dangerous practice of using wastewater from oil drilling to irrigate California's crops.

The wastewater, sold by Chevron and California Resources Corporation, is now being used to irrigate more than 90,000 acres in the Cawelo Irrigation District and the North Kern Water Management District and is slated to expand in the near future to other districts.

The group, which included Assemblymember Mike Gatto, UCSF nurse practitioner Lisa Hartmayer, Center for Biological Diversity scientist John Fleming and California consumers, delivered a petition with more than 350,000 signatures, gathered around the state and nation, calling for an immediate halt to the practice.

"Californians want to know what is in the water and the soil that is used to grow their food. This should not be a problem, especially if there is nothing to hide," Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) said.

California produces almost half of the fruits, nuts and vegetables that feed the U.S. and more than 100 farms in the Central Valley use oil wastewater for irrigation. Some of the U.S.' most popular brands grow food in the Cawelo and North Kern water districts, including Trinchero Family Estates (makers of Sutter Home wines), Halos Mandarins (formerly known as Cuties) and The Wine Group (makers of Cupcake and Fish Eye wines).

At the same time, there hasn't been a comprehensive, independent study to determine if the wastewater is safe for crop irrigation. The limited analysis done used outdated methods; regulators don't screen for all the chemicals used in oil extraction, many of which are carcinogens. The Los Angeles Times reported that a test of the wastewater sold by Chevron to the Cawelo Irrigation District contained acetone and benzene.

Some of the chemicals used in oil operations are linked to cancer, kidney failure, reproductive issues and liver damage. No comprehensive and independent analysis has been conducted to assess the safety of the wastewater. Oil-industry wastewater can contain high levels of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals. State oil officials' own study detected benzene levels in oil wastewater at thousands of times the federal limits for drinking water.

"As a nurse, one of the simplest yet most important recommendations I can give a patient is to eat more fruits and vegetables," Lisa Hartmayer, nurse practitioner at UCSF, said. "How can our governor and water regulators sleep at night knowing that the fresh foods that millions of people eat to stay healthy may actually be threatening their health? We don't know if our tangerines, almonds and grapes are contaminated with water that could be carcinogenic."

In addition to the dangers posed to consumers, agricultural workers are exposed daily to the oil and gas wastewater with no protection for their health and safety.

"Oil wastewater doesn't belong on California's crops. It's irresponsible to take this kind of risk with our food supply," John Fleming, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said. "We should take a precautionary approach to mixing oil with food and wait until there are studies proving this practice is safe before we even consider it."

"I'm here for my kids. It concerns me that Governor Brown would allow this practice without thorough testing. This is the food that I feed my kids every day. The thought that they could get sick from tainted food really worries me," Sue Chiang from Oakland said.

Petition signers from around the state appealed directly to the governor and his desire to be perceived as an environmental champion. Rev. and Mrs. Don Baldwin from Nevada City wrote in their comments: "Dear Gov. Brown—If you are to truly go down in history as our 'environmental' governor, you MUST see this as one of the most significant actions you need to take."

A growing number of Californians are raising concerns about the use of wastewater for crop irrigation and organized Protect California Food, an affiliate of Californians Against Fracking, which is calling on Gov. Brown and state water regulators to immediately ban the practice. Californians Against Fracking is a coalition of about 200 environmental business, health, agriculture, labor, political and environmental justice organizations working to win a statewide ban on fracking and other dangerous extraction techniques in California.

The petition signatures were collected by CREDO, Care2, Food & Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, RootsKeeper, Center for Environmental Health, Breast Cancer Action, Center for Food Safety, Courage Campaign and the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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