People in California's Central Valley could be drinking water tainted by cancer-causing chemicals used in oilfields, and current water-testing procedures would not detect these substances, according to a scientific report released Tuesday by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of California and the University of the Pacific.
More than 100 farms in the Central Valley use oil wastewater for irrigation.
The report identified dozens of hazardous chemicals used in oilfields that supply waste fluid used to irrigate food crops and recharge underground water supplies in California. Researchers note that produced fluid from these oilfields is recharging regional aquifers used for agriculture that "can also be used for domestic water supply (including drinking water)."
"Many of the chemicals used on oil fields do not have standard analytical protocols for their detection in water, so current water quality monitoring programs are mainly focused on naturally occurring contaminants," the report noted.
"Given these shocking findings, California regulators should immediately halt the use of oil-waste fluid in any procedure that could contaminate the water we drink or the food we eat," said John Fleming, a staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity and member of the Protect California Food coalition and Californians Against Fracking. "It's absolutely unacceptable that people in the Central Valley could be drinking dangerous oil-industry chemicals right now without even knowing it."
Oilfield wastewater has been used to irrigate food crops in the Cawelo Water District since the mid-1990s, the report noted. The practice recently spread to the North Kern Water Storage District, and state officials have said they hope to further expand it. But there has been little evaluation of risks posed by the threat of chemicals in such fluid.
Researchers noted that many chemicals used in these oilfields cannot be evaluated for hazards because oil companies have withheld key information. But more than 40 percent of those substances that can be identified can be classified as potential threats to human health or the environment.
"This report shines an important light on a troubling reality—the state of California is allowing the oil industry to experiment on consumers of our food products and the agricultural workers that grow them," said Madeline Stano, a staff attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. "The report demonstrates that the use of oil wastewater adds serious risks to both consumers and agricultural workers' health and safety. The state should stop this practice immediately."
Ten of the oilfield chemicals evaluated by this research team have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as either carcinogenic or possibly carcinogenic in humans.
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) and Halos Mandarins (formerly known as Cuties).
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.