Halos Cuties Are Grown Using Toxic Waste Water-Disputed!

Halos Cuties Are Grown Using Toxic Waste Water-Disputed!

Summary of eRumor:
Halos Cuties mandarin oranges are grown in California using toxic wastewater from oil refineries, according to viral reports.
The Truth:
Reports that Halos Cuties are grown using wastewater from oil refineries can be traced back to mid-2015.
The real question isn’t whether or not this occurs. The real question is whether or not treated wastewater from oil refineries is safe to use for crop irrigation, or if, as the rumor claims, it’s “toxic.”
Mother Jones broke news that food producers in southern California had been using oil wastewater to irrigate crops in July 2015. The story goes that California’s long drought, and regulations that prohibit oil companies from pumping wastewater from oil production back into the ground, have made a perfect recipe for oil wastewater irrigation, Mother Jones reports:

The Cawelo Water District blends oil wastewater with water from other sources such as the Kern River before sending it to farms. Last month, Food & Water Watch received from the district the names and addresses of companies that use its water. A few examples of the brands owned or supplied by those companies are listed below (though some of their fruits and vegetables may come from other parts of the state).

Halos mandarins, formerly marketed as Cuties, are grown by Wonderful Citrus, part of the farming mega-conglomerate owned by the Beverly Hills billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick. The Resnicks, who also own Fiji Water, POM Wonderful, and the world’s largest pistachio and almond growing operation, aremajor players in California water politics.

For its part, Wonderful Halos has responded to repeated questions on Facebook about whether or not it uses oilfield wastewater with the same response:

Wonderful Halos is deeply committed to bringing you the highest-quality, most nutritious, and best-tasting citrus available. Our crops are irrigated with water from a variety of sources, all of which meet or exceed the standards for agricultural irrigation.

To be sure, all of our produce is continuously and rigorously tested as part of our strict quality control process and adhere to all FDA regulations and guidelines. We’re proud of the delicious, premium citrus we grow, harvest and deliver to our customers around the world.

The State Water Resources Control Board requires regular tests of oilfield water used for irrigation, but Mother Jones notes, it has not set limits for contaminants found in the water.
One such test found that irrigation water supplied from Chevron had higher concentrations of the carcinogen benzene than is allowed in drinking water.But, given that recycled wastewater is mixed with water from other sources, it’s not clear what the benzene levels would be in water from various sources that’s applied to crops.
The California Council on Science and Technology partnered with UC-Berkley researchers on an independent assessment that concluded:

Operators in California use about 800 acre-feet (about a million m3) of water per year for hydraulic fracturing. This does not represent a large amount of freshwater compared to other human water use. Depending on the local scarcity of water, recycling the water used to create hydraulic fractures may have modest benefits. Far more water is used for enhanced oil recovery using water or steam flooding in the same fields, and large volumes of water of various salinities and qualities get produced along with the oil. Produced water from oil and gas production, appropriately tested and treated, has potential for beneficial reuse. The report recommends identifying opportunities for water conservation and reuse in the oil and gas industry as a whole.

The Los Angeles Times reported in May 2015 that Chevron sells 21 million gallons of treated oilfield wastewater to farmers in central California every day. It’s used to irrigate about 45,000 acres of crops. State officials praised oilfied water recycling as a solution to the state’s drought, and took steps last year to shore up regulation and testing, the Times reports:

Until now, government authorities have only required limited testing of recycled irrigation water, checking for naturally occurring toxins such as salts and arsenic, using decades-old monitoring standards. They haven’t screened for the range of chemicals used in modern oil production.

No one knows whether nuts, citrus or other crops grown with the recycled oil field water have been contaminated. Farmers may test crops for pests or disease, but they don’t check for water-borne chemicals. Instead, they rely on oversight by state and local water authorities. But experts say that testing of both the water and the produce should be expanded.

Last month, the Central Valley water authority, which regulates the water recycling program, notified all oil producers of new, broader testing requirements and ordered the companies to begin checking for chemicals covered under California’s new fracking disclosure regulations. The law, which legislators approved last year, requires oil companies to tell the state which chemicals they use in oil-extraction processes. The water authority gave producers until June 15 to report their results.

So, it’s true that treated wastewater from oil production is used to irrigate crops (possibly including Wonderful Halos), but whether or not the practice is safe is still up in the air.