Marijuana farms' toxic waste taking a toll on west coast ecosystems

More pollution is coming from private lands, where the chemicals seep into groundwater or local rivers and streams and make their way into the forests.
By Jose Jefferies | Aug 07, 2017
Thousands of acres of forest land in California and other states are soaked with toxic fertilizer runoff from illegal marijuana farms, and the problem runs much bigger than researchers had initially thought, according to the U.S. Forest Service and California state officials. They reported that at least five law-enforcement officers have had to undergo hospitalization because of exposure to the toxins while patrolling the forests.

Marijuana growers have been covertly raising their crops in hidden sites inside federal forest lands for years, frequently with fertilizers and pesticides long outlawed in the United States, such as carbofuran and zinc phosphide. More pollution is coming from private lands, where the chemicals seep into groundwater or local rivers and streams and make their way into the forests.

California is the location for more than 90% of this illicit farming activity. But local environmental agencies are finding similar pollution in forested areas in Oregon and Washington, as well.

It has grown further in the last few years. Mourad Gabriel, an ecologist who documents the issue for the Forest Service and other state, local, and federal law-enforcement agencies, estimated that California's forests hold 41 times as much solid fertilizer waste and 80 times as much liquid pesticide residue than Forest Service investigators had found in 2013.
"We're getting contamination over and over again at those locations," said Gabriel.
Some severely polluted sites cost as much as $100,000 to clean up, and experts estimate that cleaning up all of the environmental damage in California alone could cost $100 million or more.

Washington and Oregon have legalized marijuana cultivation, and California will soon legalize the drug, as well. But officials say that there are many incentives still to grow marijuana illegally.

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