Toxic Pesticides and Other Chemicals From Illegal Grows Could Be Affecting Drinking Water, According to Article in U.S. News and World Reports

malathion at trespass grow

Malathion at a trespass marijuana grow. [Photo by Kym Kemp]

Yesterday, U.S. News and World Report posted an article about how banned pesticides and other chemicals found in illegal marijuana grows may be affecting drinking water. Tests done by various official entities show toxic chemicals in “rivers and streams that feed the state’s water supply, prompting fears that humans and animals may be at risk.”

Dogs and even law enforcement officers have gotten ill from coming into contact with the poisons.

Mourad Gabriel of Integral Ecology Research Center stands amid an illegal marijuana grow site in Northern California. Gabriel led research with UC Davis connecting rat poison at such sites to the deaths of fishers, weasel-like mammals proposed for federal listing as a threatened species. [Photo by Mark Higley/Hoopa Valley Tribal Forestry]

The article is based on research by Humboldt County resident Mourad Gabriel. The article states,

Gabriel, who has visited more than 100 sites in California and is widely considered the leading authority on toxins at marijuana farms, said about half the streams he studied in eight watersheds in the state’s prime pot-growing regions tested positive for contaminants.

In unpublished data seen by Reuters, Gabriel’s testing showed carbofuran, diazinon and other chemicals were present downstream from pot farms in Kern County in Central California, Humboldt County on the state’s northwestern coast, Mendocino County north of Santa Rosa and others. In some cases, the chemicals were present only in trace amounts.

Some streams tested positive more than a year after law enforcement cleared illegal grows from nearby land.

To read the full piece, click here.

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80 comments

  • Thanks for the heads up!

  • Oh wow. All the watersheds are already tainted with BENZINE and the soils and lungs of every man woman and child who resided here during the indoor heyday with DIESEL PARTICULATES . .. thanks a lot.

    Ironically some of the biggest whiny mouths about uncovered greenhouses or loads of water enroute on “their” road were the ASSHOLES who blew it up indoor running a generator 24/7 for five fucking years straight.

    • Shall we talk about 2-4 D, or 2-4-5 T, mixed with diesel and sprayed on THOUSANDS of acres of timber lands in the 80s. AGENT ORANGE for those with short memories. Still causing massive birth defects in Vietnam 50 years later.
      Don’t blame everything on cannabis

      • Yeah exactly my thought. What this guy tests right downstream from a huge ugly grow and finds trace amounts of nasty stuff? Wow A real Sherlock Holmes.
        Sounds like more click bait made-up drama from the anti side. Like the environmental guy who had his ‘dog poisoned by growers’ in blue lake. What a bunch of phooey

        • Wow I had no idea this was the same guy with the dog story. Funny how it fits with his narrative of evil grower though doesn’t it?

          • Such bulcrap, trying to gather data on bad environmental damage. He should go after the timber industry instead of sending light on my profit!

      • True dat! I love classic news headline. “Could” and “according to”. …. blah blah. Just as lame as my posts!

      • Thanks for this reminder. I’ve not forgotten, and the lumber companies continuing to poison the hard woods goes on, even in the face of a citizens’ referendum to stop it.
        Mendocino County Supervisors decided that democracy isn’t appropriate when Old Money protests the outcome. Or threatens to sue them.
        I hope that someday, when the current crop of Sups is rotting in their graves, we will find equanimity and justice…but I’m not holding my breath.

  • God damn, that is horrible.

  • That’s one reason I drink bottled water!!

  • Wait, isn’t that the guy whose dog got poisoned, whatever happened to that?

  • Sure. We are beginning the next phase of media reports to shape public opinion. This next phase will target unpermitted ie. “illegal” growers. It will lump them all together as anybody who doesn’t pay permit fees, pay taxes and get complied with the various agencies. In other words- any remaining mom n pops that couldn’t afford to compete in a compliance model will be lumped as being as destructive as the worst offenders (large mexican mafia-backed crap grows on national forest) and will be demonized. They need to get on this phase before it becomes apparent that hardly anybody WITH permits ie. “legal grows” can compete against the BigAg operations coming in. Only after the outlaw growers and the small to mid-level “permitted growers are wiped out will they then “legalize” federally, allowing these huge farms to export “legally” to the east coast and destroy all small growers back there. …Remember- You wanted to be “safe” and “legal” and “step into the light”? This is how the Big Boys play. You jumped right in so yeah…Enjoy!!

    • For god’s sake, Farce. How would you like me to characterize the people who use banned poisons while growing marijuana? Come up with a short description that fits in a title.

      Until then, I, the dreaded monlithic media–which includes such diverse styles as NY Times and Breitbart News–will continue to use terms such as illegal grows and trespass grows because I’m part of a plot to squeeze out mom and pop farmers.

      [And for those of you in any doubt there was a hefty dose of sarcasm used in writing this comment.]

    • Lol, no. Real mom and pops (although doomed by the law) will still be distinguishable based on their size. You’re right though, the law utterly failed by not setting reasonable limits on farm size. It has doomed mom and pop and boutique grows.

    • The only farce I see here is your paranoid opinion.

      • Lots of people in every state use legal Round-Up! They don’t worry@ waterways or lakes or anything else! I personally know people that live on the Eel River that saturate their property twice a year with that stuff- right on the drains to the river! It’ s to keep weeds and blackberrys from taking over. SO disgusting & nothing to do with pot! But no one will stop them cuz it’s “legal”. Grrr

        • Very true. The correlation / link to rogue grows is speculative. “Science” like this is created for the sole purpose of getting people all whipped up without pointing out that it is toxic shit like this that is going on everyday everywhere in rural and urban and industrial (“legal”) settings. Demonization might be right.

          • Obviously, you have not read any of this research or heard the latest data where samples were directly below and above grows. Below grow = positive, and above grow = negative. But heck, that’s junk science to a non-scientist, but to a researcher, that’s real science. Who would have thunk?

    • Dang!!! who would have thought the dope growers are harder on the environment and society than those mean gross Loggers.

  • Does anybody here remember the widespread use of herbicides by the timber companies? They sprayed from helicopters after clear cut logging redwoods, to keep weeds down. Remember Rod Deal and the I-Deals and their song “Herbicide Danger?”

    • Again, can we focus on one bad and not deflect? Is this OK in your world? or are they both bad practices?

      • Theyre all bad uses, the products are toxic. Yet most of them are allowed sprayed on food and on the food they feed animals that you then eat.
        Yes pot is more regulated than food. Really think about that. Do you think the grapes and cows are really not a problem?

        Guess what the waters already full of toxins!
        How did the researcher distinguish between chemicals from recent grows and the nasty chemicals used by the timber companies that were aerially sprayed after being mixed with diesel to help the chemicals stick????
        Or all the leftover chemicals from millsites and distilleries and meth labs that have been persisting for a long time after being dumped on ground???

        The basic gist is this, the problems with bad grows are just the latest toxification. If there has never been any chemicals sprayed then sure lets say its all from pot.
        Its a cumulative thing, look at the rules for timber companies to log in natl forests, theyre not regulated regarding chemicals.

        If you are growing anything but pot and are diverting waterways and using toxic chemicals, you wont be in trouble. Only if you have pot. Makes it kinda hard to take seriously. Especially when you can graze your cattle on public land and they poop in every creek.

        If only the problems were just pot, it would be manageable, but it will barely make a dent in the issue. Its just an easy group to target rightnow.

        Where the hell were the scientists when they were poisoning our rivers and creeks for over 50 years, even public lands (cow craps in most public forest water yuk), just to turn a profit?? Where were the studies??
        I have no respect for any scientist that only takes one factor into consideration. Gabriel did you test for any chemicals besides rat poison? How about the effects of the cyanide canisters all over our public lands meant to kill coyotes??
        Have all the dead animals youve found been tested for muliple toxins?

        I hate the mega grows in our forests, always glad to see them go of course, but this article is misleading in that it again makes all pot grows sound awful when it seems the focus here is on public lands.
        I know more ranchers than growers who use the awful rat poisons. But you guys arent checking around cattle farms.

        • No long winded answer,……they found illegal chemicals that are illegal to use both state and federally. They have been illegal for decades. So this science is still bogus?

        • Lets analyze that deadly horrible cow crap from a common cow grazing in the Forrest (green grass, water and some salt/ mineral. Dam cow keeps grass young and growing if managed right, keeps it from turning into fibrous, dry fire hazard. Big grass and big dry brush equals big fires. Grazing livestock and wise timber management is not as evil as some low information socialists would love you to believe. They don’t call it refer madness for nothing.

  • yeah, like the wineries in Rosa and Ukiah and food producers in kern arent using toxic stuff… smh

    • You’re right, this is all a farce, he is just trying to deflect blame from another group of AG. Shame on him for focusing on one research topic, shame on this scientist, shame, shame shame! (Sarcasm!!!)

      • Thx sarcastic one, in good sciene you develop a theory and study multiple factors. Mayb he did but it sure doesnt state that.
        We all know rat poison is awful already, not sold in humboldt due to public pressure to boycott any local store carrying it, but easy to get from gemplers in the mail.

        Hmmm, what if we stopped allowing it to be sold in CA altogether? Gosh i guess that just makes too much sense. And then the real reasons for all the toxins will come to light and big biz cant have that! Theyve been getting away with it too long.

        Imagine if they tested your water just for a certain substance and there were ten other substances in there that could harm you, you would never get better. You=forest.

        • Not sold in humboldt, ha your dreaming or just Someone who has never traveled outside of their little Kingdom. I can give you 5 stores feed, hardware, grocery stores that sell rodenticides. Again as someone mentioned would placing a water monitor below in above aggro site not constitute good science? If you say yes to this obviously you have a crackerjack degree

  • and sweet tequila bottles thrown in the picture to make drama over race…smh

    • Did you just assume that hispanics only drink tequilla?

      • I didn’t catch that till you posted it, ha! Mexicans don’t drink that shitty Cuervo. In college I worked as a doorman in a building the Cuervo family had a condo, at Christmas they gave us Sauza.

  • Yet, the people who smoke it, eat it, drink it, are alive and well. mmmmm. Farce might be on to something there.
    In Idaho, the blue green algae is correlated with the mandated mosquito spraying.

  • Muddy Black Dodge

    Pile of Ortho and Tomcat products… Sold by the hundreds of ponds every day at stores everyday. Isn’t that the same crap used at homes all over the world. Run off from chemical lawn fertilizers and pesticides ends up in rural creeks and in the ocean. Seems that these types of products should be banned for all types of growing, not just in the woods. Not to mention, GMO’s… Just begging the question…. What’s the difference, we all live down stream. Keep it clean, organics is the way to go no matter where/how/what you grow.

  • All our water, from the mountains to the ocean (and to the deepest parts) are also full of suspended nanoparticles of plastic. ALL fish is full of plastic.
    No one yet knows the consequences of this. There is no way to filter it. Drinking bottled water ADDS to the problem, and the water in the bottle is no safer.

  • Great comments fellas. U ready for ww3? Civilwarusa? U sound divided? Stop the hate. Let’s group up and STEP UP.

  • How come we never hear anything about the decimated porcupine population? They were resilient even when they tried to hunt them into extinction, nary a sighting or sign of them in 25 years.

  • Yeah organics is the way to go,ever drink bottle of chicken shit,didnt think so.

  • Does Mr. Gabriel test for contaminants from logging? Mining? Manufacturing? Just wondering. Sounds awfully specific for a field of study. I am sure the illegal grows contaminate, just wonder how much compared to other industries.

    • It’s Dr. Gabriel.and there are those that focus on forest health and he is one of them. All actions possible are investigated, but heck if it does not fit your scenario, then the research flawed.

      • @fd Ok it’s obvious you are ‘Dr’ Gabriel. Just wondering how you know who poisoned your dog? The story you tell is that the ‘evil’ growers did it to pay you back for your meddling. It’s pretty laughable but really, what’s your evidence? I’d like to hear your story. Sounds fishy, if no one was ever charged.

  • This is so reduculous. Toxic pesticides and chemicals are leaching into the ground water all over the planet because of every agricultural industry there is. Want to fix the environment? Start with the winery’s. Stop pumping water from the headwaters of the Eel river into the Russian to feed Sonoma county’s cash crop, and regulate the winery’s as you assholes do cannabis. Then we can talk about saving the planet.

  • Pointing fingers at others,saying he started it sound familiar? Like when you were 8 years old?

    No amount of wrong done by someone else is a free pass for your own wrong done now. Mother knew that was an endless morass of juvenile complaint and she cut through to the chase with “l don’t care who started it. Stop it now.”

  • Red wriggler compost worms can clean all the pesticides in your dirt. Tried to
    Teach that at the Local Farmers Market. Whatever you grow these days it’s all
    About the dirt. And worms make food & rich black gold dirt .If every farmer had a healthy compost where they threw out their leftovers (minus meat products and citrus) thats one way to Solve this problem. FYI: Certain kind of Mushrooms are cleaning up nuclear waste around the nuclear plant in Japan. If interested read Eureka author, Amy Stewart’s When the Earth Moved as well as Worms Eat My Garbage.
    Just my comment.

  • If you garden by stripping the earth for convenient weed control so you can pour chemical fertilizer on isolated individual plants for fast growth, no worms are going to thrive. Not when you grow, not when you abandon the land.

  • Look in the garages of older men. Full of herbicides and pesticides.

    • So you can firmly say that their use should have not been stopped? Or that the world has learned something since then?

      What does it have to do with what is going on now? It is very unclear what this idea means to the future.

      • I am saying let us set the bar high or the entire California Agricultural community, not just this one. I am pro organic farming. I am pro organic living. I am anti big government over regulating this dying industry into dust. This phase in the war on cannabis is nothing more than a final cash grab by our local and state government. The state and regional water control boards don’t give a shit about water quality. I they did they would pull the plug on the thousands of vineyards that line the Russian River, pumping Eagle 20 into that toxic artery of the wine industry. It’s all about money. No agricultural industry in the history of time has had to face such environmental scrutiny. Of course people that use pesticides that are know neurontoxins are the bad guys. Of course chemicals that are known to cause cancer should not be used on any agricultural produc…. oh shoot. That would mean all of our conventional produce is off the shelves…. that would mean the majority of you dumb dumbs would have to buy organic vegetables!! Nooooooo!!!!! Not orgaaaaaaaaniiiiiic! My point is simple. The sensationalism about the ugly side of this industry is completely blown out of proportion. I’m so sick of hearing about it. Just write an editorial piece about how you hate the devils lettuce and spare us the details about environmental tyranny. The god damned president of the United States is the biggest environmental tyrant in modern history. Good day to you people.

  • Thank you greedy mutha f*****s. Continue to damage and poison our planet.

  • Maraud has done great work over the years as documented in a recent article in Discover magazine. He’s found pesticides in spotted and barred owls from grow contamination locally and multiple areas around the state. Dangerous work!

  • Ok Paul, so some owl scat had pesticides in it, so the only place it could have come from is a cannabis garden? Now every cannabis garden needs to be regulated into oblivion? And Me_Too let me get this straight, because you turn a profit from hard work, you are a greedy mother f****r? No one can grow cannabis and do it environmentally responsibly ? And if you are doing it environmentally responsibly but turning a profit you are automatically a greedy person? You folks sound like you are bitter that it’s not 1989 still and you can’t make $5000 a lb for your shade grown dirt weed. The good old days are over, you made your money humbly, when it was 1 ounce per plant harvests, and now the new young threat is all just a bunch of environment raping greedy people. You folks are so out of touch with reality. When cannabis leaves these hills, so will everything else. You will have no grocery store. You will have no road maintenance (as if we barely do now) and you will have no schools. Yes the green rush is ugly. Is it all bad people? No. Is commercial cannabis cultivation inherently bad for the environment ? Maybe. But isn’t anything done on a commercial level a litte bad for the environment? Absolutely. You people want the weed to leave Humboldt too you may as well start packing because this place is going to be a ghost town. Can’t live without money. Cant make money without an economy. Do the math you NIMBY politicial witchunters.

  • Victor G. Flashman

    Most water sources in the “civilized” world also contain, progestin, digoxin, THC metabolites, cocaine metabolites, and many many prescription drugs and hormones, as well as xenoestrogens, and chlorinated hydrocarbons. Enjoy!

    This New Study Found More Drugs in Our Drinking Water Than Anybody Knew
    And no one’s doing anything about it
    By Dawn Fallik
    December 10, 2013

    Doctors prescribe hydrocodone for pain. They recommend ranitidine for acid reflux, a diuretic called hydrochlorothiazide for congestive heart failure.
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    But you don’t need a prescription to get these drugs in tiny doses. They’re found already in our nation’s water supply—and, according to an upcoming national study, the largest done so far, in higher amounts than drug companies anticipated.

    We know how the drugs get there: Our bodies release them when we urinate or flush old drugs down the toilet. And it’s well known by now that pharmaceuticals are affecting fish, frogs and lobsters­—small amounts of estrogen cause male fish to develop eggs, for instance. But the impact on human health is unclear. Although research on pharmaceuticals in the water supply began almost a decade ago, no one seems to know which compounds need to be removed or how to remove them from the water safely. And no one seems to know which government agency should step forward and take action.

    “All of these drugs out there on the market are going to be discharged into the environment and we don’t know what the effects are, because there’s no requirement to do an assessment on the front end,” said Nick Schroeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit.

    “We’re not trying to scare anyone, but we need to know what these chemical compounds will do to the environment and what are the long-term effects for humans. No one seems to know.”

    The new study, which will be released in January in the journal Environmental Pollution, was obtained by The New Republic. Conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, it is the largest study of water coming out of wastewater treatment plants.

    It looked at samples from 50 large-size wastewater treatment plants nationwide and tested for 56 drugs including oxycodone, high-blood pressure medications, and over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and ibuprofen. More than half the samples tested positive for at least 25 of the drugs monitored, the study said. High blood pressure medications appeared in the highest concentrations and most frequently.

    “We were surprised to find that many drugs occurring across all the wastewater plants,” said Mitchell Kostich, the EPA research biologist who led the study. “We were also surprised to see so many drugs of a particular class—the high blood pressure medications—appear at those levels across the board.”

    One reason for the higher numbers is better technology, which can trace drugs at smaller amounts. But it’s also because we’re taking more drugs than ever, from over-the-counter medications for headaches to prescription medications for depression, acid reflux, and high blood pressure. According to a Mayo Clinic study released in June, nearly 70 percent of Americans take one prescription drug, up from 48 percent in 2007-2008.

    Health officials say these compounds in water pose a low risk to humans. But they also said that there are no good models to predict the effect this cocktail of low-level medications would have on human or aquatic life. Right now, there are no federal or state regulations requiring drinking water or wastewater plants to monitor pharmaceutical compounds in water.

    “Who would have thought that those trace amounts would be having that impact on fish?” said Raanan Bloom, senior environmental officer for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, the FDA division that oversees most medications and reviews new applications. “We didn’t expect that to happen at those concentrations.”

    When a pharmaceutical company applies for new drug approval, it has to submit an estimate of how much that drug will end up in the environment. They use a model based on how many people they estimate will take the drug, how it will pass through the body, and how it degrades in water. If the estimate is over 1 part per billion (ppb) the FDA can ask for a more thorough evaluation of how that drug will affect aquatic life.

    On July 7, 2010, two environmental groups—the National Resources Defense Council and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center—filed a citizen’s petition asking the FDA to ask for a more thorough evaluation for all new drug applications, no matter what the estimate.

    Last February, the FDA denied the petition. In its reply, the agency said the groups did not account for the significant dilution that occurs after compounds leave a wastewater treatment plant. The agency also said it could ask for more complete assessments for certain classes of drugs that present “extraordinary circumstances” to do serious harm to the environment.

    Although eight of the drugs in the EPA study came in at maximum levels above that 1 ppb “brightline,” FDA officials said it would be a challenge to go back and ask the pharmaceutical companies to re-evaluate.

    Shane Snyder is co-director at the Arizona Laboratory for Emerging Contaminants at the University of Arizona and has been working on pharmaceuticals in the water supply for more than a decade.

    So far, there have not been any studies showing effects on human health. It is particularly difficult to study the effects on the most vulnerable populations: pregnant women and the elderly. But Snyder is frustrated that nothing has been done about the drugs that have already been found to be definitely problematic for aquatic life.

    “Look at estrogen and endocrine disruptors—here’s a case where there is compelling evidence that it has an effect on aquatic life and still nothing has been done,” said Snyder.

    Snyder said it would not be that difficult to figure out how to remove the compounds from the water, but it might be costly and the byproducts might be worse than the original contaminants.

    “If you put in ozone or advance oxidization to take out a compound, when you oxidize chemicals it becomes something different,” he said. “So while it’s no longer a statin it’s now some byproduct. It’s now very common to make water more toxic after treatment than it was before treatment.”

    Andrew Sawyers, the current EPA administrator for water, declined to be interviewed for this article. An EPA spokesman said the Office of Water was not yet prepared to comment on the report.

    So what’s next? More studies. The FDA says it is working on human health studies. And Kostich, the head of the EPA’s study, said he planned to focus next on the impact of the hypertension medication on aquatic life.

    “It’s hard to know where to start,” he said. “How do you take the blood pressure of a fish?”

    Schroeck, of the Great Lakes Environmental Center, said he’d like to see future studies focus on that low-level mixture.

    “The scary thing for me is not one particular drug, although do I want to be drinking Viagra in my water? No,” said Shroeck. “It’s potentially hundreds or thousands of compounds interacting with each other and how that affects aquatic life and human health.”

    “It’s great that we keep coming up with new and interesting drugs, but we have to look at what the potential impacts are,” he continued. “It’s almost too late to try and put the genie back in the bottle.”

    Dawn Fallik is a science and medical reporter who has written for The Wall Street Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She is a visiting professor at the University of Kansas.

  • All I can say is from personal experience, my water source in the middle of the redwood had no detectable chemicals until the up stream pot grower left his extra bags of fertilizer to overwinter outside. Then chemical testing was not required. The dead livestock was good enough.

    Why would anyone think that because somewhere else simeone poisoned water that it’s just fine to poison it here? NIMBY seems like simple survival just as I don’t want to live next to a nuclear power plant or toxic land fill. To avoid it, I’m perfectly happy to live without what would cause it.

    Anyone who can’t respect that does so because they think themselve safe or they are so geeedy for the product they can’t think straight. Either case that idea is the ultimate in self absorbed greed. No one can really look at the naked, lifeless dirt surrounding each luscious island of precious green – the pot plant- and not know that chemical use created it and that those chemicals don’t stay stay there forever. And for what? Not food needed for life but for the illusion. Of course I hate it. You should be asking where did that pot come from and did it cause harm. Not a question I ever heard voiced by pot users. Just the typical chorus of me, me, me.

    • Actually, there’s a whole movement called “Salmon Safe” in which growers grow and buyers buy cannabis that is organic and water isn’t drawn from the waterways during the critical summer months. Some growers are responsible but it sounds like you had a horrible experience with a terrible grower. I’m so sorry.

      • I’m glad you responded. Although I generally dislike pot growers and users, such responsibility would certainly reduce the hostility level. I’ve just never seen it. Only the other kind.

    • Where are the environmentalists in all of this? They were sure there to protest the logging and other legal jobs that used to be here. Are the all out growing?

  • the amount of 2,4-D sprayed on the logging track west of Riverdale to kill hardwoods is most likely greater than all the grows combined in a single year and that’s just one of dozens in a year. and it was sprayed in a watershed that flows directly into waters of the US just like all the other tracks where these valueless hardwoods are persistent. Gabriel is fully aware of this. if anyone is unclear who killed his dog, its the tweaked out Frodo, a Blue Lake junkie, the guy the EPD was looking for when they shot Tommy, according their story. politics have no place in science and scientists have no place in politics.

  • The elephant in the room are the Mexican cartel grows. Why aren’t they “convoyed” on a regular basis? Answer, no money in it and a lot of work cleaning up. By money I’m referring to no asset forfeiture.

  • This guy is a hack with a chip on his shoulder. The whole ‘growers poisoned my dog’ story always sounded fishy to me. Never backed up with any evidence, but sounded just nasty enough to believe (for some people) Now a study with so many uncontrolled variables that it’s laughable. Seems like a conclusion looking for a study. I’m not ok in any ways with trash or poisons being used, but that’s the point. Most growers don’t use this kind of junk.

    This guy is a joke.

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