The chemicals have turned thousands of acres of forest into waste dumps so toxic that law enforcement officers have been hospitalized after inadvertently touching plants and equipment, and scores of animals have died.
Toxic chemicals from illegal marijuana farms hidden deep in California’s forests are showing up in rivers and streams that feed the state’s water supply, prompting fears that humans and animals may be at risk, data reviewed by Reuters show.
The presence of potentially deadly pollutants in eight Northern and Central California watersheds is the latest sign of damage to the environment from thousands of illegal cannabis plantations, many of them run by drug cartels serving customers in other states, according to law enforcement.
“I don’t drink out of the creeks – and I used to,” said Sergeant Nathaniel Trujillo, a narcotics expert with the sheriff’s department of Trinity County, about 200 miles north of San Francisco. “I grew up drinking out of them.”
California accounts for more than 90 percent of illegal U.S. marijuana farming. There are as many as 50,000 marijuana farms in California according to state estimates, and even though voters legalized the drug last November, only about 16,000 growers are expected to seek licenses when commercial cultivation becomes legal next year.
Many of the illegal growers use fertilizers and pesticides long restricted or banned in the United States, including carbofuran and zinc phosphide.