Most people consider marijuana to be a healthier habit than cigarette smoke, but illegal pot farms in California are proving to be far deadlier than a pack a day habit.
Waste caused by illegal use of pesticides and fertilizers created dumping grounds so toxic they landed law enforcement officers in the hospital.
Five federal officials and at least two suspects were hospitalized due to these toxic waste sites. Symptoms for those hospitalized include enormous skin rashes and respiratory problems—sometimes from as little as a single exposure.
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Illegal grow-ops have become a real problem for California. A 2014 estimate by US Forest Services had already determined that marijuana farms became a menace for federal forests, but more recent research into the issue shows the problem has grown to become an epidemic.
According to ecologist Mourad Gabriel, who often works for federal law enforcement agencies, California forests have 41 times more solid fertilizers and 80 times more liquid pesticides than investigators previously discovered. According to Reuters, federal land in California contains 731,000 pounds of solid fertilizer, 491,000 ounces of concentrated liquid fertilizer and 200,000 ounces of toxic pesticides.
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Thousands of sites are hidden in forested federal land and private property, and the people farming these sites are doing so with complete disregard for the law, which includes the use of chemicals. Many of those chemicals are banned or restricted, such as carbofuran and zinc phosphide. These chemicals are known to affect the delicate local wildlife and cause severe algae blooms and bacterial imbalances in the soil.
Cleaning up these sites once discovered is also no small task. Each site can be as much as $100,000.00 to decontaminate and could wind up costing California taxpayers of $100 million per year.
California isn’t the only state with this problem. Illegal grows have been spotted in Oregon and Washington state as well, although California accounts for 90% of the illegal weed grown in the US.
Although legalization is set for next year, experts are unsure how much of an impact it will have on the illegal marijuana farming industry. The hope is that many of those currently farming illegally will become licensed, which will allow local regulators to ensure they’re properly using dangerous chemicals.
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