Over the past month, US law enforcement has uncovered some 25,000 marijuana plants growing illegally within California’s national forests, according to federal court documents reviewed by Quartz. In at least one case, the illicit growers sprayed the plants with one of the most dangerous pesticides in the world.
Known as carbofuran, the pesticide is banned for poisoning humans and killing wildlife.
“These are federal lands, and they are being systematically destroyed through clear-cutting, stream diversion, chemicals and pesticides,” a federal prosecutor told reporters on Tuesday (Aug. 20). “It’s a vitally important issue.”
For years, carbofuran, sold under the brand name Furadan by Philadelphia-based FMC Corporation, was sprayed on American corn, cotton, potatoes, sunflowers, and other food crops. Regulators took carbofuran off the American market in 2008 after it was blamed for killing more birds in the US than any other pesticide in history. It is also banned in the European Union, Canada, and more recently, Brazil.
Numerous studies have found that the pesticide disrupts the endocrine system in lab animals, interfering with reproduction. The material safety data sheet for carbofuran warns that exposure could cause “blurred vision, tearing, pin-point pupils, blue skin color, convulsions, tremor and coma,” among other acute responses.
In 1998, in Fresno County, California, 34 farm workers were sickened after going to work on a cotton field recently sprayed with carbofuran, according to a UC Centers for Disease Control report. Meanwhile, the EPA estimated at the time that carbofuran was killing 1 to 2 million birds in the US each year. More recently, 13 bald eagles were found dead on a farm in Maryland in 2016, felled by ingesting carbofuran.