The Stream, June 12, 2024: World’s Biggest Banks, Behind Oil and Gas Projects in the Amazon, Accused of Significant Greenwashing

Toxic PFAS chemicals have been detected at dozens of groundwater sites across Michigan. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue


  • Thousands of fish have died in a lagoon in Mexico as drought continues to afflict nearly 90 percent of the country. 
  • Chemical manufacturers and water utilities have sued the U.S. EPA over the agency’s new rule that limits PFAS in municipal drinking water.
  • Over the past two decades, just six of the world’s largest banks have funded the majority of oil and gas development in the Amazon rainforest, a new report says.
  • In the Philippines’ Agusan marshlands, Indigenous communities have adjusted to wildly erratic water levels and storms by building floating homes.

A landfill in Napa Valley, California, is leaking toxic materials into the Napa River, employees say, putting the health of vineyards, wineries, and people at risk.  

“The Napa Valley is amongst the most high-value agricultural land in the country. If there’s a contamination issue, the economic ripples are significant.” — Geoff Ellsworth, former mayor of St Helena, California. 

Current and former employees at two Napa Valley waste management companies — Clover Flat Landfill and Upper Valley Disposal Services — have formally complained that the businesses are knowingly polluting local lands and waters with leachate, a wastewater that contains “chemicals and heavy metals such as nitrates, chromium, arsenic, iron and zinc,” the Guardian reports.

Emails with regulators and inspection reports add to the evidence that two streams, which run adjacent to the landfill and act as tributaries to the Napa River, are transporting these pollutants from the landfill and facility to the downstream wine country. 

Former employees also sounded alarms over the landfill’s use of unregulated leachate diversions, fires that may have burned radioactive materials, and unsafe infrastructure. Following a 2023 investigation, the landfill was fined $620,000 by the state of California for discharging polluted water into one of the streams, and an investigation into the two businesses remains ongoing. Meanwhile many of the region’s wine companies do not have comment.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

A new report, released jointly this week by and the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), alleges that over the past 20 years, six of the world’s biggest banks have been responsible for nearly half of the oil and gas projects in the Amazon rainforest.

In December 2022, one of these banks, HSBC, “adopted a 100% Amazon exclusion policy,” the Guardian reports, and has so far, the authors say, made good on its word.  

The report accuses the five other banks — Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Itaú  Unibanco, Santander, and Bank of America — of greenwashing. The report asserts that “on average, 71 percent of the Amazon is not effectively protected through the environmental and social risk management frameworks” that the financial institutions claim to uphold. 

Across two decades and 560 transactions related to oil and gas projects in the Amazon, 280 banks were identified as financiers. Citibank and JPMorgan Chase, the authors found, invested the most capital into these projects: $2.43 billion and $2.42 billion, respectively. 

“We are literally living in a rainforest on fire, our rivers are either polluted or drying up,” Fany Kuiru, the general coordinator of COICA, told the Guardian. “Our fate is your fate: the Amazon is critical for the future of our planet.”

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers

104 Fahrenheit

The temperature this week in Chihuahua, Mexico, which, combined with dangerously low water levels exacerbated by drought, led to a mass fish death in the Bustillos Lagoon, Reuters reports. Municipal workers spread quicklime on the thousands of dead freshwater fish in an effort to mask their smell, another reminder of the water crisis currently affecting nearly 90 percent of the country. When water levels are low, any pollution or chemicals in a water body tend to concentrate, making what little habitat remains all the more toxic, Reuters reports.



Feet by which the water level in the Philippines’ Agusan marshlands can fluctuate in a matter of days, as storms made worse by climate change have made “flooding season” an antiquated term — flooding now occurs year-round, BBC reports. But the Indigenous Manobo community, while still reconciling these abrupt weather changes to fishing lifestyles and violent storms, have adjusted to their new climate reality by living in traditional floating homes, made of bamboo, built to move with the flow of water.

On the Radar

The American Chemistry Council and National Association of Manufacturers sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week, calling the agency’s April ruling mandating limits on PFAS in municipal drinking water “arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion,” the New York Times reports. The agency estimates the effort to rid drinking waters of PFAS will cost these systems about $1.5 billion annually, though the plaintiffs argue it will cost significantly more. The litigation comes about two weeks after plastics makers were told to prepare for “astronomical” PFAS lawsuits, the Times reported in late May. Two water utility groups have also sued to overturn the drinking water rules.

More Water News

Climate Superfund Act: Lawmakers in Vermont enacted the law last week, becoming the first state to hold oil firms financially accountable for damages spurred by climate change disasters, the Guardian reports

Chronic Wasting Disease: The deadly disease, which deteriorates the brains of deer and elk, is spreading across North America via water and dust as scientists seek to better understand its chemistry and potential harm to humans, Yale Environment 360 reports.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply