Toxic chemicals left at marijuana operations become growing concern

- An illegal pot grow on Big Rock Ranch west of San Rafael last week turned up about 100 marijuana plants, but the pot wasn't what worried law enforcement most.

"It's not so much the plants themselves anymore," Marin County Sheriff's Lt. Doug Pittman told KTVU. "It's the environmental impact these growing operations are having."

The plants were spotted by a hiker who was traversing the public trails off Lucas Valley Road.

The open space adjoins private land owned by Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas.

"Lucas isn't wild about having his property associated with this," acknowledged Pittman.

West Marin landowners often call this time of year with marijuana sightings. And with deer season opening soon, hunters will be calling too.

"It's not so much the issue of the marijuana, it's the issue of these hazardous materials. These pesticides and these poisons that are being left behind," declared Lt. Pittman. "We're talking fertilizer, pesticides, literal rat poison, used by these growers to protect their operation."

One ton of trash and waste was hauled out by helicopter on Thursday, from both the Big Rock site and another further west near Nicasio Reservoir.

That area, known as Laurel Canyon, was raided a few weeks ago and six hundred plants seized. Returning for cleanup Thursday will keep harmful substances from the waterways.

"That's great that they found it," hiker Sandy Liaw told KTVU. "And people are so eco-friendly here, I think people are more concerned about the environmental damage."      

The plants are scattered across a couple of acres, so they don't stand out in the landscape.

"I hike out here once a week, " visitor Stephan Pejic told KTVU, " and I've never seen anything like that, so it is surprising."

"This is beautiful country here," runner Shawna Dobson added. " I want to continue to be able to utilize it for things like mountain biking and running, so this is upsetting."

Lt. Pittman says more raids will come. In fact, the Sheriff's Dept. has been tipped to some armor-piercing ammunition found out in the hills, suggesting law enforcement should pay a visit, but carefully.

No arrests were made Thursday because no one was present at either raid location. 

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