Eugene embraces climate justice (on a global playing field)

I believe Oregon is going to be a global leader to champion human rights as a guide star of a meaningful approach to climate change.

What evidence do I see?

On February 12th, the Eugene City Council overwhelmingly adopted a resolution to endorse the International Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change. Our Council and Mayor are standing on the precipice of a new direction to address climate burdens! Foregrounding human rights at the heart of green energy conversations is a response to the ethical quagmire in which our nation is stuck. Placing the dialog into a framework of human rights changes the underlying assumptions of the climate movement from political concerns to principled action, from marketplace considerations to morally-based decision-making.

L to R: City Councilor Emily Semple; Eric Richardson, President of the
Eugene-Springfield NAACP; Mayor Lucy Vinis, Brittany Judson, NAACP; Mysti
Frost, Beyond Toxics Environmental Justice Community Organizer and Lisa
Arkin, Executive Director of Beyond Toxics.

Eugene is the second government entity in the global climate movement and the most populated city to formally endorse the International Declaration on Human Rights and Climate Change (HRCC)! The first city to endorse was Yachats, Oregon, home to one of the Declaration’s authors Dr. Tom Kerns. Tom, a former Beyond Toxics board member, worked with an international team that included numerous world-renowned environmental-human rights scholars to draft this amazing statement of principles. The Declaration is a clarion call to governments to address the human rights implications of climate change. The HRCC Declaration is part of a growing movement of initiatives reflecting the need to understand human rights and environmental justice as intrinsically threatened by climate change. The Declaration has been adopted by institutions around the world and was presented at the Paris Climate Accord Talks.

By endorsing the Declaration, Eugene can declare itself a visionary, taking needed action that recognizes the rights of humans and the natural living ecosystems that we are not separate from. Eugene is leading the way in the effort to recognize that climate injustice is closely intertwined with historical patterns of socio-economic, racial and gender injustice.

Earlier that same day, I marched with over 400 Oregonians at the Clean Energy Jobs Rally at Oregon’s State Capitol. The positive energy of climate activists was vibrant and inspiring! We also met with legislators to ask them to take action now, this year, to transition Oregon away from a fossil-fuel driven economy and towards a renewable economy. Beyond Toxics continues to help shape Oregon’s policies based on an environmental justice framework.

Clean Energy Jobs rally Feb. 12th, Salem, OR

As I write this blog, I’m happy to share with you: the Clean Energy Jobs bill passed out of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee today, on Valentine’s Day! (See the video, shot and edited by our own Ephraim Payne, of the Monday Clean Energy Jobs Rally.)

Of course, Beyond Toxics is here for the long haul to work with communities for climate justice. Climate change is predicted to impose the harshest burdens on communities with uneven and unrecognized vulnerabilities and those without power. I’m thinking of children, who depend on adults to make the world a safe place. I’m thinking of island communities, farming-dependent cultures and indigenous peoples. Oregon is home to a number of tribes and people of indigenous ancestry. As eloquently stated by some of the authors of the Declaration, for indigenous peoples “the threat of climate change goes to the heart of their existence as a people, with all that that implies for their right to exist as the people they are.”

Beyond Toxics wants to work with other communities, organizations, faith groups, schools and other institutions to build a vital and effective movement towards climate justice. Please join us by endorsing the Declaration! Please contact us to bring more government bodies to a place of compassionate action.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

Stories from the Field

BLOG by Lisa Arkin

Clean Air versus Dirty Tactics

Eugene, OR

Eugene, Oregon. Photo by Lisa Arkin.

Going head-to-head with corporate lobbyists and lawyers is a fine way to keep your environmental advocacy skills honed! During the nearly two years I served on the Cleaner Air Oregon rule-making committee, I got lots of practice dissecting the duplicitous arguments and twisted claims proffered by industry’s public relations people.

I can share surreal memories, such as looking on in disbelief when the woman representing Roseburg Forest Products, nearly sobbing, implored that her company was a small family-owned business that would fire workers if Oregon adopts air quality laws based on protecting health. She neglected to mention that Roseburg has polluting plants in Oregon, California, Montana, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Maybe she forgot that their California plants are complying with that state’s much stricter air quality standards.

There was also the dark time when a person representing the Pulp and Paper Association intimidated a mother representing her Southeast Portland neighborhood, the one downwind of notorious Bullseye Glass (the manufacturer who spewed hexavalent chromium and a soup of other highly harmful heavy metals on the adjacent daycare and the homes of working class Oregonians). The giant Pulp and Paper consortium threatened this mom with being hauled before the Oregon Governmental Ethics Commission for not registering as a lobbyist during the Cleaner Air Oregon meetings! This woman is a full-time speech therapist and was appointed by Governor Brown specifically to be the voice for her neighborhood. She’s a mom dedicating volunteer hours to help her neighbors – that’s not the definition of a lobbyist. She stayed strong, despite this threat.

There were also the incessant, thinly veiled threats to fire workers, the industry’s go-to mantra for every effort to protect environmental health. Yeah, we’ve heard it all before – threaten workers with unemployment so you can use them as a tool. Do workers never breathe the polluted air they work in?

These few examples only scratch the surface of the bullying and half-truths I witnessed during the Cleaner Air Oregon process. Nonetheless, we clean air advocates felt truth would prevail. After all, this was an official, science-based series of advisory committee meetings, right?

I’m sorry to say, I’ve become skeptical.

Because public response to Cleaner Air Oregon has been so positive, polluters are resorting to negative tactics. The evening the DEQ held public hearings in Eugene, Seneca Jones Timber and Roseburg Forest Products turned out dozens of their workers to demand the DEQ drop Cleaner Air Oregon.

Seneca strongly objects to the health-based goals of Cleaner Air Oregon and new requirements for industries to reduce pollution. I’d like to know how Seneca reconciles that with their claim to be “a sustainable, green business?” How much money is Seneca spending to fight Cleaner Air Oregon rather than supporting efforts to improve the health of their downwind neighbors in Eugene? Seneca neglects to mention that Cleaner Air Oregon proposed toxics reporting and modern pollution control equipment simply brings Oregon closer to the laws in other states.

Going lower still, Bullseye Glass just filed a $30 million lawsuit against Governor Kate Brown and the two agencies charged with public and environmental health. The lawsuit, which has every appearance of a slap-suit, claims Governor Brown conspired to launch an unprecedented crackdown on a small business – no mention of the many air quality laws they’re charged with violating and the citizen’s lawsuit for health damages.

Bend, Oregon

Clean Air gives us better views. Bend, Oregon. Photo by Lisa Arkin.

What other tricks are up the sleeves of corporate black suits to pressure our State to back down from a goal of cleaner air? They seemingly have no regret about pushing communities, workers and small businesses to the bottom.

Clean air is healthier kids. Clean air is less asthma. Clean air is less greenhouse gases and real solutions to climate change. Clean air is the only sane choice we have to move society forward. The status quo – where toxic air rains down on working class neighborhoods – is not an option. Don’t let industry drown Cleaner Air Oregon in lawsuits and lies. Throw a lifesaver by sending your support in the form of a public comment now. We all breathe this air – the forces of justice must prevail.

Lisa Arkin, Exec. Director

BLOG by Mysti Frost

Pushing for Clean Air

I think I will remember the day of the DEQ hearing on Cleaner Air Oregon for the rest of my life. I was sick with a very painful sinus and throat infection and I was not emotionally prepared for what was in store for me.

As I entered the meeting room at the DEQ in Eugene, I didn’t realize that I was walking into a room full of people opposed to nearly everything we at Beyond Toxics fights for.

Everyone in the room seemed friendly enough at the beginning of the Department of Environmental Quality’s presentation about Cleaner Air Oregon’s proposed rules. I listened to the enthusiastic presentation with a big smile on my face. It gave me hope to hear how the rules will try to balance the responsibility of cleaning up pollution with public health and cleaner manufacturing. I was very impressed and ready to give them all a high five.

The DEQ staff asked if there were any questions. This is about the time it became clear to me that the folks sitting around me were not impressed and smiling about these rules. They were more like spitting and hissing. They shouted out questions like “Why are you making us monitor chemicals you never monitored before?” “How can you impose laws on us requiring equipment improvements”? “Where are the fees you will collect from us going?” “To fund jobs!” I wanted to shout out.

Then came time for public testimony. For over an hour, one after another, they took to the mic and blasted the DEQ cleaner air staff. Roseburg Forest Products, then the Chamber of Commerce and Seneca. ALL of these testimonies claimed they would have to cut jobs and that these rules would damage Oregon’s economy.

By this time, I was both angry and confused about their tactics. It turned out I would be the last speaker of the night.I was ready to tell them all how I had worked for years at a law firm on work injury cases many involving the same businesses in the room. I was ready to cite statistics about the economic benefits of health communities. But as soon as I faced the room fear and my sore throat meant I was unable to voice my anger. I thanked the Cleaner Air Oregon staff for their efforts and mumbled something about the importance of regulating for human health and environmental justice. As I made my way down the aisle to exit the room, many there stared at me in disgust. As I approached the door, two large men stepped in my way. At first I thought it was my imagination. But the hair standing up on my neck told me it was not by accident. My eyes focused on the exit sign over the men’s shoulders. I said “excuse me” and a long pause followed. Then suddenly one of them stepped aside. As I pushed passed them he said, “That took a lot of guts. You should be proud.” He said this condescendingly with a straight face. No smile in his eyes. I didn’t bother to respond. I raced up the stairs and ran out the door all the way to my car.

I was hard on myself as I drove away from the hearing. Did I say the right words? Did I make a difference? But a few days later I got an email from a friend saying someone saw me at the hearing, representing Beyond Toxics and being the only one speaking out in support of the rules. I learned some valuable lessons that night. Don’t let them get into your head.

The experience made one of my favorite quotes come true: “Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” –Maggie Kuhn

Mysti Frost, Environmental Justice Community Organizer

 

Farmworkers deserve better pesticide rules

By Lisa Arkin, David Vázquez and Raoul Liévanos

More than 1 billion pounds of poisonous pesticides are applied on farms annually in the United States, resulting in as many as 20,000 physician-diagnosed poisonings annually among agricultural workers. University of Oregon environmental studies scholar Sarah Wald puts the number of farmworkers exposed to toxic levels of pesticides closer to 300,000, more than 10 times the official number.

A 2008 report by the state ­Department of Agriculture showed that 15.5 million pounds of pesticides were applied on Oregon farms. Many pesticide applications occur near farmworkers and their families, including young children, putting them at higher risk of health problems such as infertility, birth defects, neurological damage, cancer and death.

Two studies by researchers at Oregon Health & Sciences University concluded that low doses of pesticides over time can cause measurable loss of memory and other brain functions. Harmful pesticides also accumulate in substandard farmworker housing, posing additional risks to workers and their families.

The public rarely sees the dilapidated shacks, with their open cinder-block kitchens, showers and laundry facilities, where Oregon farmworkers live due to a well-documented history of community opposition to safe and affordable farmworker housing. This history is worsened by agricultural employers’ tendency to locate housing among orchards and fields, away from public roads.

The state Occupational Safety and Health Division, or Oregon OSHA, is considering how to implement new federal protection standards for farmworkers. Adopted in 2015 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these standards represent the first improvements in federal farmworker protections in a quarter of a century.

A pesticide application exclusion zone is a key provision of these new standards. The exclusion zone spans a radius of 100 feet in all directions from an air blast or aerial spray of pesticides. The EPA chose a 100-foot zone after a lengthy evaluation of medical and economic data. The EPA concludes that the exclusion zone will help reduce health risks for workers and their children, especially through pesticide drift from fields and orchards onto farmworker housing.

Oregon OSHA’s mission is to advance and improve workplace safety and health. The agency has a particularly important duty to protect the state’s farmworkers and inspect the quality of an estimated 309 farm-labor camps in Oregon where more than 9,200 people reside.

In contrast to its mission and contrary to the recommendations of the EPA, Oregon OSHA is proposing a “compliance alternative” that eliminates the 100-foot application exclusion zone around worker housing when people are present. Instead, the agency recommends that workers and their families stay inside their poorly sealed shelters when pesticides are being sprayed, euphemistically calling this practice “sheltering in place.”

Peer-reviewed studies show that substandard and crowded farmworker housing does not adequately protect these workers and their families from contact with pesticide drift and fumes.

OSHA is further proposing that when highly volatile pesticides are sprayed, workers and their families evacuate their houses to locations 150 feet away and wait 15 minutes before returning. These volatile pesticides require applicators to wear protective respiratory masks because breathing the fumes can result in serious injury, and even death.

It is unclear whether these same requirements would apply to the teachers, social workers and health practitioners who regularly visit these workers and their families.

Under Oregon OSHA’s proposal, as people huddled 150 feet away, their living areas would be exposed to concoctions of multiple harmful pesticides, leaving residue on toys, eating areas, laundry lines, doorknobs, shoes — and the list goes on.

Gov. Kate Brown’s Environmental Justice Task Force advises state agencies to conduct a detailed analysis of demographic, environmental and health data to identify adverse effects on communities. The extent to which Oregon OSHA has considered the possible adverse impacts of this proposed rule is inconsistent with task force guidelines.

Despite having data about the registered agricultural labor housing camps, Oregon OSHA made no estimate of the number of housing units falling within an application exclusion zone. Nor has the agency considered the medical costs associated with pesticide exposure to workers, their families and the public.

As Oregonians, we can do better. We have the power to ensure safe, sustainable working conditions for all Oregonians.

Oregon OSHA can require the 100-foot no-spray buffer zone around farmworker housing as an effective way to minimize worker exposure. We hope caring Oregonians let the agency know that its proposed changes to pesticide buffer zones are bad for agriculture and bad for Oregon.

Oregon OSHA will accept public comments until Dec. 15. Contact Beyond Toxics (beyondtoxics.org or 541-465-8860) for more information, and for a van ride to attend the public hearing in Medford at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

~ Lisa Arkin, Executive Director; David Vázquez is an associate professor of English at the University of Oregon. Raoul Liévanos is an assistant professor of sociology at the UO.

Resigning from GreenLane

Beyond Toxics is proud to have been one of the first nonprofits to join GreenLane Sustainable Business Network, a membership group for businesses and other organizations interested in sustainability. In September, I volunteered to serve on GreenLane’s board on behalf of Beyond Toxics. Unfortunately, as the Eugene Weekly reports in this week’s paper, I will not be serving on the board despite being voted in as an alternate member at the November 8 meeting.

As EW’s Kelly Kenoyer reports, Beyond Toxics and several other businesses and organizations – including our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild – are resigning our memberships in response to a representative of Seneca Sawmill Company joining the board on the same slate. All of these groups made our concerns known to GreenLane board members well in advance of the vote.

Seneca is one of the worst environmental polluters in our community. It is inappropriate for their Senior Vice President for Public Relations to sit on the policy setting board of a sustainability organization while the company is engaged in an attempt to re-brand their destructive policies as sustainable. As I told the Weekly, “(T)he truly sustainable businesses and organizations in Eugene have worked hard for years to build social capital around sustainability. Seneca is coming in to harvest that capital, to extract that capital, just like they extract forest resources — without consideration for the effects on the community and the environment as a whole.”

Chief among our concerns is Seneca’s aerial herbicide practices. When whistleblowing forest worker, Darryl Ivy documented the company’s spraying contractor committing numerous egregious violations of the state’s paltry standards for herbicide spraying – violations that sent Ivy to the hospital – Seneca didn’t admit the problem or change their practices. Instead, they claim their neighbors are “comfortable” with their spraying expertise. As outlined in my letter of resignation to the GreenLane board, published below, instead of working towards a truly sustainable model of forestry, Seneca pushes to increase clear-cutting on state and federal forestland and participates in the ongoing assault against public lands. These are not the actions of a sustainability leader.

We at Beyond Toxics want to make it clear that our resignation does not reflect personally on GreenLane’s current board members. Board elections of this type are not typically controversial and perhaps some did not expect the level of opposition Seneca’s candidacy would generate. We understand that volunteer officers are hard to recruit. However, we believe that a full and open discussion of our concerns at the November 8 meeting would have been appropriate before voting started and would have led to a positive outcome.

Ephraim Payne,
Development and Events Manager

Read my resignation letter below:

Board of Directors
Green Lane Sustainable Business Network
1430 Willamette #181
Eugene, OR 97401

November 9, 2017

Dear Board Members,

I regret to inform the GreenLane Board that Beyond Toxics is withdrawing its membership in the organization and I am resigning my position as an alternate board member. As I stated in my email of October 31, I strongly support GreenLane’s role as a catalyst for community building around the principles of sustainable business in Lane County and Beyond Toxics is proud of its early membership in the organization. I had looked forward to adding my event organizing and advocacy skills to grow GreenLane and serve the board in any capacity.

While we support the principle of inclusivity for GreenLane general membership, to be true to our mission we cannot support an aggressive polluter playing a leadership role on the board itself. Our long history with Seneca, and those of our allies in the climate and forest protection movement, shows us that the company embraces unsustainable practices at the core of its business rather than looking for sustainable solutions. Currently, Seneca is investing heavily in a rebranding campaign to cloak its environmentally harmful practices as beneficial while paying lip service to sustainability in an effort to shape its public image and we cannot remain complacent.

Not only does Seneca engage in the highly polluting practice of aerial spraying of toxic herbicides, it employs subcontractors with known histories of violating the few aerial spraying guidelines that protect Oregon forest workers. Seneca officials have gone on record denying poisoning people they employ despite video documentation and medical records affirming the harm. Their even-age, monoculture plantations of Douglas fir reduce genetic diversity and biodiversity. Their reliance on short rotation clear-cut logging increases erosion, pollutes water, adds to carbon pollution and global climate change. It is telling that they do not qualify for even the most basic forest certification.
Seneca’s owners evince a clear antipathy to preserving public land ownership in the face of overwhelming public support in Oregon for our state forests. They label environmental groups they disagree with as eco-radical bullies in the press. People in their employ have been accused of assaulting protesters and causing illegal pesticide drift. They are currently pushing to increase timber harvest on public land under the false premise that logging reduces wildfire severity. Are these the actions of a sustainable business leader?

For these reasons, we cannot stand by while GreenLane is coopted to serve Seneca’s public relations needs. While we would prefer to remain a member in good standing, and I would prefer to volunteer my time, we value the integrity of the community enough to call attention to the problem by our resignation.

Sincerely,
Ephraim Payne

Oregon Farm Workers Are Fighting for Their Lives

I remember, and you might too, feeling virtuous when my family took part in the California grape boycott in the 1970s. I was only a teenager, but to me it meant that I was standing in solidarity with farm workers. I felt a bond, although I’d never met a farm worker as far as I knew.

My small action, combined with the similar ethical choices of millions of others, helped farm workers position themselves to win. And what did they win? What they asked for were basic human rights: safer working conditions, less pesticide exposure, habitable housing and better wages.

History is revisiting these issues now.

Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is now in the process of setting laws that impact Oregon’s farm and forestry workers. I feel strongly that these proposed new laws perpetuate the economic exploitation and human rights violations we saw back in the 1960s and 1970s when Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta stood up to the grape growers. Unless we, as Oregonians, stand up and say “NO!” to OSHA, farm workers will be exploited yet again. We can’t let this happen on our watch.
OSHA is about to make a law that says farm workers will not get protection from pesticide sprays while they and their families are sleeping in their worker housing buildings.

This is cruel. Pesticides are carcinogens and neurotoxins. People should not be sprayed in their houses, where they go to rest after a hard day’s work in the fields. It’s one thing to have to go to the fields to spray and be sprayed with toxics chemicals. That is oppressive enough. People who work all day around poisons should not have to endure pesticide drift, and worry about their children being exposed in their own homes.

Hidden from view, tucked away in the pear and apple orchards of Hood River and Jackson County, are the buildings where farm workers live. Farm workers live in drab shelters that are not much more than one-room shacks made of cinder blocks or worn-out wood siding with sheet metal for roofs. The interior holds little more than bunk beds and a couple of shelves and a table. There is no running water, no bathrooms. Windows are sometimes made of cardboard instead of glass. The cold seeps in through gaping cracks in the walls and doors. In the summer, the heat bakes the workers under the sheet metal roofs. In Oregon over 9,000 farm workers and their families stay in this kind of housing. It’s not uncommon for six workers to live in a single, crowded room, each one paying $100 a month in rent. Kitchens, showers and laundry are in separate communal buildings. Kids play in the grass between the buildings used for sleeping and living.

Farm workers are literally fighting for their lives. According to Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN, Oregon’s Farm Worker Union, the average life span of a farm worker is around 50 years, compared to an average of 76 years for the rest of us. Farm workers today are like indentured servants, providing us with the feel-good, living-healthy, fresh-nature’s-bounty food we covet and consume to keep ourselves and our families nourished. We virtuously follow our Paleo diets, Atkins diets, Weight Watcher diets, vegan diets–expecting pristine food to show up in our markets in great abundance.

It is time for us to stand up for the right of farmworkers to be free of poisonous sprays. Beyond Toxics did an analysis of the most commonly used pesticides that are sprayed around farm worker housing. We found that nearly 50% of the poisons used are labeled, “DANGER! Highly Hazardous to Humans.” These types of chemicals cause irreversible eye damage, cancer, brain damage, Parkinson’s, asthma and many more diseases.

OSHA says farm workers don’t deserve a no-spray buffer zone.

Here is a shocking fact that illustrates the environmental injustice of how farm workers are not protected from pesticides: In Oregon, the use of many of these chemicals requires a 300 ft. no-pesticide buffer if sprayed near salmon habitat streams. How is it possible that we value the health of fish more than our fellow human beings?

We expect farm workers to give us their labor, skills, energy, time and generosity to Oregon’s fields and orchards – so that we may eat the way we wish. Let us give back to them. Please take action and stand with our farm workers.

I urge you to go to our Take Action Page and get involved. Come with us to one of the public hearings scheduled around the state. You can submit your testimony through our quick and easy Take Action web page. Call us to find out how you can get involved. Join us at the Tish Hinojosa Fundraiser for Farm Workers concert on Tuesday, November 21st at the EMU Ballroom on the University of Oregon campus.

To help you in preparing and providing testimony and/or email input for the OSHA-run public comment hearings, please read our Talking Points document (PDF).

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

Beyond Toxics Endorses Freedom from Aerial Herbicides Bill of Rights

At its August 28th meeting, Beyond Toxics’ Board of Directors voted to endorse the Freedom from Aerial Herbicides Alliance’s charter amendment to ban the aerial spraying of herbicides in Lane County.

Oregon lawmakers and state agencies have shown an entrenched resistance to address the problem of toxic exposure to aerial spray drift. The two local charter amendments in Lincoln and Lane counties to ban spray now appear necessary to protect Oregon’s people, wildlife and waters.

I’ve spent more than a decade working side-by-side with rural communities who experience aerial spray drift. No other organization has invested more resources researching forest practices and supporting communities harmed by aerial sprays than we have. Our 2013 report on aerial spraying in industrial timber lands* in western Lane County blew wide open the secretive and dangerous use of helicopters to spray herbicides.

Using data from a public records request, this first-of-its-kind investigation showed the public that the carcinogens 2,4-D and glyphosate, along with endocrine disruptors atrazine and hexazinone, are the top four chemicals sprayed over vast acreages that are also homes to our communities and endangered salmon. We fostered the development of the state’s electronic forestry notification system. With the participation of many rural residents harmed by spray, most notably the residents living around Gold Beach, we introduced legislation in 2015 and 2017 calling for significant reform to Oregon’s forestry herbicide spray rules.

Side-by-side with dozens of poisoned Oregonians and experts alike, our tenaciousness, aided by heart-breaking stories told by rural Oregonians to inspire us, forced the legislature to take action. Still the new regulations are woefully inadequate by any standard. More must be done.

Beyond Toxics supports a ban on aerial herbicide spray because spreading highly toxic chemicals from helicopters is inherently dangerous. In fact, the law defines aerial herbicide spraying as a highly hazardous practice.

Dozens of communities have raised their voices to demand protection from herbicide drift. Rural Oregonians from Curry to Lane to Tillamook counties share the same experiences: herbicide drift that sickens family members, harms pets and livestock, and poisons the drinking water of cities and homes alike. Appallingly, when affected people take these issues to the state legislature, they find a confusing labyrinth of dead-ends. Legislators are misled by the timber and chemical lobbyists who plant a forest of deceitful “facts.”

Over three decades ago, federal agencies banned aerial spray on public timber lands. Today, state agencies and elected leaders turn a blind eye to the fact that Oregon has the weakest laws of any Pacific West Coast state for regulating timber practices and aerial herbicide sprays.

Due to the inadequate response of our state’s legislature, it has now fallen to the people to take action to stop poisonous aerial herbicide sprays in our watersheds, on private residential property and over organic farms. We urge our members to read the Freedom from Aerial Herbicides Bill of Rights and join a mainstream movement to protect ourselves from poisons sprayed from the sky.

For all these reasons, Beyond Toxics supports a ban on aerial spray. We believe that a ban must happen at the state level, and soon. Chemical trespass and pollution affects Oregonians, often in devastating ways that change our lives forever. A county-wide ban sends a strong message that people in Lane County demand action.

~ Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics


* 2013 REPORT: “Oregon’s Industrial Forests and Herbicide Use: A Case Study of Risk to People, Drinking Water and Salmon
Authors
:
Laurie Bernstein, US Forest Service Fish Biologist and GIS Specialist, retired
Lisa Arkin, Executive Director, Beyond Toxics
Roberta Lindberg, M.S., J.D.

Download Report (2 versions; both PDF files)


 

State Forest Agency Suppresses Its Own Aerial Spray Info

Photo by: Lisa Arkin

Did you know our own State Department of Forestry (ODF) is clear-cutting and chemically poisoning public state forest lands, using the same extractive methods as multi-national timber corporations?

The latest herbicide sprays on our public forests took place this month along the Northwest Oregon Coast. Here are the opening lines of a July 29 article in a Tillamook newspaper:

The public forests of Oregon’s North Coast are scheduled to be aerially sprayed sometime before August 31, 2017. Spraying will potentially impact … the Kilchis, Lower Nehalem, Cook Creek, Upper Wilson, and Upper Trask watershed areas. While ODF has directly notified its employees [to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals being sprayed on clearcuts], ODF has failed to sufficiently notify the public of these toxic spray events despite potential impacts on trails, watersheds and campsites during the peak summer season.” 

Yes, you read that right! Your taxpayer dollars are supporting the promotion of harmful practices: aerial herbicide sprays, clear cutting, slash burning and planting genetically-enhanced mono-crop rows of Doug Fir seedlings.

Photo by: Lisa Arkin

We at Beyond Toxics believe you have the right to know what our state agencies are doing in our public forests. On behalf of Oregon’s frontline communities, Beyond Toxics filed a public records request asking the Department of Forestry to share information about what they spend on herbicides sprays, what chemicals are being used and who they are contracting with to do the work. That is called transparency. We filed the first public records request more than 18 months ago, in January 2016. The state agency billed us nearly $9,500. ODF told us that, to reduce the fee, Beyond Toxics needs to severely narrow our request. We’ve re-submitted our request multiple times, the most recent effort on August 7. We still haven’t seen any of the information we’ve requested.

A state agency shouldn’t be using the threat of charging us thousands of dollars to obstruct access to information that is rightly in the public domain. We need to collect relevant data to create accurate reports and properly inform the public about what’s going on their public lands.

Second, why does it take a state agency $9,500 of staff time to collect the documents? Is the problem one of mismanagement or disorganization of important public documents? If our tax dollars pay for the clear-cuts and sprays then they should also pay for the right to information about chemicals. Thirdly, this is an unnecessary hardship for grassroots organizations that work to protect and enhance public health…most of us don’t have $9,500 lying around to pay ODF.

We must act now to demand better transparency from our state government and public agencies. ODF must be willing to work with the public for better transparency. Instead, ODF has stalled, subverted, and obstructed our public records request.

The role of good government is protecting the public welfare, public resources, and public health. It follows that Oregon Department of Forestry should engage in an overhaul of the outdated and destructive Oregon Forest Practices Act. Oregon’s “Forest Laws” are nothing more than a bygone relic.

The federal government stopped using aerial sprays on public federal forest lands nearly forty years ago. Their decision was made to protect the health of government workers. Our state government is failing to protect the public by clinging to the extensive use of aerially sprayed pesticides and shrouding this fact in secrecy.

P.S. Beyond Toxics is hosting a Resilient Forestry Tour on Wednesday, August 23rd. Come experience a working forest rich in wildlife habitat and climate-friendly benefits. You’ll learn about how healthy forests yield an overabundance of rewards that extractive forestry companies steal from future generations of Oregonians.

Get on down for da’ bees!

Photo by Barbara Storey

Getting down for bees with jazz music, wine and food has everything to do with being a bee protector! We are celebrating bees with a fantastically fun event (read more about BEE JAZZY), but we aren’t joking about the real peril for pollinators. Bees are not safe in Oregon, or anywhere else in America. Eight species of native bees have very recently been put on the US Endangered Species List and are at the mercy of the Trump Administration. Trump appointees are teaming up with industrial lobbyists to take away modest protections for endangered native bees by dismantling the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock law safeguarding our nation’s special and wild creatures.

Honey bees are suffering as well. A recent national study of bee survival rates confirms that Oregon beekeepers completely lost more than 32 percent of their bee hives from June to December, 2016. This is on par with the national average of 33 percent.

That means one-third of bees in Oregon and nationwide didn’t survive last year. This startling fact is a dire wake-up call. Our ability to have fresh, healthy food is in jeopardy. Food insecurity is connected to environmental justice issues; we know that the wealthiest in our nation will always have enough money to buy imported fruits and vegetables. This is not the case for so many others in America, especially the people who work so hard to bring in the harvest. That is why Beyond Toxics fights to protect bees and workers as well, focusing on the threat of food insecurity.

Bees are also severely impacted by climate change. Rising temperatures and strange weather patterns have altered our fragile ecosystem: blossoming fruit trees and the emergence of bees are out of whack. In many urban gardens there is a shocking bareness of apple, pear and plum trees. Won’t you help us accomplish our shared goals? Get involved now! Bee Jazzy is a perfect way to support our work to protect pollinators (without having to go with us to the State Legislature or attend a lot of meetings on pesticides, climate change and water quality!). Right now, it is state and local level action that really counts!

By supporting us during a summer evening of fun, food and music, you are doing your part to make Beyond Toxics stronger. Here is what the price of your Bee Jazzy ticket supports:

1. NEVER GIVING UP: Beyond Toxics is a force to be reckoned with at the Oregon State Legislature. We took on chemical company and industrial agriculture lobbyists to champion the 2017 Oregon Pollinator Protection Act. Sure, powerful corporate interests targeted our bill for demise, but WITH YOUR SUPPORT, WE’RE NOT GIVING UP on bees. We’re tackling the root causes of bee die-offs.

2. LOCAL ACTION: We’re helping more cities pass resolutions to protect bees and ban bee-killing neonicotinoids. Did you know that Beyond Toxics was the first in the nation to start the Bee Friendly City movement? We’re partnering with more Oregon cities to do everything they can to protect pollinators!

3. EDUCATION & SCIENCE: Beyond Toxics invites you to participate in Citizen Science project, including our annual native bee count, Wildlife Science Pubs and water protection projects.

4. YOUR VOICE IN CONGRESS: Beyond Toxics is your representative at the highest national level of Bee Protection Coalitions, taking action in Washington to advocate for bees in the United States Congress, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Agriculture and more. We are working diligently to ban bee-killing pesticides, protect our food systems, and stand-up for farm workers who are harmed by these highly toxic chemicals.

And did you know that every glass of wine purchased and every silent auction bid supports our Save Oregon’s Bees Campaign? Has there ever been a better reason to support bees and Beyond Toxics?

I can’t wait to see you at Bee Jazzy to celebrate this profound and effective work to save bees and food production! Come on out to have fun and make an impact in the work for a healthy future!

Lisa Arkin,
Executive Director

Farm Worker Rights in the Age of Trump

Farm worker housing, Jackson County, Oregon (May 2017)

Oregon has over 300 registered farm worker housing camps and another 200 unregistered camps. Most of these camps are located within orchards and fields that are regularly sprayed with pesticides that are human carcinogens and neurotoxins. To protect farm workers, the federal law requires a minimum 100-ft. no-spray buffer around farm worker housing.

You may be surprised and dismayed to learn that Oregon’s worker protection agency, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), wants to give Oregon farmers “a pass” on following the 100-ft pesticide buffer regulation. In March, during an OSHA policy meeting, Beyond Toxics was only one of two worker advocacy groups present. I was not surprised to see that farmers, agriculture industry representatives and OSHA employees seemed in a big hurry to get this “Oregon Compliance Alternative” option over and done with. Instead of requiring a protective no-spray buffer, OSHA wants to allow “shelter in place,” which is a euphemism for farm workers to cower inside their wooden shacks while aerial and air blast pesticide sprays swirl all around them. “Shelter in place” takes away the 100-ft. no-spray buffer.

If Beyond Toxics had not been present we may have lost the opportunity to call a halt to OSHA’s seeming willingness to put farm workers in harm’s way. Beyond Toxics sounded the alarm to get other groups to attend the April meeting where Big Ag showed up and met us with more show of force. We knew that a special voice was missing. The voice of the farm worker.

Mysti Frost (center) and members of Latino Unidos Siempre (LUS) stand ready to hand out nontoxic cleaning supplies to farm workers.

To bring forward the voices of the people most impacted by OSHA’s actions, Beyond Toxics teamed up with Latinos Unidos Siempre (LUS) to give a presentation at a farm worker housing complex just outside of Salem. Both LUS and Beyond Toxics are cohort members of the McKenzie River Gathering Capacity Building Initiative. In April, our two organizations held a joint outreach and training to farm workers and their families around pesticides and health. We thought this would give us the opportunity to recruit farmworkers for the OSHA rule making meetings.

During our time at the training, I met a farm worker whom we will call, Rosa, not her real name. I asked her if she could tell me about concerns she may have as a farm worker. Her first complaint was about not having access to a bathroom. She told me she is regularly exposed to pesticides on her skin and breaths in the fumes while working in the fields. I asked her if she wore gloves. She said the farm owner at a strawberry patch didn’t allow her to use gloves and told her she would be fired if she did. I asked Rosa if I could record her comments so we could present her testimony to OSHA. She said she wasn’t prepared to do that and was very shy.

Rosa’s story is all too common. Those of us who are workers’ rights activists know these stories well. These workers and their experiences are not a figment of our imaginations, although big industry would have you think so. It’s clear that these stories are not reaching the people at the top who make the rules. How do we make sure our migrant farm workers are not exploited or lose their jobs just by asking for minimal protections to protect their health? Right now, in the Age of Trump, the backbone of federal worker protection standards may be unraveled. All signs point to the very real possibility that we may lose the opportunity to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for our workers. How do we combat hopelessness? How do we battle the mindset that the current situation must be accepted because it is simply business as usual?

I’m worried that it’s only a matter of time before OSHA buckles under the pressure of Big Ag bullying. It would be best if farm workers could testify to help us make the case that, as a minimum, Oregon must adopt federal standards. But farm workers everywhere are gripped by fear because of our country’s more aggressive attacks on migrants. “We are very busy just keeping families together,” they say.

Beyond Toxics will push forward and be present and vocal at all the OSHA meetings. We will be there to defend workers’ rights, to be a watchdog for policy development and be prepared to file formal complaints if farm workers continue to be treated as modern-day slave labor.

What can you do? If you are an expert in the areas of agriculture, work place safety, organic farming and/or you are a doctor with knowledge of the long-term effects of pesticide exposure, please contact us at Beyond Toxics. We need your knowledge and expertise. We’ll help you make a difference for vulnerable workers.

Mysti Frost
Environmental Justice Coordinator for Lane County
Beyond Toxics

 

Why You And I Are Thrilled to Protect Oregon’s People, Pollinators and Places – Again!

I’m writing this from the bedside of my childhood friend who grew up on the same street as I. Ten days ago she was fine. Today she is transitioning to her passing. Her breathing is ragged, her eyes are unfocused. Her doctors at Stanford University Medical Center told the family they have never seen such a rare and aggressive cancer. They can’t stop it, they can’t even slow it down.

Cancer. Linked to environmental pollution from toxic chemicals and poisonous pesticides.

More than 150 people from around the state braved rain and cold to show their support for clean water and healthy wildlife on the capitol steps in Salem.

 

Perhaps you were at our Rally for Water and Wildlife at the State Capitol last week. We demonstrated to demand that state elected leaders BE LEADERS when it comes to protecting the quality of Oregon’s air and water. I asked the crowd of more than 150 to raise their hands if their family has a loved one impacted by cancer. Nearly every person raised their hands. The ever-rising risk of cancer correlates strongly with toxic pollution in the air you breathe and the water you drink. The World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer suggests that air pollution alone is a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths. The mountain of medical research establishing clear links between cancer and exposures to environmental toxics is enough to fill the hallways of the Capitol building!

Krystal Abrams introduces Lisa Arkin, one of the rally speakers.

Perhaps you are like me, feeling confident Oregon will be a bulwark against the destructive forces now in charge of the EPA and other federal environmental protections.

But that’s not the way things are working out – at least not yet. Pollinators are left unprotected. Aerial pesticide sprays will continue without accountability. Air toxics won’t be measured.

The good news: our bills got hearings! That is a huge step, reserved for bills that have a fighting chance and could be reintroduced in the next legislative session. The bad news: after the highest hopes for successful passage, I am frustrated to report our 2017 bills were killed in committee.

Here are the three reasons why:

1. The Budget: Oregon has gotten itself into a multi-million dollar deficit. Bills with a “price tag” are being unceremoniously dumped, regardless of their merit. Here’s a secret that the public rarely hears: a state agency can give a bill an astronomical price tag, which is a sure way to stop a bill in its tracks. The Department of Forestry put a price tag of more than $300,000 on SB 892, to expand their online notification system to accommodate advanced warnings of aerial pesticide sprays. An overblown number for sure! The Department of Agriculture put a $70,000 price tag on OPPA, SB 929. That’s more realistic. The whopper was the DEQ’s claim that they needed an additional 6 full time positions to administer the Toxics Right to Know bill, SB 995. That price tag amounts to nearly $700,000. Budget battles (outside of our control) played a significant role in the demise of our bills on pollinators, aerial spray and air toxics reporting.

2. Rampant Industrial Lobbying: Our legislators let themselves fall prey to the same worn-out, old gimmicks by industrial lobbyists, the very same tactics used to fuel the current demise of the US Environmental Protection Agency. After intense lobbying about “job killing regulations” or “fringe environmental agitators,” legislators decided that bees don’t need help to survive the ongoing pollinator crisis. Legislators were somehow convinced that providing advanced warning before an aerial spray is not “fair” to the pesticide applicators. Beyond Toxics brought truth backed by science to the state capitol. We submitted a raft of peer-reviewed scientific studies into the public record – only to hear that a key legislator didn’t bother to read the bill or the record before his NO vote!

3. Sacrificial Lambs: We were told that our toxics reporting bill was “sacrificed” to gain industry’s support for other bills, such as the Clean Diesel bill. That means that lawmakers promised to drop one bill as a bargaining chip to garner support for another bill. Don’t you wonder why any legislator would continue to fall for this ploy? Industry is fighting vehemently against all the clean air bills, as well as trying to block the DEQ air toxics budget! They are eager to accept a “bargain” that will kill one bill, and then demand more bargaining chips for each other bill.

Specifically here’s the wrap-up on our 2017 bills:

Pollinators will be doomed to further die-offs and extinctions. The Oregon Pollinator Protection Act (SB 929) was pulled off the agenda an hour before the committee vote. The bill, an important strategy to reduce bee-killing neonicotinoids, would have removed this class of pesticides from general consumer store shelves. The bill garnered support throughout the State Legislature as well as over 35+ businesses and organizations. Thanks to many of you, the bill’s hearing drew overflow crowds.

The Bee Protectors at the State Capitol in Salem. In March people from all over Oregon traveled to speak in favor of SB 929, Oregon Pollinator Protection Act.

Legislators left science behind when they succumbed to false claims by Big Ag that “honey bees are making a comeback.” However, the bill does much more than protect domesticated honey bees. Native bees, butterflies and birds need our help now. Aren’t we all shocked to learn that eight species of native bees are declared in danger of extinction? Neonicotinoids are also being found in our food, our drinking water and our bodies, a threat to food justice and health.

Rural Oregonians will continue to be poisoned on their own property and have their property rights denied. Beyond Toxics introduced the concepts for a set of bills comprising the Aerial Spray Protection and Right to Know legislation (SB 499, 500 & 892). The key bill, SB 892, required giving advanced notice to residents of imminent aerial pesticide sprays and required that chemical mixtures be reported five days after the spray. At the public hearing, committee members heard heart-wrenching testimony from folks coming from as far south as Gold Beach and as far north as Rockaway Beach. Senator Dembrow, the bill’s sponsor, worked hard to find compromise, but in the end the key vote, Senator Roblan (Dist. 5 – Coos Bay) voted against the bill, showing his disdain for the science on pesticide drift and for rural residents who have come to the legislature for years begging for relief.

Polluters get to cloak their toxic air pollution in secrecy, while your lungs get clogged. Beyond Toxics’ popular bills to require polluters to report their toxic air emissions (SB 995 and HB 2669) had good hearings, but were two of our “sacrificial bills” that legislators leveraged for support for other environmental bills.

Our bills didn’t advance for political reasons, not because they lacked merit! e will continue to fight hard to pass environmental protections for Oregonians and pollinators, for drinking water and neighborhood air. It means a lot to me, as a grandmother, to ensure that future Oregonians will never ask, “What does a bumble bee look like?”

As I look down on my friend’s face, grey pallor in her morphine-induced sleep, I am hit hard with the reminder that chemical trespass and pollution affects all of us, often in devastating and random ways that change our lives forever. I will fight to make it standard behavior for lawmakers to consider the costs and burdens of environmentally-induced illness first and foremost. It is time to put a halt to the false dichotomy of jobs versus the environment. We are the environment and the environment is within each of us. It is imperative to keep Oregon healthy for the sake of our loved ones.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

 


Photos by John Jordan-Cascade