Generational Shift and Environmental Justice: Madres para la Salud

Alison stands next to Josefina Cano, one of the Madres group members, and Sheryl Stohs, of the EPA region 10 Environmental Justice Program

To be honest, I felt like an outsider when we first formed the Mothers for Health groups. After about five meetings I now really feel like one of the women of the Madres para la Salud community. It quickly dawned on me that relating to them was easier than I thought, since they reminded me of my own mother (who is Latina also and from Paraguay- a country in the heart of South America).

I think for many community organizers, the initial phases of reaching out to new people can be tricky. It is quite easy to fall into the trap of perceiving oneself as an outsider and in turn, being perceived by the group as an outsider. Yet, once you find common ground by relating as a person and not just the issues- whether it be language, culture, personal experiences- it becomes easier to merge as a member of the group.

Focusing on the bonds helps. I think one of the bonds that have emerged between myself and the Latina mothers is that to a certain extent, I am representing the kind of woman their daughters could be someday: Latina, educated in a US university, speaks English with an American accent, bi-cultural and bi-lingual, and with more Western traditions than their mothers (not necessarily a good or bad thing, just a fact). I believe this bond provides hope in the sense that the mothers wish every possible positive opportunity for their daughters in America- including living and growing up in a safe environment free from disproportionate environmental health risks.

The Bethel area, a Northwest Eugene working class neighborhood, is next door to many polluting smokestackes like this one.

Madres para la Salud met again last Friday. Though it was a small turnout (as it always is when it comes to cold, Friday evenings in Eugene), I felt it was a great outcome. Initially I began working with the mothers in the idea that I would be providing them with new information and knowledge about environmental health and toxics, but I quickly learned that the learning process is quite the opposite of the way I thought. I’ve learned that the topics and goals must come from the mothers themselves to truly motivate them! I can’t help but ask community-participatory questions like: What are they interested in learning? Why? How does it fit into their daily lives? Will this be of use to them? What information can I bring to them next time we meet? Every meeting is a fresh new beginning with new concepts and ideas to discuss and meanwhile, I hope the Madres para la Salud group helps raise the bar on what it means to educate ourselves on toxic exposures and to determine what actions we can take to protect our health and the health of future generations.

Next meeting time:
Wednesday, January 18th – 6:00 pm
Centro LatinoAmericano
944 W.5th Avenue, Eugene OR 97402


The Human Tongue As An Air Monitoring Station

It sure is lucky for the owners of Seneca Biomass that our tongue can’t collect toxic emission data admissible in a court of law. If there was a monitor as sensitive as the human tongue–or as sensitive as the lungs of an asthmatic child, we wouldn’t have any trouble proving the case that their biomass plant in West Eugene is fouling our air.

The Register-Guard reported in September that Seneca Biomass had “flunked” a part of its initial pollution control test related to particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. That is a fact I witnessed myself yesterday!

I drove a family friend to the Eugene airport on Monday afternoon. Everyone going to the airport has to drive right past Seneca. It’s not much of a Eugene-welcome. The stacks were spewing out dark, thick emissions. My friend was shocked! She has always thought of Eugene as such a green-friendly town. When I drove back towards the plant, the same heavy emissions were pouring forth into what would have been a perfect bright blue Lane County sky. That means the plant was polluting at an intense level for at least thirty minutes from the time I first saw it until I snapped pictures on my cell phone on my way home.

Seneca biomass power generation plant

What a contrast to the claim made by Merlyn Hough, the director of the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency! In response to the news that Seneca Biomass had flunked its first air pollution test, he said to a Register-Guard reporter, “There hasn’t been concerns about visual emissions; in fact, it appears to the person driving by as a very clean operation.”

I’ve taken several photographs on at least three trips nearby, and each photograph shows considerable air pollution from Seneca. This time I could really taste sooty air on my tongue and the smell had a sickly quality. The memory of it stayed with me for hours.

These foul emissions happen on a regular basis. Is it any wonder that Seneca failed their air pollution tests? It is outrageous that they are allowed to poison our air when the rest of us are being asked by LRAPA not to burn wood to keep warm and to reduce driving because of air inversions.

We should be asking LRAPA, the agency charged with protecting our air, several important questions:

1. Why isn’t Seneca required to stop polluting our air if they are violating their air toxics permit and we can clearly see their opaque emissions?

Beyond Toxics warned about excessive particulate matter and nitrogen oxides in our challenge to the permit – not only did LRAPA pay no heed, they built pollution-friendly loopholes into the permit.

2. Is LRAPA fining Seneca as they continue to pollute our air while they “figure out” their air pollution problem?

They should be fined each and every day, and that money should not go to LRAPA, but instead it should go to the downwind community so that we can afford to do our own air testing.

Seneca biomass plant - April 30, 2011

Our local air can be very unhealthy in the winter. Inversions often cause particulate matter to thicken for days on end. Let’s not forget the medical precautions: exposure to fine particulate matter, the kind that Seneca is belching (in excess!), shortens lives and is known to cause heart disease and asthma. The children in the neighborhood just downwind of the biomass plant are suffering from asthma at a high rate, much higher than national averages.

Let’s face it: Seneca’s profits are coming at the expense of our children’s lungs. And that’s definitely not OK with me.


Did you like my blog post? What should Beyond Toxics be working on in the New Year? Take our online membership survey and let us know what you think. The last 2 questions are optional–only if you want to be entered into a drawing for a free Beyond Toxics tote bag.

Take Action on Pesticide Reform now!

A representative from the Triangle Lake area reads the Pesticide Reform Guiding Principles at the Triangle Lake School

The Oregon Pesticide Action Workgroup, a project led by Beyond Toxics, has put out a Statement of Principles: The Pesticide Reform Guiding Principles (PDF file). The statement reflects many experienced grassroots voices and years of experience drawing public attention to the dangers of pesticides in our environment and in our bodies. These guiding principles are based on the values of environmental stewardship, human rights, and protection of native wildlife and habitat.

The Pesticide Reform Guiding Principles were first read aloud by a group of approximately 25 environmental health advocates at the Open House at Triangle Lake School on November 18th. The event was hosted by the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Department of Agriculture and the US Center for Disease Control. The Open House was an informational session about the current pesticide investigation conducted for pesticide drift and run-off in the Coastal Range of Lane County. The investigation by state and federal agencies began in response to the discovery that pesticides 2,4D and atrazine are showing up in the urine of dozens of local residents, including school children.

The purpose of reading the Statement aloud was to clearly state the guiding principles before these state and federal agencies. We must communicate what our government must do to protect the people and sustain the environment.

Please fill out the form below to indicate your support for this initiative:

Pesticide Reform Statement of Principles

Thank you for signing our petition and helping to make a healthier world. Only your name, City and State will be shared with the governor's office. Beyond Toxics will NEVER share email addresses or other personal information with any other party for any reason.

or send us an email with your name, email address and the city and state you live in with some indication of your agreement with the Pesticide Reform Guiding Principles.

The principles and the list of supporters will be presented to Governor Kitzhaber and the appropriate state and federal agencies on December 15th.

People/organizations who have signed on so far:
(see this page for a more current list of petition signers)

Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics
Eugene, OR

Deer Creek Valley Natural Resources Conservation Association
Lane County, OR

Roberta Bobbi Lindberg, Beyond Toxics
Cottage Grove, OR

Eron and Justin King
Triangle Lake, OR

RuthAnne Paul
Lane County, OR

Tom Kerns, Director
Environment and Human Rights Advisory
Lane County, OR

Day Owen
Triangle Lake, OR

Genie Harden,
Eugene, OR

Glenn Harden
Eugene, OR

Nancy Miller
Eugene, OR

Neal Miller
Eugene, OR

Evelyn Alford
Lane County, OR

Neila Crocker
Triangle Lake, OR

Roger Doll

Daniel J. Santana
Blachly, OR

Nancy Reed
Lane County, OR

Steve Paulson
Lane County, OR

John Sundquist, Forestland Dwellers
Coburg, OR

Jamon Devotion Cunningham
Lane County, OR

Amy Pincus-Merwin
Eugene, OR

Mala Spotted Eagle
Lane County, OR

Sam Hecocta
Lane County, OR

Chris Logan
Lane County, OR

Melissa Padgett-Voter
Lane County, OR

Sunni Williams
Lane County, OR

JiAna Rae Dollarhide
Eugene, OR

Audrey and Joel Moore
Selma, Oregon

PreciousDirt / IVCAPS (Illinois Valley Coalition of Alternatives to Pesticides)
Illinois Valley, Josephine County, Oregon

B. A. Grodhaus
Selma, Oregon

Frank Cordeiro
Cave Junction, OR

Ann Kneeland
Eugene, OR

Millie Illin
Eugene, OR

Ken Neubeck
Eugene, OR

Gwyneth Iredale
Eugene, OR

Garth Olson
Portland, OR

Tom Schneider
Eugene, OR

Janet Shapan
Denver, CO

William Calvin
Eugene, OR

Rhonda Hampton
Selma, OR

Darise Weller
Portland, OR

Lisa & Justin Rohde
Cave Junction, OR

Kathy Ging
Eugene, OR

Tim Greathouse
Eugene, OR