The future of Oregon’s clean-flowing drinking water

AP photo of Rep. DeFazio by Don Ryan

AP photo of Rep. DeFazio by Don Ryan

Over the past few months The Register-Guard has held a back-and-forth debate about Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio’s plan to increase logging in Oregon’s federal forests.

What’s at stake? Nothing less than the future of Oregon’s clean-flowing drinking water.

There is also growing awareness about the issue of rural community health and exposure to forestry chemicals in air and domestic water.

Polling by the Pew Research Center consistently shows that clean water is what matters most to Oregonians. That’s one reason there is increasing alarm about a bill introduced by Rep. DeFazio to increase intensive logging on national forest lands.

Federal environmental laws would set reasonable standards for logging, but DeFazio’s bill puts Oregon’s antiquated state forestry law ahead of federal law. In his Sept. 1st column, even the congressman admitted that’s a bad thing (“O&C forest plan offers protection, opportunity”).

Oregon’s slack forestry laws permit the use of herbicides sprayed by helicopter. That’s different from federal logging practices, which don’t routinely use herbicides or allow helicopter spray. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating whether Oregon’s forestry laws comply with the Clean Water Act.

DeFazio excused the failure of his plan to include federal environmental laws, saying water quality protections “would have to come from Salem.” He meant that state officials would have to fix the Oregon Forest Practices Act. And he is right!  But we could certainly use the Congressman’s support to modernize Oregon’s obsolete laws.

By comparison, Washington, Idaho and California have forestry laws that require buffer zones to better protect rural communities and water quality.

Beyond Toxics is working with other Oregon groups dedicated to protecting drinking water to bring the Oregon Forest Practices Act into alignment with current science, especially the science on pesticide drift.

Oregon is going backwards, away from good science. Any state plan that exports its politicized, obsolescent policies onto national forests is unacceptable.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director


Social Change Requires Heart

On this Valentine’s Day of affection, I want to express my gratitude to our members and volunteers. Knowing that you care keeps me traveling back and forth to the State Legislature to talk to elected leaders about pesticide use reduction. You give me the daily fortitude to deliver the message that Oregonians can, and must, be leaders in the fight to reduce pollution in our bodies and the environment. Believe me, that message isn’t always well received by state lawmakers – they require a lot of convincing! So, with you in mind, I continue to knock on their doors and explain how they can help protect Oregon from harmful chemicals.

When I’m fighting for sensible policies to reduce the use of toxic chemicals, I’m always thinking of our members, like Heidi, who is a new volunteer helping us plan our March 8 Lobby Day in Salem. Heidi works full-time and has a three-year old daughter. She wants to be able to take her little girl to playground without worrying about pesticides sprayed on lawns and pathways.

Today I think of Lynn, who pays many hundreds of dollars to the Oregon Department of Forestry to get notices of pending helicopter pesticide sprays in rural Lane County. Lynn brings this information to her rural neighbors so that they can take steps to protect their farm animals and “shelter in place” during these military-style aerial spray operations. She cares because she knows these practices pollute homesteads and salmon streams alike.

Today I recall the dozens of rural residents south of Bend whose wells were poisoned after the County sprayed all the roads in their sub-division with a highly toxic herbicide. I shiver when I remember that this chemical, used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War, is now in their baby formula, soup and coffee!

These are real stories from real Beyond Toxics members. Our members want us to be strong advocates for laws that put environment at the heart of what we do in Oregon.

Volunteers make all the difference to inspire and create real power! So please join me and many others on the morning on Friday, March 8 – Beyond Toxics Lobby Day at the State Capitol – to present our case to state government for heart-centered justice in the land we love.

And, when we pass the Safe Public Places law, I promise we’ll all have a massive party to celebrate the vision of one small non-profit with really fabulous and caring members!

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

MORE about the Safe Public Places Act

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Refusing to be a corporate throw-away community

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director

Our ground-breaking work centers on bringing the voices of Oregonians to the forefront of policy reform. What do I mean by that? We help people who want to speak “ground-truthing” to power; in other words, using their real experiences to expose corporate financed and secret backroom deals that allow industry polluters to mislead and harm the public.

Two philanthropic organizations recently featured Beyond Toxics as exemplary examples of effective grassroots work. The Resist Foundation (Massachusetts), featured our unique work blending environmental justice with our fight to stop coal trains, and the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation (Oregon) shined a spotlight on our gutsy “get it done” style and list of many accomplishments.

You know, I get calls every week with accounts of what is happening when chemical trespass brings illness and property damage to the lives of every day Oregonians. With your steadfast support, Beyond Toxics can investigate, report and fight for better environmental laws that protect the environment and safeguard our health.

I want to share just a few stories, in addition to the ones I described in the Eugene Weekly. The sad part is the story, but the hopeful part is what Beyond Toxics did to make a positive difference. In each case, we didn’t just troubleshoot an individual problem; instead we elevated grassroots assistance into stronger human health and environmental protections.

Air Toxics, Asthma and School Kids: A teacher in a Lane County school district called to alert us that children were have trouble breathing during recess because of the ammonia and creosote fumes from a nearby factory. Beyond Toxics leapt into action, researched the relationships between air pollution and asthma and got the EPA to investigate the polluting industry for violations. The investigation is underway! We also got Union Pacific Railroad to clean up a huge hazardous waste dump!

Run-Away Power Fuels Coal Trains: As soon as Beyond Toxics heard that an unnamed multinational corporation had signed a secret MOU (“Memorandum of Understanding”) with the Port of Coos Bay to bring coal trains to the Willamette Valley and Oregon Coast, we teamed up with another non-profit to file an Oregon Public Records Request. We are seeking to reveal the identity of the coal companies and their coal export plan. While waiting for the courts to decide if we get access to those records, we have held rallies, teach-ins, marches, and written lots of editorials that gathered the public support to pass an anti-coal train resolution in Eugene.

Oct. 2011 Highway 36 Weed Pull Party

Pesticides on Highways: A woman in Marion County receiving chemo-therapy treatment for cancer begged for a reprieve from roadside spray so that she could protect her weakened immune system from toxic chemicals while driving from her home to her chemo appointments. Her plea went unanswered, so Beyond Toxics used her story and others just like it as the catalyst for our report on just how much pesticide is sprayed on Oregon’s roads and highways. As a result, ODOT has established a 25% chemical reduction goal for 2015.

Beyond Toxics doesn’t sit by and let bad practices and policies continue to harm folks! We take decisive action! Please join our team! We need your membership and involvement. Refuse to be a corporate throw-away by joining now and helping to make environmental health Oregon’s moral and practical standard.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

See the news stories about our work in 2012.

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Mourning the Results of the Government’s Conclusions on the Highway 36 Pesticide Study

This bag of Atrazine was found dumped in a stream in the Highway 36 area. Atrazine was one of the forestry herbicides that was found in the urine of local residents.

I wish all of you reading this blog here were sitting with me as I write. Together we would mourn this week’s release of the report, Exposure Investigation: Biological Monitoring for Exposure to Herbicides in the Highway 36 Corridor. The report contains vague statistics about ways the government can “normalize” pesticide detections in our bodies.

I shake my head in disbelief at their murky conclusions. The report’s attempt to diffuse accountability and transparency help us understand how rural Oregonians, recently speaking at our rallies in Lane and Josephine counties (Chemical Trespass: Voices of the People) feel. Over 130 stood up to lament and protest against the wrongness and inhumanity of pesticide sprays by large industrial interests. We have to keep it up, get out and rally, sign petitions and take grassroots action!

I had to do my own math to realize that the investigation found the pesticide 2,4-D in the urine of 92% of local residents! I guess the investigation team was afraid to actually spell that out. The report also found 2,4-D in the urine of two children under the age of 6, but dismissed the significance of that by assuring us that at least it was “below the group mean” (note: they didn’t disclose how far below the mean). I’ll bet their parents are not reassured at all.

The last sentence in the report’s conclusion states “Despite an apparent greater exposure than the US population, these data indicate that, at the time of testing, the participants were not exposed to 2,4-D at levels expected to cause adverse health effects.” Again, the investigators neglected to tell us the full truth – that the agency did find that levels of 2,4-D, even in the absence of active spraying, were above what was expected based on nationwide statistics!

Compare the conclusion of this report – our government’s responses to chemical poisoning from forestry pesticide exposures – to a recent court ruling and pesticide policy transformation in France. A few weeks ago, a French court ruled in favor of a grain farmer who was harmed by an herbicide and found chemical manufacturing giant Monsanto guilty of “chemical poisoning.” The farmer reported experiencing neurological harm including memory loss, headaches and stammering. Now the Court is requiring Monsanto to pay monetary damages for harming the farmer.

What’s more, the government of France is taking the issue of protecting the public’s health seriously: As the largest agricultural producer in the European Union, the country has pledged to cut pesticide use by 50 percent before 2018. This includes private farming and forestry.

Oregon’s response is a far cry from France’s wake-up call on pesticides and health. People exposed to chemical trespass in Oregon are told they are just “complainers.” Our state agencies treat Oregonians who file pesticide complaints with dismissiveness and disdain. Beyond Toxics has been trying for 4 months to get an appointment with the Governor’s Natural Resource advisor staff, and there hasn’t yet been a single answer to our many polite phone calls and email messages.

I believe that there are some underlying moral and scientific failings that have our state agencies running in the opposite direction of true public health protections.

1. Our society tends to doubt and dismiss women and women’s health problems. Many women in the Highway 36 Pesticide Investigation area have told authorities that, after a forestry spray they have had menstrual problems. I take offense that this Investigation tried to predict what a lifetime of chronic low level exposures might do to the hormonal systems of young girls and women of childbearing age by concluding that their exposure is “not expected to cause adverse health effects.” Case in point: in a presentation at the recent Environmental Law Conference at the UO, Dr. Hayes of UC Berkeley reported that exposures to forestry herbicide atrazine resulted in visible deformation of female breast tissue in laboratory experiments, changes associated with the onset of breast cancer. These cellular changes were found when atrazine levels were similar to those found in the Highway 36 folks.

2. The study said very little to nothing about what health problems people in the study have experienced. The study focused on amorphous statistics and never reported on the actual health problems. This de-humanizes those who agreed to be tested and ignore a history of cancer and other ailments reported by residents. Some people had illnesses just like the French farmer experienced.

3. The investigators made no mention of whether the 6 participants with statistically high levels of 2,4-D in their urine analysis are children, women, men and said nothing about their ages and occupations. Being reduced to mere statistics, we are less likely to think of these people as our neighbors who have a moral and medical right not to be subjected to chemical trespass from industrial forestry activities.

How dare the Oregon Health Authority claim that 2,4-D in the bodies of children “aren’t expected to have adverse health effects.” Why isn’t our government using the precautionary principle to keep our children safe?

If it is a constitutional right to be guaranteed safety of person and private property, why can’t we get a single government official to stand up for justice? If the entire country of France can acknowledge the importance of protecting people from chemical trespass by pledging to reduce pesticides and ban the worst of them, why hasn’t our Governor and our legislators said, by golly, so can Oregon!?

Tribal Elders and Rally Speakers To Our Dr. Governor – Protect Us from Pesticide Drift!

A nearby neighbor who has a house on the shores of Triangle Lake heard the loudspeaker from the Chemical Witness Rally, and wandered over to see what was going on. What she found was an open microphone at the lakeshore park, a place and time for people to speak to their personal experience about being harmed by pesticides. She said she knew nothing about the growing movement to stop aerial pesticide sprays on the forestlands of her own community, nevertheless she stepped up to the microphone.

What this neighbor said was poignant. To paraphrase: At some point in my life, I became highly sensitive to scents, chemicals, and many common air pollutants. My employer had to create a “bubble-like” environment for me, just so that I could function at work. It is torture to live with these severe reactions to chemicals. I can really appreciate and support what you folks are talking about today. Exposures like this make so many people ill.

The energy of water and sun sparkled down on the twin-planned events at Triangle Lake and Lake Selmac. Over 140 people gathered from many different communities to give witness to an unacceptable situation – pesticides sprayed from helicopters all over Oregon’s beautiful coastal mountain range. Vapors get carried onto private property by wind currents, fog and droplet drift. Rural communities want protection from the state government.

Three national news stories recently did large stories on the problem of pesticide drift in Oregon from forestry pesticide sprays. See these articles and interviews MSNBC Jefferson Public Radio

I was deeply moved by the heartfelt testimony. To frame the notion of chemical witnessing, both rallies started with an invocation from two prominent tribal elders – Grandma Agnes Pilgrim, one of the original Takilma elders of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, and Esther Stutzman, a highly regarded Kalapuya and Coos Elder. The two women represented tribes who have fished, hunted, gathered and sustained their traditions through their long-standing and profoundly deep connection with the land. Esther Stutzman reminded us that the members of her tribe have seen the harm caused by pesticides to the native salmon. She told how native women can no longer gather plants and materials from the land to make baskets because of the poisons. Esther spoke strongly: this is the right time to bring our shared concerns to action, to stop the poisoning of the land and the people.

Audrey Moore, the leader of Precious Dirt in Selma, reflected on the electrifying gathering on the shores of Lake Selmac: “So many willing and wanting to share their stories, each unique and yet the same, all knowing this insanity must end, and that we now demand our Human Rights. We expect as much from our Governor, and our State.”


Hide and Seek: What is the forest industry trying to hide?

As a result of an R-G guest editorial last month, I sparked a firestorm of controversy proposing something simple and obvious: we should speak up if our government tries to convince the public not to worry about finding dangerous pesticides in the bodies of children who live in rural Oregon. Speaking up is not something terribly controversial from our point of view…and many of you wrote in to support our perspective.

In response to this editorial, a PR front group for the chemical industry recruited a local grass seed farmer from their board of directors to respond to the scientific evidence I presented. Here’s his jaw-dropping, arrogant retort: He thinks that finding pesticides in a child’s body is not a concern because there are “thousands of other chemical compounds that we could test for and find in that child’s urine.”

Really? Isn’t that a little like proposing that we put lead back into paint and gasoline just because lead is a toxic substance now found in children?

We realize it may be another David vs. Goliath battle, but we’re not backing down! The timber industry wields tremendous power, especially in Oregon – power to define regulations and policies, to amass financial power and social resources, and to marginalize grassroots movements. They would like to portray the pesticide drift problem in the Triangle Lake area as an isolated aberration, an odd blip from the norm, instead of the pervasive environmental problem it is for Oregonians in virtually every part of the state.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Oregon Department of Forestry seems to be playing a game of “hide” in response to other state and federal agencies “seeking” accurate spray records.

First, a little background…Whenever pesticides are applied by a timber company, the Forest Practices Act requires that daily spray records are kept. These records must be made available to the government upon request for a minimum of three years. To figure how these dangerous pesticides are getting into children’s bodies, the government needs the private timber companies to turn over their records – describing what, where and when pesticides have been sprayed.

Three months ago, the Oregon Health Authority issued a request for those pesticides spray records for the purposes of the current Highway 36 Pesticide Health Investigation. The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) can demand the spray records from the timber operators pursuant to their authority under the Oregon Administrative Rule 629-620-0600(4). Timber companies are, so far, resisting government requests to provide their spray records.

By law, timber companies must produce the records within 7 days of the State’s request, so those records should be available by now. But they have not been made available. That fact constitutes a violation of State forest practice regulations. It begs the question, is the ODF delaying attempts to get these records? In fact, Beyond Toxic members were told by ODF staff that they are “just trying to reduce hardship for the timber companies. We want to be fair to everybody.”

How is requesting records required by the law not “fair?” Is it fair for parents to worry if and when their children will get sick as a result of these pesticides in their bodies? We think it’s worth a little effort on the part of the timber industry to help us determine what the risks are to our families.

What you can do…

You can take action today by writing [] or calling [(503) 373-7677Doug Decker, the State Forester, and requesting that he take immediate action on two things :

1.) Demand the pesticide spray records NOW and impose a hefty fine on any timber company that delays handing these records over to the government investigation.
2.) Tell the Oregon Department of Forestry that it is time to make all forestry pesticide spray notifications and spray records available on a public access website.

All Oregonians have a right to know about chemical trespass. This information should not be held in secret by those using pesticides for industrial forestry.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics


Pitch in to support what we’re trying to accomplish!


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

Our new report assesses the environmental impact of pesticides on five state highways

A new report, released in late August, provides Oregonians with an assessment of the environmental impact of pesticides on five state highways.

Eugene, OR, August 30, 2011: A new environmental health report for pesticide use on state highways in Lane County uses mathematical formulas to assess the overall and average health impacts of chemicals used to control weeds. The data-driven assessment indicates a relationship between pesticide uses on state highways and human health. The report, prepared by Oregon Toxics Alliance, measures and compares pesticide application trends across Highways 36, 58, 126-W, 126-E and OR 569 (the Randy Papé Beltway) and provides recommendations to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to reduce risks to people and the environment.

OTA is currently working together with ODOT to manage parts of Highway 36 without the use of pesticides. The Alliance also works with communities throughout the state to find practical ways to reduce pesticides.

According to the report, the greatest negative environmental health impact from pesticide use occurs on the Randy Papé Beltway (also called OR 569 or Beltline Highway), a commuter route serving heavily populated sections of the Eugene metro area.

The report was written in response to Oregonians’ concerns about health risks from pesticide drift and run-off,” says Arkin. “We get complaints from people who get sick from breathing in pesticide vapors from the practice of using pesticides to kill weeds along the edges of highways.

This is the first prospective study that shows data-driven input useful for the development of balanced, rational policies that reduce the risks of pesticide use while providing practical solutions along with environmental protection strategies. The report also references a Human Rights Assessment for pesticides on public highways that was commissioned by the Alliance.

View a copy of the report

Register Guard’s editorial on Measuring sprays’ effects: Scoring herbicides’ impacts provides useful tool. You can view the actual copy of the scanned newspaper article here. (9/6/2011)