Breathing life into our leaders of color

“Native people have a different term for public lands: we call them home. We call them our sustainer, our library, our pharmacy, our sacred places. Indigenous identity and language are inseparable from land. Land is the residence of our more-than-human relatives, the dust of our ancestors, the holder of seeds, the makers of rain; our teacher. Land is not capital to which we have property rights; rather it is the place for which we have moral responsibility in reciprocity for its gift of life. Here is the question we must at last confront: Is land merely a source of belongings, or is it the source of our most profound sense of belonging? We can choose.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Author, from Greed Does Not Have to Define Our Relationship to Land

 

I can’t breathe!” One man’s dying words, choked to death by a Minneapolis police officer, has become the rallying cry of our era.

As George Floyd’s murder galvanized some of the largest and sustained protests in United States history, a respiratory pandemic swept through the world. Masked protestors surged in the streets, demanding a world where the right to breath was no longer determined by skin color.

Suffocation. The forests of the Pacific Northwest, the Amazon and central Africa (known as the Earth’s lungs) are constantly under siege by industry-backed burning and deforestation. Throughout the 20th and 21st century, extractive fossil fuel industries have pumped out more carbon pollution than ever before and severely damaged our earth’s ability to breathe and support life. COVID-19, police violence, and climate change are lenses through which we can see the issues in our broken systems. The challenges of 2020 are amplifying each other, and providing us the perfect storms to witness how these issues are affecting people of color disproportionately.

(L) We Protect Each Other (Digital 2020) and (R) Tu Lucha Es Mi Lucha (Color Pencil 2016) – Artwork by Erica Alexia

 

As crises compound each other, it becomes clear we must turn to the land we are rooted in for answers. The ground we live on is essential, not only for historical reflection, but to decide our future.

In the name of U.S. expansionist policies, referred to as “manifest destiny,” Indigenous communities and other communities of color are displaced from their original lands and livelihoods. For example, in what is now known as Western Oregon, there were about 60 different tribes from six different language groups. This was before the U.S. military forced a mass removal to the Grand Ronde reservation outside Yamhill County. Settlers used racism and discrimination to rationalize stealing the land from the Indigenous people. Mining, timber, fishing and farming all added to their wealth. Before resettlement, Lewis and Clark estimated the valley tribes numbered close to 40,000 individuals. Only 900 made it to the Grand Ronde reservation.

To this day, without reparations for these communities, this legacy remains a stain on America’s modern economy.

According to a 1999 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called “Who Owns The Land?”, white families account for 96 percent of the owners, 97 percent of the value, and 98 percent of the acres of all private U.S. agricultural land. While agricultural land is overwhelmingly owned by white people, it is predominantly worked by Latinx and Indigenous peoples, many of whom fled their home countries as a result of decades of American-backed wars, corporate land grabs, violence and now climate change. Their ongoing dispossession is a vital source of low-cost labor to U.S. landowners.

(L) Pick Justice (Color Pencil 2016) and (R) Care For Each Other (Digital 2020) – Artwork by Erica Alexia

 

We experience the damage of climate change disproportionately. 

Black, brown, and Indigenous communities experience the brunt of environmental violence within the marginal zones where they have been displaced. From urban inner-cities, farm fields, and U.S. Tribal reservations, these families contend with toxic waste, water, and soil. 

Here in Southern Oregon, we also feel the sharp effects of climate change. On one recent afternoon, the Alameda fire destroyed the towns of Phoenix and Talent, taking nearly 3,000 homes. Most of the people affected were Latinx families, living paycheck to paycheck. Two weeks later, most of these families are still houseless in the Rogue Valley and face scarcity in an area already struggling with an affordable housing crisis.

To whom should we turn to address these historical inequalities?

In the Rogue Valley, there is a vision for a better future that centers the leadership of residents most affected. Unete Center for Farmworker Advocacy, the NAACP-Eugene/Springfield, and Beyond Toxics have come together to create a coalition for Black, Indigenous and Brown unity in the face of environmental pollution and climate change. 

LOCAL, which stands for Liberation of Community and Land, seeks to serve Black, Brown and Indigenous communities of Oregon in our effort to secure clean air, clean water, and equal rights while also creating spaces to heal from injustices in our lives. LOCAL sees a future of Communities of Color working together to create more resourced neighborhoods, equal rights for essential workers, and policies to protect the spaces where we live, play, study, and work.

As we identify the problems, we can also create clear solutions for healing. We are being shown this year of 2020 that all our environmental and health crises are woven together. When those of us who know the real issues take charge, we can raise hope to bring healing to both communities of people and land all at once!

Bianca Marcella Ballará
Southern Oregon Community Organizer

Artwork by Erica Alexia

Organizing for Environmental Justice

Teams from Beyond Toxics and the NAACP Eugene/Springfield came together in 2018 to start the process of organizing an Environmental Justice Pathways (EJP) Summit. The agenda we had prepared was jam packed with amazing speakers from throughout the state of Oregon and abroad. 

As the April start date approached, our Environmental Justice Pathways team faced the tough decision of postponing the Summit to April 2021. The decision to do so was disappointing and, although it took the wind out of our sails, we knew that we could not rest in our pursuit of environmental injustice. Right now, it’s more important than ever to work towards sustainable solutions using an equity lens. We cannot move forward without bringing the issues and concerns of frontline and vulnerable communities front and center.

That is why we launched our EJP webinar series in April. Conversations around environmental justice need to continue. To keep our membership and allies engaged and to gain increased support for the Environmental Justice movement, we have begun to hold monthly webinars highlighting the topics we had planned to address at the Environmental Justice Pathways Summit. 

You can join us for our next webinar, The Right to a Healthy Workplace on September 16th at 12 pm to learn about the intersection of labor, mobility-and-ability and race. Our featured speakers include Susan Sygall, CEO & Executive Director of Mobility International and Martha Sonato, Legislative Director of PCUN, Oregon’s farm workers union. 

We started this webinar series in the spring with a plenary panel discussion on the Historical Intersections of Race, Economy, and Environment in Oregon. Experts in Oregon’s social and racial history were invited to discuss how past injustices impact Oregon’s current environmental policy and what we must do to confront a pattern of injustice in our state.

Pradnya Garud, Beyond Toxics co-President, appeared as one of the panelists for “Unjust Care” webinar

 

During the second month of quarantine, our team wanted to meet people where they’re at. We focused on a topic that was relevant, and that’s how the topic of Unjust Care and Pandemics came to be. The panel featured diverse perspectives and expertise, including representatives from the public health sector, and leaders in the environmental, racial, and civil rights movement. 

Still frame from Naily Nevarez’s video, “Homero Gomez Gonzalez”

 

The Environmental Justice Pathways Summit had aimed to bring in a variety of voices. We had planned to host a number of youth artists who had submitted their work for our EJP Youth Art Contest. For our 3rd webinar, we invited the contest winners to display and perform their submissions as part of our webinar series. Younger generations have been leading the way in addressing past injustices and working towards solutions using a variety of artistic platforms. Webinar participants were able to enjoy two videos and poems that painted vivid pictures of why the environment matters to younger Oregonians, and why we need to take action now.

Our 4th and most recent webinar, The Right to Clean Air featured social, environmental, and racial justice organization leaders throughout Oregon. Our panelists spoke on the impact of air pollution on communities of color throughout the state, and what the future health and well-being of frontline communities might look like if we fail to take immediate and effective action. 

Our past webinars have sparked such important and necessary discussions. Many folks have let us know that these webinars have been helpful in building their capacity to delve deeper into these issues.

“It’s great to see the turnout you are getting for the virtual gatherings. I’ve been sharing the first plenary with a board that I sit on. We are making it part of our year of learning to watch and discuss it as a board.” ~ M.R.

We’re thrilled that our upcoming webinars will feature speakers on the topics of Water Justice, Timber Culture and Race, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Sign up to receive our e-alerts for up-to-date registration information.

These conversations are more important now than ever. As COVID-19 has made us take a step away from what we consider “normal day-to-day”, it’s clear that achieving environmental, racial, social, and climate justice for all is going to play an important part in how we adapt to deal with a post COVID-19 world. We hope you can join us for these vitally important conversations that aim to bring us together to address environmental injustices and find pathways to a more environmentally just Oregon.

~ Haley Case-Scott, Climate Justice Grassroots Organizer and Environmental Justice Pathways Webinar Coordinator

P.S., Join us for our next webinar on September 16th at 12 pm, “The Right to a Healthy Workplace.”

Health Problems in West Eugene Warrant a Closer Look

Kylen Tromblay, Summer 2020 intern.

 

Hello, my name is Kylen Tromblay and I’m an Oregon State University intern at Beyond Toxics this summer. I just finished the first year of my Master of Public Health program specializing in Environmental and Occupational Health. I am passionate about creating a world where everyone can live, work, and play in a clean and safe environment. Having spent the past four summers working with children at a day camp in my hometown of Newberg, Oregon, I get to see the world through their eyes. Seeing how excited the kids are about their own future pushes me to work towards leaving them a healthy Earth.

West Eugene Clean Air Project

Currently I am working with the Beyond Toxics environmental justice team on the West Eugene Clean Air Project. This is an ongoing project investigating how the air pollutants being released affect the health of West Eugene’s community. West Eugene (97402 zip code) is home to an industrial corridor made up of 35 manufacturing companies. All together, 684,159 pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the environment of West Eugene in 2019–that’s 96% of all chemicals being released in the city of Eugene. Many of these industrial facilities are located close to homes and schools in these neighborhoods, leading to ongoing, chronic exposure of toxic chemicals.

Beyond Toxics completed its first information gathering canvassing initiative in 2010.

 

After years of residents reporting chronic health problems and awful smells in their neighborhoods, Beyond Toxics began collecting information from both residents of West Eugene and other areas of the city to identify commonly reported health problems. The community organizing work undertaken by Beyond Toxics in the past ten years revealed a clear connection between residential proximity to polluting manufacturers and reporting of health problems in Eugene.  My intern work has been dedicated to connecting the dots between the health problems experienced by the people of West Eugene and the air pollutants being released into their neighborhoods.

Health Problems Reported in West Eugene

Some of the most commonly reported health concerns in West Eugene included respiratory problems, cancer, and skin rashes. In 2019, manufacturers in the West Eugene Industrial Corridor released 90,557 pounds of acetone into the environment. Research shows acetone inhalation is associated with damage to the lungs and nasal passages in children and adults. For example, a 2003 study found Latinx children exposed to acetone were more likely to report asthma symptoms. Manufacturers also released 34,485 pounds of benzene and benzene containing compounds into West Eugene in 2019. Multiple agencies have classified benzene as a carcinogen (a cancer-causing substance). My investigation found multiple studies to support benzene causing cancers including bone marrow, colorectal, colon, and lung cancer; one study connected mothers’ exposure during pregnancy and an increased risk of leukemia in their children.

Particulate matter (PM) refers to tiny particles that pollute the air and are made up of many different chemicals. Particle pollution can come from different sources, but a common source is air pollutant emissions from manufacturing. My research of a number of published scientific articles showed that people exposed to PM2.5 (fine inhalable particles about 28 times smaller than a strand of hair) were more likely to have skin diseases including atopic dermatitis, eczema and accelerated skin aging.

My investigation also found data to support links between the high levels of diabetes, thyroid disease, high blood pressure, and heart disease being reported in West Eugene. Informed by my extensive literature review, I wonder if  the high rates of illnesses reported in West Eugene could be explained by chronic and cumulative exposure to more than ten other toxic chemicals being emitted by manufacturers in the industrial corridor.

Environmental Hazards for Communities of Color and the Working Class

Communities of color and working-class people are more likely to breathe hazardous air pollution; West Eugene reported higher percentages of communities of color compared to the rest of Eugene. The air pollutants emitted by the factories in the industrial corridor affect the health of neighbors in West Eugene. A high percentage of West Eugene residents reported a suspicion of a linkage between their health issues and exposure to toxic soil, air or water. People commonly felt that 1) a toxic smell affected their daily life; 2) their health conditions worsened on days they smelled an odor; and 3) they missed work or school due to difficulties breathing. The people of West Eugene deserve to live in a healthy and clean environment free of the worry that simply living in their neighborhood will make them sick.

This factory sits close the heart of a West Eugene residential neighborhood.


The People of West Eugene Have a Right to a Clean Environment

My research validates the serious worries expressed by the people of West Eugene about the quality of their they breathe. In fact, there is probably even more of a concern than can be measured in the short-term. Many of the health conditions being reported in West Eugene, like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension can take years before symptoms emerge. Lack of symptoms can result in underreporting of the health problems tied to exposure to toxic chemicals in West Eugene. The people of West Eugene are entitled to have their families grow and enjoy healthy lives without the added stress of air pollution from the industrial corridor harming their health.

~ Kylen Tromblay, Summer 2020 Intern


 

Sources

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (1994). Public Health Statement: Acetone. | Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=3&tid=1

Buron, G., Hacquemand, R., Pourie ́, G., & Bran, G. (2008). Inhalation exposure to acetone  induces selective damage on olfactory neuroepithelium in mice. NeuroToxicology, 30:  114–120

Califf, R. (2008). What Is Heart Disease, What Are The Causes, And How Long Does It Take To Develop? Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/Health/HeartDiseaseOverview/story?id=4210085#:~:text=It%20develops%20often%20for%20decades,the%20coronary%20arteries%20has%20already

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Facts about Benzene. Retrieved from            https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/benzene/basics/facts.asp

Cooperman, M. (2020). Beyond Toxics Environmental Community Health Survey

Delfino, R.J., Gong, H.J., Linn, W.S., Pellizzari, E.D., & Hu, Y. (2003). Asthma Symptoms in Hispanic Children and Daily Ambient Exposures to Toxic and Criteria Air Pollutants. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111(4): 647-656

Environmental Protection Agency. (2018). Particulate Matter (PM) Basics. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/particulate-matter-pm-basics#PM

Eugene Toxic Right-to-Know Program. (2020). Material Accounting by Zip Code and Input/Output. Retrieved from https://ceapps.eugene-or.gov/toxics/rptc.asp

Chun, C. (2020). How Long Can You Have Cancer Without Knowing About It? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-can-you-have-cancer-without-knowing

Mayo Clinic. (2018). High Blood Pressure (Hypertension). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373410

Ngoc, L., Park, D., Lee, Y., & Lee, Y. C. (2017). Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Human Skin Diseases Due to Particulate Matter. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(12):1458

Schnatter, A.R., Glass, D.C., Tang, G., Irons, R.D., & Rushton, L. (2012). Myelodysplastic Syndrome and Benzene Exposure Among Petroleum Workers: An International Pooled Analysis. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 104:1724-1737

Scientific American. (2012). People in Poor Neighborhoods Breathe More Hazardous Particles. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-poor-  neighborhoods-breate-more-hazardous-particles/

Talibov, M., Sormunen, J., Hansen, J., Kjaerheim, K., Martinsen, J., Sparen, Tryggvadottir, L., Weiderpass, E., & Pukkala, E. (2018). Benzene exposure at workplace and risk of colorectal cancer in four Nordic countries. Cancer Epidemiology, 55:156-161

Theis, N. (2020). West Eugene Environment Survey: Health Report

Warden, H., Richardson, H., Richardson, L., Siemiatycki, J., & Ho, V. (2018). Associations between occupational exposure to benzene, toluene and xylene and risk of lung cancer in Montréal. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 75:696-702

Zhou, Y., Zhang, S., Li, Z., Zhu, J., Bi, Y., Bai, Y, & Wang, H. (2014). Maternal Benzene Exposure during Pregnancy and Risk of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: A  Meta-Analysis of Epidemiologic Studies. PLoS ONE, 9(10): e110466

SB 1602 will make a difference for rural Oregonians sick of pesticide drift

When Allie McDermott and her partner heard the helicopter blades whirring early on a Sunday morning in March, they were stunned. As they ran up the road to see for themselves they thought, ‘There is no way an aerial spray could be happening on a Sunday!’

After all, they knew there had been an agreement between the timber owner, the pesticide applicator and the Oregon Department of Forestry to have a State Forester come out the next week to observe the aerial spray. The presence of a State Forester serves to help ensure all laws are followed. It so happened that the pesticide applicator in this case was Steve Owens, owner of Pacific Air Research, the same helicopter pilot who had lost his license when he sprayed the community of Cedar Valley near Gold Beach in 2013.

Instead of honoring the agreement with the State Forester and adjacent neighbors to ensure his helicopter pesticide spray was carried out legally, Owens decided to fly without any oversight. Owens showed up just after dawn on a Sunday and sprayed over 113 acres with Atrazine 4L and Velpar DF. over 113 acres with Atrazine 4L and Velpar DF.

Photo by Francis Eatherington

These are both dangerous chemicals. The US EPA states that Atrazine and Velpar (active ingredient Hexazinone) can easily contaminate ground and drinking water. Both are highly toxic to aquatic life. Velpar can cause irreversible eye damage. Atrazine is a known human hormone disruptor. Absolutely no one would want these poisons sprayed near their homes and farms.

Unfortunately, these timber neighbors were just three months shy of pesticide protections provided by Senate Bill 1602, which passed nearly unanimously in the Oregon Legislature on June 26th. This landmark law will soon address some of the issues faced by McDermott, and hundreds of the other rural Oregonians who have reached out to Beyond Toxics over the past 18 years.

SB 1602 mandates that residents living near planned spray operations can request and will receive an email alert 24 hours before an aerial spray. No more helicopters sneaking in to spray at sunrise on a Sunday morning, unscheduled and unannounced! With this real-time notification, nearby residents can leave the area temporarily or prepare their families, take precautions to protect their pets and livestock, and collect water and soil samples before and after a spray operation if they wish. Pesticide applicators and timber land owners will receive hefty fines if they disobey the law.

McDermott’s partner took water samples on their property and sent them for testing to certified lab. The sampling results came back showing extremely high levels of Atrazine. An investigation by the Oregon Department of Agriculture also found Atrazine residues within protected boundaries along a stream on the timber owner’s property.

Had SB 1602 already been in place, McDermott and her other neighbors would have had better protections from pesticide drift. The bill mandates larger protective buffer zones for homes, schools and drinking water intakes, more than 5 times what was previously required in statute. The new law also increases no-spray buffer zones for all streams. With SB 1602, helicopter pilots like Steve Owens are required to stay 300 ft. away from the domestic water intakes and 75 ft. away from the streams.

Another strong point of SB 1602, rural residents are now legally entitled to their ‘right-to-know’ before a helicopter arrives on the scene. With the passage of SB 1602, Oregon has finally adopted human health and environmental laws more closely aligned with pesticide protections required in other western states.

McDermott is also an organic blueberry farmer. We believe she has every right to ensure that no herbicide spray drift reaches an organic food crop. Her ability to run a certified organic business should never be jeopardized by industrial timber business practices. Beyond Toxics fights to protect organic farmers like Allie McDermott who are working hard to provide healthy, non-toxic food for their communities.

SB 1602 is a compilation of legislative initiatives Beyond Toxics has introduced over the past five years. Based on a decade of grassroots organizing across Oregon, we brought forward a wide variety of pressing issues for legislative review and supported many dozens of rural residents in their efforts to testify at the State Capitol to demand protections from aerial pesticide spray. Senators Michael Dembrow, Floyd Prozanski and Ginny Burdick as well as Representatives Paul Holvey, Alissa Keny Guyer and Marty Wilde have been strong champions for forestry and pesticide policy modernization. Our early wins to reform the Oregon Forest Practices Act set the stage for the passage of SB 1602.

Beyond Toxics has chronicled the many harrowing aerial spray experiences suffered by rural neighbors year after year. These stories belie the deceitful narrative offered by industrial timber giants trying to claim they’re just doing the best they can for Oregonians.

So much is gained by the passage of SB 1602. So much more needs to be done to win forest policies that no longer harm people, wildlife, rivers and our climate. We promise to continue to be warriors for forest health and pesticide policy victories!

After their experience, McDermott and her family are eager to see more legal protections from aerial herbicide drift. Reflecting on the new legislation in one of our recent conversations, she felt a sense of relief. “We need laws like SB 1602 because corporate timber companies just want to increase their profits by decreasing their accountability.”

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

See also: BREAKING NEWS: Oregon Forest Aerial Spray Bill has passed!

First Foods for Spring

Curled fern tips are tender and mild, with a taste similar to asparagus.

Food is our medicine. Foods not only provide nourishment for our body, they also nourish us emotionally and spiritually. Whether it be root foraging, harvesting wild fruits and nuts, procuring plant fibers for basket weaving, fishing, hunting, or gardening, these practices bond our spirit with the earth and make us feel whole. These practices also keep us connected as families by continuing traditions imperative for our health, livelihoods, and cultural survival.

Our knowledge of edible wild foods, known as First Foods, is passed from generation to generation by our elders. Our inherited knowledge of how to access, prepare and cultivate food ultimately offers us security and peace of mind during times when everything else may feel uncertain.

All communities can take part in connecting to the natural world. We can implement policies that protect First Foods habitats from environmental degradation. Many of us do not realize that the areas around us were once home to a wide array of foods, medicines, and fibers that, when properly stewarded, can continue to play their important role for traditional uses.

Foraging for wild food is a great way to connect with your land and also support your health with diversity of nutrients. There is an abundance of resources to nourish you right outside your backdoor, if you know what to look for.

For example, the highly valued blue camas were essential to nourish many Western Tribes and First Nations. From the Northern California coast to Yellowstone National Park, many Indigenous people have relied on nutrition from these plants to live healthy lives.

Here are four First Foods of the Northwest that we are looking out for this month and why we consider them special.

Camas
Camassia leichtlinii

Here in the Willamette Valley, we have an abundance of edible blue camas blooming April-May. The edible part of camas is the bulb,, which is the part of the plant that is most relished since they are packed with protein and become very sweet when cooked. Camas bulbs were collected by many Northwest Coast tribes. Camas was, and continues to be, one of the most important “root” crops of western First Foods. These plants are adapted to a wide range of terrains: from seasonally wet soils in full sun to partial shade areas from southwestern British Columbia to Montana, and south to California and from east to western Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains.

Spruce Tips
Picea sitchensis

Native Americans have long known the nutritional value of these young conifer tips. Coastal people used spruce tips, along with other fir needles to brew teas, season dishes, and to cure salmon before smoking it. Spruce tips are packed with Vitamin C and electrolytes, including magnesium and potassium. Many Western Tribes have relied on spring Spruce tips to ward off thirst, hunger, colds, coughs and fatigue.

Fiddlehead Ferns
Various species

Fiddleheads are young edible fern fronds that can be harvested from forest floors throughout the Pacific Northwest in mid to late spring. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), and lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) are the two edible fiddlehead species in the Pacific Northwest. It is best to harvest the fiddlehead tips as they are emerging from the soil before the tip is unfurled into a leaf. 

The curled fern tips are tender and mild with a taste similar to asparagus.   Fiddleheads should always be cooked and may be boiled, sauteed, or baked. They can also be processed and preserved in pickling solution, frozen, or canned. Many Native Americans also harvested fiddlehead rhizomes for starch in their diets.

Black Cottonwood
Populus trichocarpa

“Populus” means “peoples” in Latin to signify how this tree has been so useful for many people over the centuries. Black Cottonwood seeds cannot survive in the shade of their parents and so they must seek new habitat by wind dispersal. These are masses of white-fluffs that take to the skies, usually in late May. The Cottonwood tree was, and still is, viewed as a medicine tree by many Plains Tribes and Coastal Tribes since many parts of the cottonwood tree are medicinal. The buds, leaves and bark are full of a chemical called salacin, which is a natural anti-inflammatory and pain-reducer and has often been applied topically to reduce swelling in wounds. The resin that fills the buds in the first part of the year is also a valuable substance that was used to waterproof baskets and buckets for storing and carrying food, among other traditional uses.

This is only a small sample of the rich and highly varied First Foods and medicine culture that have been stewarded for centuries. This knowledge is shared to enrich the lives of people around the world today. It is up to us, all in our various social, cultural and political roles, to protect and care for these important resources for future generations. Beyond Toxics is committed to protecting the knowledge of and equal access to First Foods and precious natural resources through pesticide reform, community education and promoting stewardship of natural resources throughout Oregon.

~ Jennifer Eisele, Western Shoshone and Northern Paiute and Krystal Abrams, Cherokee & Muscogee.


12 First Foods & Medicines of the Willamette Valley

Camas: Camassia leichtlinii and Camassia quamash Cooking Blue Camas  

Elderberry: Sambucus cerulea Delicious Uses for Elderberry

Spruce Tips: Picea sitchensis Foraging Spruce Tips (and other conifer tips)

Dandelion: Dandelion – A foraging guide to its food, medicine and other uses

Tarweed: Madea elegans Late season bloomer: Common tarweed (Madia elegans)

Lomatium: Lomatium dissectum  The Supernatural power of Lomatium

Plantain: Plantago lanceolata Three Easy Ways to Cook Plantain, The Spinach-like Survival Weed

Chickweed: Stellaria media  The Glories of Chickweed, Uses, Cultivation, Recipes & More 

Red Cedar: Thuja plicata Wild Foods and Medicines:  Western Red Cedar

Salmonberry: Rubus spectabilis Salmonberry:  Food, Medicine, Culture, Part 1

Salal: Gaultheria shallon: Oregon Encyclopedia: Salal

Black Cottonwood: Populus trichocarpa How to Make Cottonwood Salve

 

Double Trouble – Climate Change and COVID-19

As we expand our understanding and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to start thinking about how we are going to move forward after the global pandemic. There is a glimmer of hope that we will take a step towards changing the current socioeconomic structure built upon never-ending expansion that extracts finite resources and uses the public’s common air and water as the dumping ground for pollution and waste. I hope there is a silver lining in this crisis that set us upon a path towards a society that promotes sustainability and supports resilient communities. 

Although it may be difficult to tell what the future will look like, we know that the impacts caused by the pandemic will be devastating to our economy and social structures. While the pandemic is a priority issue that needs to be addressed now, let’s think about the ways in which our past actions have influenced our current circumstances. Our attention should be directed at the ways in which society’s “business as usual” way of life has created long-lasting environmental damage to the Earth’s ecosystems, and has left us unprepared to respond to the emergency at hand. We need to address this devastating damage now before we carelessly set ourselves back on the old path to the point of no return.


We Cannot Forget About the Fight Against Climate Change! 

Recent environmental regulation rollbacks and continued support of the fossil fuel industry have made clear that the current Administration cares little about preparing for climate change impacts. While we brace ourselves for the outcomes of this and possible repetitions of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider how the negative effects of a virus could be exacerbated by climate change.

Our response will be influenced by disruptions such as forced relocation due to extreme weather events and resulting changes in demographics as people seek relief from intense heat, failed crops or raging hurricanes. Cultural losses will also be profound among those who rely on healthy and abundant natural resources to sustain their livelihoods. Destroying natural resources through practices such as deforestation will cause greenhouse gas emissions to keep rising, and negatively impact our health and well being.

Disproportionate Impacts on Frontline Communities – Uncomfortable Similarities

It is increasingly clear that frontline communities are suffering the greatest impacts from both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. The similarities are stark. Frontline communities – communities of color, Tribes and indigenous peoples, and low-income populations – most often bear the brunt of disasters caused by extreme weather events and other climate-related impacts. Drought can cause threats to food security and nutrition. Wildfires and flooding destroy homes. Rising  sea levels can wipe out entire coastal communities. Vulnerable communities suffer disproportionate harm through depression or post traumatic stresses that understandably accompany disasters and loss. 

Moving Forward

Our decision-makers must develop adaptation and mitigation policies that acknowledge the disproportionate impacts on frontline communities, and implement actions that equally benefit their health and well-being. Our system of top down governance has failed us. Instead, solutions need to be developed by communities themselves. 

We must not give in to despair. We must endeavor to find the right path in all of this chaos. Join me in imagining a world where our children and future generations will be able to thrive. Imagine them with full equality and equity, enjoying the world’s natural gifts. Imagine how amazing it will be for them to know that the earth’s previous stewards stood strong and persisted in their fight for climate justice.

Haley Case-Scott,
Beyond Toxics Climate Justice Grassroots Organizer


Consulted Sources

Anderson, INGER. “First Person: COVID-19 Is Not a Silver Lining for the Climate, Says UN Environment Chief.” UN News, 5 Apr. 2020, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061082.

“Donald Trump.” Inside Climate News, 2020.  https://insideclimatenews.org/tags/donald-trump

Ebi, K.L., J.M. Balbus, G. Luber, A. Bole, A. Crimmins, G. Glass, S. Saha, M.M. Shimamoto, J. Trtanj, and J.L. White-Newsome, 2018: Human Health. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 539–571. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH14

“EPA Announces Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 Pandemic.” EPA News Releases, 26 Mar. 2020, https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-enforcement-discretion-policy-covid-19-pandemic.

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COVID-19 virus reveals that environmental justice is a public health issue

As of April 17, the COVID-19 Corona virus has taken the lives of over 153,177 people worldwide. We’ve learned that the risk of dying from the virus is not the same for everyone. While age is certainly a risk factor, it turns out the biggest determinants of whether a person might die from contracting the virus is living near air pollution emitters and being African American. Reports state that people who live near air toxic sources such as chemical factories, incinerators and wood products industries are 15% more likely to die if exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Compounding this significant risk, communities of color are more likely to live closest to polluting industries.

The pandemic of COVID-19 exposed the truth of environmental injustices. People of color have more underlying and serious health conditions, including heart disease, respiratory diseases such as asthma or chronic bronchitis and diabetes. Exacerbating these health vulnerabilities is inequitable access to adequate health care coverage and discrimination when seeking medical treatments.

Smoke plume in West Eugene neighborhood taken from Meadow Lark Prairie looking east toward the Beltline Highway. Photo by Jake Jackson.

 

Beyond Toxics’ research in our local community confirms that breathing dirty air has measurable negative impacts on health and lifestyle. People in West Eugene live closest to 99% of all air toxic polluters within the city limits. Our research shows these neighbors are more than twice as likely to have asthma, an underlying condition that increases susceptibility to the corona virus and all pathogens. People in West Eugene also report they are less inclined to exercise outdoors because they try to avoid breathing noxious odors in the air.

We can see the vicious cycle: Exposure to air pollution damages cells and impairs normal cell function, which creates weakness in our immune systems and more susceptibility to inflammatory reactions — and eventually, sickness. Living near polluters means people exercise less, which contributes to higher rates of obesity and heart disease.

Local public health authorities determined that life expectancy is 18 years less for people living in West Eugene than other areas of the city. West Eugene’s neighborhoods are more racially diverse. West Eugene’s air is saturated with toxic chemicals from numerous sources. In West Eugene, land use zoning puts residential neighborhoods adjacent to polluters. Environmental inequities are not theoretical in West Eugene. Every day people in these vulnerable communities suffer a variety of health problems that take a toll on the people living there. That is why we say that “zip code matters.” Patterns of existing and historical pollution paired with environmental injustice make some neighborhoods more ripe for the ravaging effects of a pandemic.

We are fortunate that Oregon has not become a hotbed of COVID-19 cases and deaths. We may not be so lucky when the next crisis strikes. Taking action to break the linkages between environmental racism, poisoning of our communities and illness will create better health for everyone.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

Free to breathe and thrive

Bianca Marcella Ballará

I am passionate about the Earth just as I am passionate for humanity. In my eyes and the eyes of many walking alongside me, there is no difference. My vision is for all Oregonians to live in a thriving landscape wherein we may drink pure, clean water and breathe clear air and be nourished from living soils. I speak out for an Oregon that respects our environment in order to respect the health of our own human community.

For me, water is more than an eight-glass daily prescription. Water is the most fundamental component of our well-being. It connects us to the past, to the future and to every living being in the web of life.

Water enters our bodies as energizing hydration and exits our bodies as cleansing relief to pass through the water cycle and hydrate the next being.

In the words of Grandma Agnes Baker Parker, a respected elder of the local Takelma Tribe and treasure of people worldwide, “All humans came from water in the amniotic sac of our mother’s womb and that water is our first medicine. We are to take care of it and guard it. Not just for now but for seven generations to come in the unborn.”

Our relationship with air is the same. On average, every human alive draws in 12 generous breaths every minute. Those oxygen molecules are the same that sustained our great grandparents and will inspire your great grandchildren.

Every one of us has an intimate connection with air and water. Air and water move from oceans and atmospheres outside of our bodies to cellular exchange deep within. We are united by the way that they swirl between and through, meeting all of our needs.

In this unity, we are so very similar with every living and thriving organism. Plant, animal, mineral: we are interconnected and inextricable from waters of streams and the air we breathe. It is no wonder these timeless elements are honored and blessed across all ancient indigenous cultures, from the Lakota of the Great Plains to the Druids of the British Isles, from the Yoruba of Nigeria to the Buddhists of Tibet.

Because water, air and soil travel the world, wise ones imagine good thoughts and speak wishes into them, spreading well-being, health and good fortune globally.

We at Beyond Toxics hope to continually learn from these earth-based cultures. When we protect Oregon’s water and air and work to keep them clean, we hope that we are spreading good wishes for well-being across our diverse communities. If these elements thrive, every single human being will be supported by them equally.

During these quickly changing and trying times of the COVID-19 virus global pandemic, we are learning not only the high value of the 6 feet around our bodies but of what occurs across thousands of miles of land and sea. I believe it is very important to understand that our immune systems would not be as vulnerable without the significant toll already burdening us from the rampant and bio-persistent pollution contaminating our ecosystem. We are also learning that some of our immune systems are already more compromised and therefore markedly more vulnerable to this threat than others.

Right now, even in Oregon, air and water pollution oppresses the poorest neighborhoods, exposes those in the lowest-income jobs and affects disproportionately greater numbers of indigenous and communities of color. From the eyes of the privileged, these conditions go unnoticed, but through the eyes of those most affected, the degradation of our precious air and water, and of the community, are in plain sight. Balance will be restored only as we attend to this difference.

Born of our collaboration with Unete Center for Farmworker Advocacy in Medford and NAACP-Lane County, we have formed “LOCAL”: Liberation of Community and Land. LOCAL serves the indigenous and communities of color of Oregon by encouraging an environmental justice movement–by and for our diverse people. This, in turn, serves the broader community by lifting up the deep wisdom of our ancestors’ relationship to land. We come together across our diverse Native and backgrounds of color because we are stronger, more visible and more supported in shifting our Oregon culture to one that celebrates diversity. We come together to offer environmental solutions that work for all, not just for some. During this time of facing a public health crisis, we need big ideas and a grand vision; we need justice for all; and we need a multiplicity of perspectives.

With the growing acceptance of scientific research showing the harmful effects of toxic chemicals on human, pollinator and salmon health and the available resources for organic methods, we at Beyond Toxics are working to implement new ways forward. Our cities and counties need alternative solutions so we can leave behind pesticides as artifacts of the recent past and return our children and families to organic green public spaces.

Beyond Toxics wishes to serve as an inspiration for a society that values well-being and peace. We do this by honoring the importance water, air and soil had to our ancestors and will have for the children of future generations.

Earth’s wellness ensures our own vitality and, in turn, keeps our individual immune systems strong. Whether human, plant or animal, clean air and clean water are at the center of what we need for good health, nourishment, and the basic ability to thrive and live long. Until all of us can breathe easily, drink fully and pray, learn and work in well-stewarded landscapes, I will be encouraging all of our communities to speak and rise in unity. Together we have the capacity to keep our local ecosystem healthy, ourselves healthy and contribute to creating a foundation for a Culture of Peace.

Bianca Ballará is an Environmental Justice community organizer for Beyond Toxics and the LOCAL project and is a first-generation Latinx living and working in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon.

The Tough Keep Going: Advancing Forest Practices and Pesticide Reform

Helicopter applying spray on forestry block. Photo by Francis Earthington.

 

We’ve arrived at a moment when an agreement between corporate timber representatives and environmental health and forest protection defenders has been brokered. Perspectives on the value of such an agreement run the gamut, from Governor Brown’s pronouncement of “historic” to the angry claim of “shameless” by social media users. Beyond Toxics came at this with extreme caution because we understand the risks of compromise. We had to evaluate what was lost as a trade for benefits that move the marker closer to our goals: those of non toxic communities and healthy forest ecosystems.

The intent and legal aspects of this agreement, or “memorandum of understanding,” is codified in HB 4168-2. The bill has been set adrift in the stormy, contentious waters of Oregon’s 2020 Legislative Session. The bill passed out of the House Rules Committee last week only to be shunted to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, a place often referred to as “the legislation graveyard.” Whatever your stance on the wisdom of this agreement, there is every possibility that it will fail at one of the hurdles it faces. If HB 4168-2 fails to pass, the entire agreement is scrapped. This isn’t necessarily a setback, because a strong, dedicated coalition of environmental advocates have formed to pursue future policy battles. And there are 3 ballot measures ready to be launched to get a public vote on protecting Oregon’s forest waters. Fortunately, these ballot measures poll very, very well.

Where Does Beyond Toxics Stand?

With twelve years of forest and pesticide reform and rural community health advocacy and leadership to our credit, Beyond Toxics provided in-depth consultation to the negotiators from Oregon Wild and Wild Salmon Center on the timber pesticide and notification sections of the Enviro-Timber Agreement leading to HB 4168-2.

Beyond Toxics supports the agreement because, at the minimum, it establishes a policy floor below which Oregon will never sink. By signing on to this agreement and supporting HB 4168-2, timber companies openly acknowledge for the first time that they can (and should):

  • Protect Oregon’s water with no-spray buffers on all tributaries and headwater streams;
  • Expand no-spray buffer zones on all fish and drinking water streams;
  • Expand no-spray buffers on drinking water intakes to 300 ft.;
  • Provide timely notifications and acknowledge the possibility of pesticide drift by giving 24-hr advanced notice to nearby residents who need to protect themselves and their property;
  • Increase the accuracy of the timber spray notifications and allow access to the files by other state agencies for research purposes;
  • Adopt a pathway forward to developing a Habitat Conservation Plan to protect wildlife.

These are agreements that create a foundation of understanding about the need to update and reform Oregon’s forest practices laws. The agreement levels the playing field so that shared understandings, science and the experience of disproportionate burdens experienced by multiple communities are centered and valued in the next steps moving forward. Now, Oregon legislators have a stronger basis on which to end the current stalemate on pesticide reform and take meaningful action.

The Long Road to an Agreement: Our History of Statewide Activism of Timber Herbicide Use and Water Quality

Beyond Toxics’ early involvement in timber pesticide issues began in 2008 with support for a small group of rural residents called Forestland Dwellers. Led by Lynne Bowers, these folks were hand-coloring maps of where the aerial sprays were happening near their homes. From hand-colored maps and grassroots rallies in communities from Josephine to Tillamook counties, Beyond Toxics launched a science-based and ground-truthing approach. Soon we published our report, Oregon’s Industrial Forests and Herbicide Use: A Case Study of the Risk to People, Drinking Water and Salmon, a 2012 analysis and GIS mapping report on timber herbicide use in the Coastal range of West Lane County. This report provided the first fact-based understanding of herbicide sprays in industrial timberlands; the analysis was based on the spray records provided by timber companies. Our research exposed the multiple years of pesticide spraying the industry had previously denied and the chemical cocktail tank mixes never before revealed. We identified Atrazine, 2,4D, glyphosate and hexazinone as the top four herbicides sprayed in Oregon, contributing to a total of about a dozen poisons. We put together a multi-state comparison documenting how Oregon promotes the weakest forest practices laws in the Pacific Northwest (including Idaho and Alaska).

Then in 2013, Beyond Toxics documented the horrific aerial spray exposures that harmed over 30 people in Gold Beach, Curry County. We worked side-by-side with several residents to lift the voices of this rural community of loggers and blue-collar workers to the attention of state agencies and the Oregon Legislature. The rest of the nation learned about their plight through our video documentation, national media coverage, community health reports, and our petitions to federal agencies.

Cedar Valley residents and Lisa Arkin (3rd from left) testified for aerial pesticide spray reform during the 2015 Oregon legislative session.

 

Together with this tightly-knit community, Beyond Toxics worked with Senator Michael Dembrow and former Representative Ann Lininger in 2015 to introduce SB 613, a bill to require advance spray notifications, buffer zones and more. We organized rural residents from nearly a dozen Oregon counties to travel to the State Legislature to testify and tell their stories of exposure to herbicide drift. It was an epic battle: working-class rural Oregonians versus corporate timber companies, at times attacked by their own legislators. We spoke truth to power to County Commissioners and legislators. 2015 was the session we raised the alarm about former Senator Jeff Kruse, who called his own constituents unsavory names on the floor of the Senate! (Senator Kruse was later ousted by the Legislature on charges of sexual harassment in 2018). Rob Davis, longtime reporter for The Oregonian, chronicled the fight for sensible forest laws.

Former board member David Bahr (left), Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics, Executive Director (center) and Darryl Ivy (right) met in spring of 2015,  before he came forward to the press with his story.

 

Then in 2015 I met Darryl Ivy, an employee of Seneca, who attended a Beyond Toxics/Umpqua Watersheds Town Hall meeting in Roseburg with other employees. Darryl was the chemical tank truck driver who videotaped his and other workers’ exposures to aerial spray drift, took pictures of leaking herbicide tank trucks in public parking lots and was forced to mix pesticides with neither training nor a pesticide handler’s license. Darryl’s story had a profound impact on the path to exposing the timber industry’s lax practices and dismal worker protection standards.

Photo taken at a clear-cut site in the Oregon Coast Range. Photo by David Tvedt.

 

Later that same year, Beyond Toxics was contacted by Nancy Webster, a Rockaway Beach resident, about their history of rampant clear cutting and aerial herbicide sprays resulting in contaminated municipal drinking water. We mapped her community’s watershed and actively supported the community’s grassroots efforts and their ongoing and highly successful community conversations series. The Rockaway Beach community and the Curry County residents joined us to testify in the State Legislature!

Oregon’s first timber spray electronic reporting system, no-spray buffers for homes and new requirements for how state agencies must respond and investigate pesticide spray incidents came from Beyond Toxics’ early years of grassroots organizing and advocacy efforts.

In 2017 we came back to the legislature, again with the guidance of Senator Dembrow, to lead the advocacy for forest practices reform bills. In that session we sought to address the public’s right to have advanced warnings about aerial sprays (SB 892), the right to have their day in court without the risk of owing potentially millions of dollars in attorney fees to timber companies (SB 500), and the right to file a claim of property damage or injury to health (SB 499).

Then in 2019 we presented the case and brought forward the concept to ban aerial sprays in state forests (SB 926).

A tour of Shady Creek Forest, an example of a forest managed with resilient forestry practices in Lane County. Photo by Lisa Arkin.

In concert with residents from rural communities reeling from the harm they experience from timber pesticide sprays, Beyond Toxics spearheaded the earliest research, grassroots organizing, video documentaries, Resilient Forestry Tours and legislation – ultimately leading to the recognition of the central importance of spray drift to health of communities  and Oregon’s watersheds. Like tributaries flowing into the mighty river, it is a legacy of work that joins with the impressive efforts of conservation groups like Wild Salmon Center, Oregon Stream Protection Alliance, Oregon Wild and many others.

We’re proud of our legacy of leadership in healthy forests and healthy communities. Today we are also pleased to be working together with a larger coalition of environmental groups to break the proverbial logjam to progress. We have a remarkable opportunity to advance critical first steps towards lasting protections for forest waters and rural communities.

If we remain strong and united, Oregon will finally have a future where forests serve their highest functions as carbon sinks, wildlife habitats, sanctuaries for cool and clear running streams, sustainable logging harvests and places for recreation and reflection. This is all the more reason to believe that the signed agreement between timber and environmentalists will jump-start actions that benefit forests, protect watersheds and modernize Oregon’s approach to timber management.

~ Lisa Arkin, Executive Director, Beyond Toxics