Lay of the Land (Use)

Land is identity. 

“I’m from the coast.” “I own a farm.” “My family have been ranchers for five generations.” Our sense of ourselves is integrated with the way we own and use land.

Land is wealth. Those who own and control land may perpetuate generations of wealth—or conversely, landlessness may perpetuate poverty.

Land is equity. Colonial settlement in America was nothing less than taking land—along with identity, wealth, and equity—from the Native American peoples. The pattern continued as Black Americans were systematically denied USDA farm loans throughout the 20th century forcing many to lose their farms and homesteads. Systemic exclusion was repeated again when, left out of the GI home loan programs for war veterans, many Black families were forced to remain renters. Collective historic inequity is four centuries of excluding from land ownership people of color and those not of European ancestry.

Correcting these disparities in identity, wealth, and equity are what we must tackle today. Exactly such an effort came directly from Oregon’s environmental justice communities in the form of HB 2488*. This bill grew in the soil of a society where vulnerability to the risks of climate change are borne most heavily by frontline, low-income rural and communities of color.

HB 2488 incorporates measurable climate and equity goals into land use decisions. Oregon’s statewide land use system, conceived in the 1970s, established 19 land use goals to guide everything from urban development to protecting oceans, farm, and forest lands to planning transportation systems. It was a bold accomplishment to conserve natural resource and coordinate urban development between local governments.

Historically entrenched racial and cultural inequities, unfortunately, are not addressed at all within Oregon’s original 19 land use goals. Half a century has passed with few updates to the land use planning system, despite the influence of land use on nearly every aspect of identity, wealth, and equity.

Cities and counties depend on the 19 state land use goals to guide important decisions such as expanding a city limit or converting forest land into upscale suburban housing. For example, during the two terms I served on the Lane County Planning Commission, I was able to observe how patterns of historical exclusion and bias are woven into the fabric of land use goals. This is particularly true for Goal 1, called the Citizen Participation Goal. What I saw was that the people participating were land owners and their lawyers, not ordinary Oregonians whose wellbeing may be impacted by actions taken by cities and counties at the request of land use lawyers. Over the nearly eight years I served, I never heard testimony from a person of color, a renter, a houseless person or someone from public health or disability services.

HB 2488 is the first land use legislation to reveal and unravel underlying prejudices in order to re-weave social, economic, and environmental justice into the fabric of land use laws.

Beyond Toxics and NAACP staff proposed HB 2488 to craft a new, Goal 20 for climate justice. We set out to reverse centuries of excluding vulnerable, disproportionately impacted people from the rooms where decisions are made. Governor Brown set aside $800,000 as seed money to launch the Goal 20 adoption process. Prospects of passage looked hopeful. Yet the version of HB 2488 that passed out of committee on a 4-3 partisan vote was extensively altered in committee due to opposition from lobbyists and legislators who prefer to keep the status quo.

Gone is the climate mitigation goal that would have required city and county planners to consider the climate impacts of major land use decisions. Climate considerations are necessary to guide decisions such as whether to expand city limits toward an unstable shoreline, or whether carbon rich farm soils should be converted to parking lots. Gone, too, is the prospect of data mapping to help local governments address the unequal impacts of climate and public health burdens on vulnerable communities. These impacts include where to build transportation corridors or whether to allow heavy industries next to low-income neighborhoods.

The good news is the amended bill still aims to center inclusion in land use planning by incorporating practices to engage the community, particularly our historically excluded groups.

As it stands, HB 2488 is a positive step, yet it bears mention that if we take such tiny steps, we risk great peril. Today’s land use decisions inexorably shape what will only become more critical—and less reversible—as climate-deteriorating impacts accrue. Lack of action will, as it has for centuries, cause vulnerable communities to suffer disparities in identity, wealth, and equity.

The ideas behind HB 2488 have the potential to spur immediate next steps on the pathway toward achieving climate, equity and environmental justice for all of us.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

* Chief bill sponsors are Representatives Power and Helm and Senators Dembrow and Golden


Equity Missing in Oregon Land Use Laws

Time and time again, vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in Oregon have been disproportionately impacted by poor land-use decisions. Often these decisions are made without input or consent from the people poised to bear the brunt of their impact. It is precisely this structural inequality Beyond Toxics seeks to address through their promotion of HB 2488 in the state legislature.

One of Oregon’s most notorious examples of unjust land-use practices is exemplified in the devastating flood that rampaged through Vanport City in 1948.

1948 aerial photo of Vanport, OR flooded is courtesy of The City of Portland Archives and Records Management


Vanport City was hastily built to accommodate the influx of Black Americans seeking to fill the labor shortage in Portland’s shipyards. Due to a general disregard for the unwelcomed low-income white and African American shipyard laborers and their families and the economic incentive to build cheap housing away from Portland’s neighborhoods, the city was built in the Columbia River floodplain between sloughs and two shallow lakes. Vanport was known as the “Negro Project” although at its peak, 40% of the population was black. When the Columbia River flooded, the city was submerged 15 feet under water. Over 18,000 people were left homeless, the majority identified as African American. Here too, the state was slow to admit responsibility and respond to the vulnerability they had created through policies that disadvantaged people based on race and income. (Sources include: Streetroots, Black Past)

We may think that land-use policies that disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and communities of color are a thing of the past, but that could not be further from the truth. Just last week, disturbing information came to light regarding the disrespectful treatment of Native American Tribes by the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline and the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay. The project aims to construct a 229-mile, 36-inch-diameter natural gas pipeline to connect Malin in Klamath County in South Central Oregon to Coos Bay.

Oregon Tribes and environmental groups alike oppose this project for its proposed disruption of sacred burial grounds and harm to marine ecosystems. As proof to substantiate the requirement to protect important cultural sites that would be decimated by the pipeline and coastal export terminal, the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw had to share locations of their ancestral burial grounds. Documentation is required under Goal 5, the state land-use planning goal adopted to protect natural and cultural resources. Although burial grounds are sacred and the locations should never be disclosed, the company building the pipeline/terminal publicly divulged the locations. This disrespectful treatment may, in fact, jeopardize the protection of sacred sites. This practice shows a blatant disregard for the rights of people directly affected by proposed land-use changes.

Fortunately, in January 2021 federal energy regulators upheld Oregon’s decision to deny a water quality certification for the proposed terminal and its feeder pipeline.

While the permit denial is a huge win for community organizations, the land use process did not protect the rights of the local Tribes to protect the privacy of their cultural and historical information. Nor did the land use process give the Tribes the right to mutual consultation when a massive land use decision was proposed on their ancestral lands. Furthermore, there were no required criteria to judge the climate impacts of constructing a liquefied natural gas terminal and a gas transmission pipeline and its infrastructure across southern Oregon.

While this project may be dead, similar projects will likely arise. As we move towards rebuilding the devastation left behind from last year’s wildfires, it is crucial to have land-use policies that are universally equitable and require criteria to reduce climate warming. This is the gap Beyond Toxics seeks to address with the passage of HB 2488. Among other things, this bill establishes a framework for participatory decision-making that ensures greater involvement of impacted communities as well as meaningful and respectful consultation with Tribal governments.

We must act now to confront climate change! We can stop the inequitable impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities.

We need your help to pass landmark legislation to update Oregon’s nearly fifty year old set of laws that determine who participates in land use decisions! Beyond Toxics is promoting HB 2488, a law that can bring climate and environmental justice standards to Oregon’s land use planning system.

Soon we will provide opportunities to give your input to our state legislators. In the meantime, you can visit our Environmental Justice Campaigns Take Action page to learn how to submit your testimony to critical public hearings coming soon at the State Legislature.

~ Alejandra Pedraza, Environmental Justice Legislative Fellow
and Lisa Arkin, Executive Director, Beyond Toxics


The Time Nature And Racism Teamed Up To Wipe Out A Whole Town by Kenya Downs, NPR


We face a future full of challenges about the health of our communities and the impacts of a warming climate. Of the many intersections between environmental justice, health and climate change, one that is often overlooked is pesticide use.

At the most basic level of fossil fuel production reductions, pesticides are petrochemicals – toxic chemicals made from extracted oil and fracked gas. Agricultural pesticides also increase greenhouse gas emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Not only do pesticides use oil and gas as their base, these chemicals require extractive mining of minerals such as phosphate ore, a practice that strips away mountain tops, contaminates water and releases dangerous air pollutants. Phosphate mines are environmental justice burdens for the tribal and low-income rural communities living downstream and downwind. From the deep pit mines, the pesticide ingredients are sent to chemical manufacturing plants located in additional environmental justice communities, many of them located in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast. Dirty, polluted air and water emissions contaminate communities of color and the lands and waters where food is produced (including fishing grounds).

Industrial agriculture corporations, along with their chemical corporate partners, spend inordinate amounts of public relations dollars and time convincing us that extensive pesticide use must be accepted to maximize crop production. Their messaging is far from true. Pesticide residues contaminate the food we eat, sometimes at levels too dangerous for children, elders and other vulnerable people.

Both insecticides and herbicides are capable of disturbing ecological balance, with implications for both climate warming and the collapse of healthy environments. Above ground pesticides kill bees, butterflies and birds, all of which are critical for our food supply and are the basis of our entire ecosystem. Below ground pesticides kill communities of soil microorganisms capable of drawing down and storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. An article published in the 2007 Journal of Physics described how glyphosate, an herbicide, and malathion, an insecticide, significantly decreased the microbial activities and counts of soil bacteria and fungi. These types of soil microorganisms are critical to the carbon cycle. Pesticide applications can significantly disrupt the way carbon molecules are utilized and stored in soils. Multiple scientific studies have concluded that pesticides have a poisonous impact on soil biomass, respiration and normal biological activity.

In response to Oregon Governor’s Executive Order 20-04 to develop greenhouse gas emissions strategies and policies, state agencies are looking at a myriad of ways to reduce greenhouse gases and more effectively store carbon in soils for long-term climate benefits. Reducing pesticides to reap multiple benefits for climate, communities and the environment should be a necessary part of Oregon’s local and state climate action plans. From the Board of Forestry to the Department of Agriculture to the Oregon Health Authority, pesticides reductions must be adopted as a top line of defense against public harm and climate impacts.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director

Stand to Protect Climate, People and Forests

Beyond Toxics has over twelve years of forest and pesticide policy victories and rural community health advocacy and leadership experience.


Beyond Toxics does not shy away from tough issues. It takes time, tenacity and creativity to solve problems. For example, we are in our second year of fighting to stop the use of chlorpyrifos in Oregon. We’ve presented two bills that got caught up and swept away by the Republican walk-outs in 2019 and 2020. We followed that with a campaign for a chlorpyrifos phase-out that we expect to be adopted by the end of this year.

Our work to phase out chlorpyrifos achieved an end to aerial applications of chlorpyrifos in Oregon!


Tackling Oregon’s abysmal timber management and ending aerial herbicide sprays is another arduous battle we are dedicated to winning. Oregon’s timber harvest laws are the epitome of corporate greed; huge tracts of forested land were essentially given away as part of settler colonial land grab that opened up Oregon’s forests to rich adventurists from the Midwest and East while dispossessing native tribal peoples. The laws that remain on the books today accumulates corporate-based land controls, evidenced by Oregon’s massive clear cuts, weak riparian protections, mono-culture cropping deceivingly called “reforestation” and massive amounts of synthetic herbicides, rodenticides and fertilizers applied throughout critical watersheds.

Recently we provided in-depth consultation on the timber pesticide and notification sections of SB 1602, a bill that passed during the June 2020 Special Session of the Oregon Legislature. Beyond Toxics supports the new law because it establishes a higher standard of timber management practices that align with or exceed laws in other Pacific Northwest states. These achievements can be expanded to fully overhaul Oregon’s Forest Practices Act in the near term, work that will involve us and many other environmental allies.

The spring 2020 agreement was the first time the timber industry essentially acknowledged that their use of pesticides in our forests was harming people and the environment.


We can fix many of the problems with Oregon’s timber policies by embedding climate justice and mitigation criteria. Our demand for Climate Justice in timber policies opens opportunities to end an unjust and elitist settler-colonial framework. Timber moguls are fighting to keep the current framework because it allows large land owners to escape many duties that regular folk like you and me abide by. For example, timber companies rig the system so they avoid paying their fair share of taxes to support and strengthen local communities (i.e., funding for libraries, safety and public infrastructure projects). Furthermore, it shields timber corporations from liability when they abuse the land, poison streams, destroy critical wildlife habitat, and send pesticide vapors into nearby rural communities. And, the framework originally written by corporate lobbyists, allows them unfettered access to elected officials and devalues the role of frontline and impacted rural communities in decision-making.

We are asking you to join with us to Rise for Climate Justice! Together, we will continue to push for stronger protections and to phase out the use of toxic pesticides in Oregon forests. We will continue to help expose the timber industry’s underhanded tactics and greenwashing, including what might be illegal meddling in the Oregon Forest Research Institute (OFRI). We’ll support defunding OFRI and the redirection of timber industry tax money to local communities where it belongs and to truly independent research into forest health. We are introducing legislation to embed environmental justice and climate smart principles in natural and working land policies.

Together we are ending decades of stalemate on meaningful pesticide reform. Be assured we are pushing new and innovative action on healthy, resilient forests. With two new staff members dedicated to advancing climate justice, we are working for vulnerable climate-impacted communities and providing leadership on the new frontier, climate action through forest carbon sequestration.

Change is hope and change is within our grasp!

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
November 30, 2020

See also my July blog, “SB 1602 will make a difference for rural Oregonians sick of pesticide drift

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



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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.

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,

“Donald Trump.” Inside Climate News, 2020.

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,

“Everyone Included: Social Impact of COVID-19 | DISD.” United Nations; Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations,

LaPier, Rosalyn, and Abaki Beck. “Misrepresenting Traditional Knowledge during COVID-19 Is Dangerous.” High Country News, 23 Mar. 2020,

Smith, K.R., A.Woodward, D. Campbell-Lendrum, D.D. Chadee, Y. Honda, Q. Liu, J.M. Olwoch, B. Revich, and R. Sauerborn, 2014: Human health: impacts, adaptation, and co-benefits. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel,A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L.White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 709-754