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Pollute, Dispute and Scoot!

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Aerial view of JH Baxter creosote factory in West Eugene.

When J.H. Baxter shut down in January 2022, the community heralded a new era of cleaner air and more livable neighborhoods. This creosote chemical company polluted both nearby communities and its own workers for seven decades. The day after the plant ceased operations, nearby neighbors could suddenly take in a breath of air without coughing, getting a headache or feeling nauseous.

Dishonorably, like the black tar stain of creosote, J.H. Baxter continues to leave its sticky, foul mark on its Bethel neighbors. Shielding itself from the consequences of intentional toxic chemical trespass is the company’s signature legacy.

 

J.H. Baxter takes advantage of our community in three major ways

 
POLLUTE
First, J.H. Baxter for years exposed residents to air polluted with a sinister cocktail of naphthalene, ammonia, methanol, acetaldehyde, and a much longer list of nasty chemicals. At the same time its Bethel factory contaminated groundwater with pentachlorophenol (a carcinogen) and soil with dioxin (a carcinogen). Both provoked above-average health problems that afflict many long-suffering residents. 

DISPUTE
Secondly, J.H. Baxter violated environmental protection laws in full view of our federal and state agencies. Regulators knew that the company was a repeat, intentional polluter and declared it a Significant Non-Complier as far back as 2012. Sadly, nothing changed. As environmental violations mounted and grew in severity, J.H. Baxter employed the corporate tactic of dispute-and-delay to dissuade agencies from holding it to account and issuing appropriate civil penalties. The company is responsible for at least one Superfund site in California and hazardous chemicals spills in the Columbia River.  Like a white-collar crime thriller on the big screen, this corporate tycoon took advantage of its wealth and political ties to silence workers and manipulate the system. These deceits enabled J.H. Baxter to emerge unscathed, time after time.

SCOOT
Finally, when cornered by indisputable revelations of dioxin in the soil of nearby neighborhoods, J.H. Baxter forced regulatory agencies to go to court, buying time and spending  taxpayer dollars. J.H. Baxter employed this tactic again when it was fined $305,440 for egregious violations of hazardous waste and water quality laws from 2015 to this year. It used the courts to dispute evidence of violations and to protest civil fines. Beyond Toxics became a legal petitioner to represent community interests and make sure pollution victims’ experiences were considered. After dragging out the litigation for nearly a year, on July 14, J.H. Baxter signed a settlement agreement to pay the full $305,440 immediately. The agreement was used to resolve the enforcement actions by the DEQ. 

Here’s where J.H. Baxter performs the evasive “scoot” maneuver, continuing its historical pattern of violating the community’s trust, signing documents in bad faith and skirting Oregon laws: The company refuses to pay their $305,440 debt, and appears have no intention of paying the fine even though they signed the settlement agreement. 

Further, the company refuses to make any effort to pay for the dioxin cleanup of residential yards in Bethel neighborhoods that are now contaminated from years of negligent environmental violations. 

PROFITS, LIKE ITS POLLUTION, UP IN THE AIR
Although the company has not declared bankruptcy, Company CEO Georgia Baxter claims that years of corporate profits simply vanished. Thankfully, the Oregon Department of Justice and the Oregon DEQ are scrupulously investigating how the State can recoup the money owed in civil penalties and the millions of dollars being spent on cleaning up the dioxin mess, both on the polluter’s property and in the yards of nearby Bethel residents.

However, DEQ’s options are murky under Oregon law. For example, the agency has been unable to recover even a penny from all the equipment and chemicals J.H. Baxter has sold off since it closed.

 

J. H. Baxter has figured out it can pollute, dispute and scoot – with impunity.

WE CAN LEARN FROM THIS
Eugene should not allow a similar toxic fiasco to happen again! Now is the time to stand up and demand polluter accountability. Beyond Toxics is working with City Councilors Claire Syrett and Randy Groves to design policies with the teeth to protect our communities. We residents of Eugene must mandate strong requirements to end chronic polluter malfeasance. Our legislature must give our regulatory agencies more tools to rein in chronic polluters.

Help us pass meaningful policies that build public health criteria in our zoning codes. Contact us to find out more about upcoming hearings on the Public Health Overlay Zone. Read our J.H. Baxter FAQ sheet. Your City Councilor needs to hear directly from you that Eugene must adopt solutions that will get our community on a clear path to end the dodgy cycle of pollute, dispute and scoot.
 

~ Lisa Arkin, Executive Director


See also: "Opinion: Eugene can prevent toxic fiascoes like J.H. Baxter's from happening again"
Lisa Arkin, publshed in the Eugene Register-Guard, Sept. 25, 2022

Read Register-Guard's most recent reporting on the J.H. Baxter issue 

Ask city for change to prevent more Baxter-like pollution issues now facing west Eugene

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(this article was originally published as an opinion editorial in the May 15th edition of the Eugene Register-Guard)

 

For over 50 years, J.H. Baxter operated a wood treatment facility in West Eugene where wood products are infused with potent oil-based pesticides and chemical treatments. In recent months, J.H. Baxter, facing large civil penalties and an expensive environmental clean-up, announced that they would “mothball” their facility. The owners claimed they were faced with “market volatility” and “diminished returns” and concluded that “it simply doesn’t make financial sense to continue current operations at [their] Eugene facility.” Apparently, JH Baxter’s choice of operational methods, which never made moral or legal sense, is no longer financially sensible.

Celebrations from environmental justice advocates and neighborhood residents are justified. However, the decades of pollution violations, unpaid civil penalties, and unaddressed contamination caused by poorly regulated wastewater and harmful toxic air emissions mean that closed doors may be as much an act of evasion as an act of surrender.

Environmental sampling in the wake of yet another string of investigations has shown there are significant quantities of PCP leaching out from under the facility into surface and ground water and dioxin wafting out and settling in the surrounding neighborhood.

Dioxin, a toxic and persistent organic pollutant (POP) and a component of the biological-chemical weapon ‘Agent Orange’ is now a fixture of West Eugene’s public spaces, a glaring harm to properties, and substantial risk to residents. Per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): “Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones.”

A Community Effort for Change

Beyond Toxics and thousands of residents of West Eugene have raised the alarm on J.H. Baxter’s pollution for decades, citing noxious smells, illness, discomfort, and respiratory issues among other adverse health effects, including incidence of rare childhood cancer. J.H. Baxter has been cited with over twenty pollution violations in the last 30 years.

Despite laws and environmental protections codified to protect ‘public health and welfare,’ poison on the playground and pollution off the porch have repeatedly threatened residents of West Eugene. Today, nearly 40 Bethel residents wait to find out if their property is marked unsafe for children, unsafe to grow food, unfit for typical use.

Today’s antiquated laws, as codified, allow our state and federal government to permit harm and, functionally, designate sacrifice zones. And unfortunately, absent an injunction from a court or cease-and-desist order from either the DEQ or from the governor, these violations and cited penalties end nothing—to a company like JH Baxter, it’s just a cost of doing business.

Our communities and our regulatory agencies lack the legal tools necessary to hold chronic polluters like JH Baxter accountable to environmental regulations and fiscal responsibilities. A serious reconsideration of our planning, land use, and environmental protections is long overdue.

Proposed Changes In The Works

Beyond Toxics is proposing a series of impactful changes to Eugene’s local government. Top on our list 1) Restructure Land Use Compatibility Statements (LUCS) (a process involved with granting conditional use permits for development); 2) Codify a Public Health Overlay Zone (a new ordinance layering additional protections related to public health and equity to existing zoning regulations); 3) Create a Risk Bond requirement (a bond the polluter most hold to insure against significant risks of environmental and public harm posed by a new development or land use).

Since the inception of Beyond Toxics, we’ve been dedicated to addressing the root causes of toxic pollution. By working to dismantle entrenched and unfair legal loopholes and “perks” for polluters that allow unabated contamination with no accountability we will go a long way in the fight against these root causes. A vital part of that work includes updating land use laws and strengthening environmental regulations. Accomplishing these goals will provide lasting protections for all communities, in perpetuity.

~ Peter Jensen, Environmental Justice Law and Policy Extern and Lisa Arkin, Executive Director

 


City of Eugene Work Sessions

1) Addressing Chronic Toxic Polluters Work Session: Monday May 23 at 5:30 pm
MORE: https://www.eugene-or.gov/DocumentCenter/View/5448/Tentative-Working-Agenda

TAKE ACTION
Attend the work sessions via video conference

https://www.eugene-or.gov/3360/Webcasts-and-Meeting-Materials

See the "Live Sessions" section on that page to access live webcasts of City Council, Budget Committee or Planning Commission.  The button for meeting that is currently live will be highlighted. Live sessions and recordings of previous meetings can also be accessed via our City of Eugene Public Meetings YouTube channel.

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How Baby Foods Might be Damaging Your Baby's Brain

Man Feeding Son

As elements with a higher density than water, heavy metals occur naturally in the environment. However, while some are beneficial for our health, such as zinc and iron, others can wreak havoc on our nervous system. Four of the most dangerous heavy metals are arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury [1]. Shockingly, these heavy metals can also be found in baby food intended for children under 36 months who go through a critical period of growth and development [2]. Exposure to these heavy metals by ingestion over a long time can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism [3], mainly if the baby food the child is fed contains chemical pesticides, too.

Recently, a congressional report exposed four major baby food companies in the U.S. for allowing outrageous concentrations of heavy metals in their products. The baby food manufacturers that agreed to partake in the investigation, led by Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, were found to use ingredients exceeding the safe limit of arsenic by 91 times and the maximum limit of lead by 177, and the safe limit of cadmium by 69 times. Because there are no regulations for heavy metals in baby food [4], companies feel encouraged to cut corners by skipping testing for these contaminants and thereby place financial gain over the wellbeing of children.

What exacerbates the extent of toxic exposure among children? In catering to baby food companies, farmers often use hazardous pesticides on their crops to destroy weeds and keep pests at bay. Pesticides can easily contaminate baby food, just like heavy metals, as they are absorbed by the grains, fruits, and vegetables through the leaves and roots. Heavy metals and pesticides act as neurotoxins [5] once inside children's bodies, which means exposure is likely to affect their neurodevelopment.

 

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How Exposure to Heavy Metals and Pesticides Cause Neurodevelopmental Problems

Exposure to heavy metals from baby food has a cumulative impact on the nervous system of children, as they accumulate in their bodies and stay there forever. Children have a higher rate of nutrient uptake by the gastrointestinal tract and undeveloped detoxification systems, making them more prone to neurotoxicity. Because heavy metals and pesticides are neurotoxins, they can easily cross the blood-brain barrier [6] and reach cerebral matter, where they will settle. Researchers have examined the brain tumor samples of patients with neurological disorders and found neurotoxicity and heavy metal poisoning.

Lead was found to take a toll on the nervous system of babies, affecting brain development and function. Currently, roughly 500,000 children between 1 and 5 in America have blood concentrations of lead above the official safe limit [7]. The presence of significant concentrations of lead in children's bodies can cause organ and metabolic abnormalities at the cellular and molecular levels of the nervous system.

The buildup of heavy metals in children's blood will create free radicals [8], which generate oxidative stress. Free radicals are very harmful, as they can cause a wide range of serious diseases, whereas oxidative stress can damage proteins, DNA, and cells [9]. 

Finally, when it comes to pesticides, organophosphates, carbamates, and organochlorine pesticides were scientifically proven to be neurotoxic [10], especially in very young children. Fumigants, which are neurotoxins, too, cause damage to the nervous system by inducing toxicological mechanisms that affect most tissues in the body. In addition to autism, other neurodevelopmental problems exposure to heavy metals and pesticides from baby food can cause are cognitive damage, learning disabilities, conduct disorders, mental retardation, behavioral disorders, vision and hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

 

The Baby Food Safety Act of 2021 Gives Hope to Parents of Infants and Toddlers

Shortly after the congressional report was made public, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi proposed the Baby Food Safety Act [11]. This bill would immediately set baby food's arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury limits. If it becomes effective, the bill would also make it mandatory for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to closely monitor baby food companies and lower the maximum allowable limits for heavy metals even more, if necessary.

The Baby Food Safety Act would also oblige facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold infant and toddler food to enforce specific plans to ensure their products comply with the safe limits on heavy elements. Lastly, the bill would make the Centers for Disease Control run awareness campaigns periodically about the dangers of heavy metals in baby food and children exposed to these neurotoxins.

 

Young beautiful woman with a tablet picks baby food in a supermarket, the girl is studying the composition of the product close-up

About the Author

As CFO at Environmental Litigation Group, Jonathan Sharp is responsible for managing firm assets, collecting and distributing funds, and financial analysis. The law firm, headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, specializes in toxic exposure and assists parents whose children developed autism due to tainted baby food.



New Law Lets Homeowners Opt-Out of Pesticides

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Many Oregon homeowners in Homeowner Associations (HOAs) are concerned about landscape contractors spraying pesticides on their property. Oregon House Bill 2409, which became effective January 1, 2022, fixes this problem. However, Oregonians may still be unaware of this new law and how it affects them. It applies to homeowners in HOAs whose association maintains the landscape of property owners, most frequently their front yards. The law was passed in response to heightened concern over the overuse of toxic pesticides, which can affect the health of children, pets, and people with health challenges. Pesticides are often harmful to pollinating insects and birds as well.

Many HOA owners prefer landscape contractors to use less pesticides. HOA homeowners can now request to receive advance notification of pesticides applications and also to opt-out of pesticide applications on their own property.If a homeowner selects to be excluded, they must agree to maintain their yard to the HOA’s common standard, and HOAs are allowed to enforce compliance with maintenance to the association’s standards if necessary. This law Applies to a homeowner's private lot, but not common areas and does not affect other privately owned homes.

Spraying weeds in the garden

HB2409 provides an important opportunity for those concerned about toxics to communicate with their HOA. HOA Boards, Association Managers and landscape contractors have the administrative responsibility to ensure compliance. Spring is the right time to communicate with your HOA manager or governing board to request landscape maintenance contractors employ non-toxic alternatives.

Top Down Aerial View of a Modern Suburban Neighborhood

So how does a homeowner discuss an updated landscape contract? Go to the HOA Board and ask for a review of the landscape contract. Review if and how much (as an example) glyphosate (RoundUp etc.) or neonicotinoids (bee-killing insecticides) have been used in the past. Are non-toxic methods being used first? A new contract could include the use of: Mulch, nontoxic pre-emergents, non-toxic herbicides and insecticides. The HOA can develop a policy of “toxic pesticide use as a last resort.”

 

 

Residents of HOAs can write new policies to focus on using nontoxic alternatives like those found in the “Products Compatible with Organic Landscape Management” document published by BeyondPesticides.org. If a pesticide must be used as a last resort, have a plan of how and why.

Work together with your neighbors and management to document and manage pesticides in accordance with this new law. Less pesticide use is entirely possible. An increasing number of public entities are adopting organic landscape management practices and policies for lawns, playing fields, and parks.

 

~ Jennifer Eisele, Beyond Toxics Pesticide Program Manager
and Barb Rumer, Community Pesticide Reform Advocate

 


Farmworker Overtime Bill and its Potential Protective Health Outcomes

Texas farm

The Oregon Legislative 2022 session has come to an end with the successful passage of the high-profile Farmworker Overtime Bill, HB 4002, now awaiting Governor Brown’s signature. More than 900 testimonies were submitted to the House Committee of Business and Labor and another 520 testimonies were submitted to the Joint Committee on Farmworker over time, making sure that the public's voice was heard. The passage of this bill is a significant step forward in addressing structural racial barriers and inequities. The Farmworker Overtime Bill not only ensures that farmworkers are paid at time and a half their regular hourly rate for work done above the 40 hour week threshold, but from a public health point of view, it also has potentially protective health measures which may alleviate some of the stressors farmworkers are experiencing.

Fair Labor Standard Act_FLSA_signed in 1938

The 1938 Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

It is important to note that the reason Congress enacted the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) in 1938 was a result of “…labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers…” [1], and to ameliorate these working conditions a 40-hour weekly cap was set, making employers less frivolous with their demand on employees' time. However, this eighty year-old law has failed to guarantee overtime pay for farmworkers.

Unfortunatley, a long history of intitutionalized racism has excluded Black Farmworkers and Migrant farmworkers from the FLSA, meaning they have not received equal rights under this act. This legacy continues to harm all farmworkers. Agricultural work is labor-intensive. Farmworkers are subjected to multiple health and safety hazards in their work environment, including physical injuries, exposure to toxic pesticides, and extreme weather conditions that affect their health.

According to a report done by Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) on farmworkers, working overtime routinely increases the risk of work-related injuries due to fatigue [2]. The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) reported that the share of Hispanic or Latino workers fatally injured on the job increased from 20.4% in 2019 to 22.5 % in 2020 (which in numbers are 1,072 fatalities). 16% of these fatalities were related to exposure to harmful environments or substances and another 25% were attributed to falls and slips at the work site [3]. Moreover, the fatality rate for Hispanic or Latino workers was 4.5 deaths per 100,000 full time equivalent (FTE) workers in 2020 while the overall fatal work injury rate for 2020 was 3.4 fatalities per 100,000 FTE [4]. The difference is fatality rates indicate that Hispanic or Latino workers are more prone to fatal injuries due to the requirements of their jobs.

Seasonal farm worker picks cherries

The OHSU report has also established a link between workers who routinely work overtime and the onset/progression of chronic health conditions of heart disease and diabetes. In addition, workers are at higher risk of developing heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke during extreme heat events [5]. Farmworkers' well-being and quality of life are also affected by long workdays. Frequently working overtime provides less time for family life and causes financial and logistical strain trying to maintain a functional household and childcare. [2]

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These health stressors, which stem from long working hours, may be alleviated with the recently passed rule. By being more mindful of regular work hours and compensating workers for overtime labor, we hope to see multiple changes, including a decline in work-related injuries due to fatigue and a higher standard of living leading to reduced financial burdens on households. We are confident that these improvements will contribute to Oregon's economy and thereby increase the overall well-being of workers, their families and their communities.

By Galia Peleg,
Master in Public Health Fellow, Oregon Health and Science University


References

1.) 29 U.S.C. § 202(a) https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/29/202

2.) Oregon Health and Science University. (2021). Mandated, but not compensated: Exploring the multifaceted impacts of overtime on farm workers’ health, safety, and well-being. https://img1.wsimg.com/blobby/go/c8357af7-9c3e-4b52-9725-4de56f1d3cea/PCUN_White%20Paper-Overtime%20Pay_FINAL.pdf

3.) TABLE A-7. Fatal occupational injuries by worker characteristics and event or exposure, all united states, 2020. (2021, December 16). Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cftb0342.htm

4.) Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (2021, December 16). NATIONAL CENSUS OF FATAL OCCUPATIONAL INJURIES IN 2020 [Press release]. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cfoi.pdf

5.) Castillo, F., Mora, A. M., Kayser, G. L., Vanos, J., Hyland, C., Yang, A. R., & Eskenazi, B. (2021). Environmental health threats to latino migrant farmworkers. Annual Review of Public Health, 42(1), 257–276. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-012420-105014


Dorris Ranch Orchard: New Season, New Start

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Dorris Ranch is a popular public park in Springfield and one of my favorite places to walk trails through a historic orchard and along the Willamette River. Although I have seen people picking blackberries and foraging for other edible plants and fungi in the forest near the orchard, I have never given much thought to pesticides that might be used there. I have always felt that the public should not have to be concerned about chemical hazards in public places with open access.

Last summer, I noticed that a community member was posting concerns about heavy pesticide use in the orchard on social media. This person also called on the Willamalane Parks District to stop all pesticide use. They reached out to Beyond Toxics and we began communicating with Willamalane Parks and Recreation District managers about the pesticides used at Dorris Ranch and concerns from the public.

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The orchard gets a pesticide (Asana XL) application from an air blaster. (Aug. 2021) Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics Executive Director and I met with the concerned community member who raised the issue. They lived in the Springfield neighborhood between the Dorris Ranch orchard and the Willamette River. The neighborhood is beautiful. A few dozen homes have backyards along the property line of the Dorris Ranch hazelnut orchard, divided only by a flimsy chain link fence.

We walked through the neighborhood and chatted with a few residents the evening before the scheduled spray. A few people were aware there was going to be work done in the orchard but were unaware of any details. Considering the proximity of the orchard to the homes during the spray, with only a barrier of a chain link fence, it was apparent that it would be nearly impossible for them to avoid pesticide residue reaching the homes. 

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Lisa's dog, Rafa, runs in the orchard with one of his companions. Photo by Lisa Arkin

My experience taught me that such pesticide use, along with the inevitable spray drift and the proximity to the neighboring properties represented a significant risk for exposure. We got permission from local residents to set out pesticides drift sample trays in their yards before the spray. 

ODA Arrives for Oversight

An Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) investigator was present to observe the orchardist pesticide application on August 3rd and 4th, which was the last pesticide application for the year. For those days the orchardist used an insecticide called Asana XL to treat moths whose larvae can bore into hazelnuts and destroy the nut. 

The ODA investigator took lots of photos to document the spray and noted the temperature throughout the day, as pesticides can often volatilize at higher temperatures. The Willamette Valley was under an extreme heat wave during this time.  

The investigator noted open windows at homes next to the orchard with fans blowing air inside during the spray. The ODA investigator documented barely legible notes by the orchardist that served as two years of pesticide application records at the orchard.  

After The Spray

The next day we collected our sample trays and plant leaf samples from the backyards after the spray happened and sent them to a lab to test for pesticides. When we received the results from the lab, we were not surprised to see low levels of pesticide residue detected on one of the samples. We sent the lab results to ODA to show that pesticide drift had reached the homes outside the orchard. The ODA returned to collect their own vegetation samples from the yard at the same residence where we found drift and also inside the orchard. The resident had since removed the squash plant where we took our samples and the samples collected by the ODA nearly a month later did not detect pesticide residue at the residence. However, high levels of pesticide residue were still present on the orchard trees. This pesticide is labeled to cause skin irritation and there is ZERO tolerance for residue on food and it should not be accessible in a public park. 

Willamalane Responds

In September, a month after the last spray, Willamalane reached out to Beyond Toxics and interested community members and invited us to participate in an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the Willamalane Board of Directors about changes in orchard management practices. Committee members included a representative from the National Parks Service, who advised the committee about the historic values of the Dorris Ranch Park and orchard and cultural landscape. A horticulture expert from OSU provided options on Integrated Pest Managament (IPM) practices including pest trapping and monitoring, and less toxic pesticides for each pest throughout the growing season. An organic hazelnut farmer provided a presentation about organic management of hazelnuts through harvest, processing and marketing. Beyond Toxics advocated for better signage and public notice to neighbors and park visitors, better recordkeeping, and most importantly, we focused on developing a community value of non-toxic public spaces.

On December 1, 2021 the AdHoc Committee recommended that the District transition the Dorris Ranch hazelnut orchard to organic management. The Willamalane Board of Directors voted on December 8, 2021 to immediately discontinue using the most hazardous pesticides used in the orchard in favor of less toxic products. They also requested Willamalane staff to obtain further information about the cost of transitioning to organic.   

 

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Jennifer Eisele, Pesticide Program Manager, visiting Dorris Ranch Orchard. Photo by Emily Cook.

 
A New Season, a New Start

As spring approaches, I’ve returned to the trails at Dorris Ranch. I feel so heartened to see the beginning of new life in the orchard. Nineteen acres of blight-infected trees have now been removed and replaced with a variety of blight-resistant baby hazelnut trees. The most immediate benefit  will be to reduce the amount of pesticides used at the orchard. I’m looking forward to seeing the other changes still to come. My sincere hope is that, with the involvement of citizen power, Beyond Toxics can help make Dorris Ranch a safer public space for visitors and neighbors, pets and wildlife.

~ Jennifer Eisele, Pesticide Program Manager

 

Find out more about the panel that will dive into the issue more deeply at the 40th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference: "Water, Pollinators & Public Spaces: A Local Model for Collaborative Pesticide Policy Reform" on Friday, March 4th, from 1:30-2:30 pm.

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Public Pressure Brings Down Polluting Giant

On Friday afternoon, I went with two other Beyond Toxics staff members to stand across the street from the JH Baxter wood treatment facility. We took a moment to breathe in a deep breath of air and celebrate the absence of creosote vapors – the nauseating, eye-burning, nose-searing combination of many chemicals including naphthalene and petroleum – that have defined living in the area for decades.

 

 

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JH Baxter’s unrelenting toxic pollution has, since the day it began operating, caused devastating harm to workers, Bethel residents and the surrounding neighborhood. We will continue to stand by the community to do everything to ensure this polluter is held accountable to pay for cleaning up dioxin-contaminated soils, toxic PCB plumes in the groundwater and nearby streams and their own highly contaminated 42-acre site. 

The devastating effects of JH Baxter’s greed and illegal practices will be felt in the community for decades to come. People who once lived there or who still live there will suffer an increased susceptibility to chronic health problems including cancer, asthma, hypertension, and diabetes for the rest of their lives. The toxic legacy left behind will haunt nearby neighborhoods for generations not yet born.

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Bethel neighbor listens to a West Eugene clean air presentation.

The closure of JH Baxter is nothing short of a ground-breaking community victory! For residents of West Eugene, the closure of JH Baxter warrants a well-deserved victory lap. It is a time to celebrate the years of community organizing and public pressure that led to this moment: shuttering a repeated and intentional polluter! 

Beyond Toxics has fought for clean air in the Bethel community since 2006. We’ve been fighting for the principle of holding polluters accountable since our founding in 2001. Our work with West Eugene neighbors began by raising awareness about air and groundwater pollution from the Union Pacific Rail Yard.

We further amplified our work in 2009, when we walked the streets with City Councilor Andrea Ortiz (she later died of complications from a respiratory illness). As we walked together, Councilor Ortiz commented on a persistent chemical stench from nearby industrial facilities, leaking rail cars parked next to homes and parks, and two separate groundwater plumes of vinyl chloride and PCBs. We discussed high rates of cancer, asthma and other illnesses as well. In particular, we talked about the unbearable odors emanating from the JH Baxter plant.

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City Councilor Andrea Ortiz. (deceased; photo taken in 2004)

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During the 2012 West Eugene Bus Tour a Latinx mother tells the crowd of her daughter suffering from asthma as a result of living near JH Baxter.

A year later, a teacher from Fairfield Elementary School called us in a panic as the staff rushed the school children back inside from recess. I will never forget her words: “A wall of chemical vapors is overwhelming us! We can’t breathe!” she said. It was the smell of creosote, and JH Baxter was the source.

This call, and other developments, led us to develop the first ever Environmental Justice Toxics Bus Tour in Oregon in 2012.

 

Over the years we have supported the efforts of Bethel residents to expose JH Baxter’s litany of toxic abuse with a bevy of  grassroots organizing tactics, including health studies, air quality studies, testifying, supporting community coalitions and filing a truckload of complaints. Perhaps most importantly, in 2014 we filed a successful US EPA civil rights and environmental justice complaint against the Lane Regional Air Protection Authority. Without fail, we let regulatory agencies know, in no uncertain terms, that they had failed the community, sacrificed public health and allowed themselves to be subservient to one of Oregon’s worst polluters. 

In fact, a day before the shutdown plans were known, Beyond Toxics and the Active Bethel Community had sent a letter to the Mayor and Eugene City Council calling for our elected officials to ask Governor Brown and the DEQ to issue a Cease and Desist order to force JH Baxter to stop operations.

Despite the quiet outward appearance I witnessed on Friday, we remain vigilant in insisting regulators hold JH Baxter to the task of paying for cleanup of the neighborhood and their own seriously contaminated 42 acre site.

The courts will consider JH Baxter’s case to contest (as in “not pay”) the $223,000 civil penalty issued by the DEQ for violating their pollution permit. Striving to uphold environmental justice principles during this court case, we successfully petitioned regulators to represent the community’s interest in JH Baxter’s upcoming court hearing (Read our petition to participate on the community’s behalf). Beyond Toxics will be there to ensure environmental justice is upheld!

JH Baxter and the history of how elected officials and regulatory agencies ignored the downwind Bethel community is an example of structural injustice and unfair treatment. As the dark, harrowing shadow of JH Baxter’s toxic legacy recedes, we must continue to insist that Bethel neighbors deserve a sense of well-being and hope for a thriving and just future.

~ Lisa Arkin, Executive Director, Beyond Toxics

 

See our latest video on YouTube highlighting Beyond Toxics' work in West Eugene

Creative background. Old wooden door, blue color, in the box. Transition to a different climate. The concept of climate change, portal, magic. Copy space.

Time to celebrate Oregon’s climate action success!

 

Did you hear the BIG news? On December 16th, 2021, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission voted 3-1 in favor of establishing the Department of Environmental Quality’s new Climate Protection Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels used in Oregon. Beginning in 2022, this program will help secure a healthy climate future, invest in frontline communities, and hold corporate polluters accountable. And while the final program may not be perfect, it sets in motion a massive statewide effort to reduce emissions from the use of transportation fuels and natural gas utilities. The outcome is transitioning Oregon off of fossil fuels and setting an example for other states to follow.

Here are some key highlights from the new program:

  • Science-based emissions reduction targets for oil companies, "natural" gas utilities like Northwest Natural and Avista, and major industrial facilities to cut their climate pollution in half by 2035. This presents opportunities to innovate, propelling Oregon toward a clean energy future.

  • Improved public health and resiliency for communities in Oregon most harmed by burning fossil fuels and climate change. Reducing harmful pollution can save Oregonians billions of dollars annually by avoiding health impacts such as lost workdays to asthma and respiratory effects, to heart attacks and hospital visits, to fatal outcomes.

  • Investments in clean energy projects to support job creation, a strong economy, and cleaner, cheaper, healthier energy and transportation options in communities of color, tribal, low-income, rural and coastal communities across the state.

Powerful Public Engagement 
A whopping 7,600 comments on the Climate Protection Program (CPP) rules were sent to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), exceeding typical comment period totals by thousands. Noting the severity and urgency of the climate emergency we face, over 70% of these comments were in support of adopting strong outcomes for climate, equity, and the environment without delay. 

In response to the tsunami of public comments, the CPP rules were strengthened in the following ways: 

  • The “cap” placed on oil companies and fossil gas utilities to reduce their emissions was made more aggressive to require 50% reduction by 2035 and 90% reduction by 2050. Previous versions of the CPP rules included a reduction of just 45% by 2035 and 80% by 2050.

  • The final program sets emissions targets for major industrial facilities covered by the program to cut their climate pollution in half by 2035. Previous drafts of the CPP rules failed to set mandatory reductions for these emissions sources.

  • The program will fund up to $500 million annually in Community Climate Investment (CCI) projects to support cleaner, cheaper, healthier energy and transportation options in communities of color, tribal, low-income, rural and coastal communities across the state. DEQ strengthened rule language to make it clear these investments would prioritize environmental justice communities.

Calling for Carbon Sequestration
Also, Beyond Toxics took a strong, loud stance to push Oregon to invest in carbon sequestration! In order to truly mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, we know that pulling down atmospheric carbon and storing it in our soils, trees and vegetation, and waters must be prioritized alongside efforts to ratchet back greenhouse gas emissions. This will not only benefit our climate but also result in better soil health, water availability, and air quality.

During the Environmental Quality Commission's (EQC’s) vote to approve the Climate Protection Program, carbon sequestration took the main stage once again. As a result, the Department of Environmental Quality is going to coordinate with the Oregon Global Warming Commission to discuss opportunities to support carbon sequestration in Oregon’s forests, agricultural lands, and wetlands moving forward.

We expect this important discussion to continue at the EQC’s next meeting in early February.

Grit and Gratitude
Public participation throughout the rulemaking process played a major role in improving the final program. Your written comments as well as your presence and voices at public hearings were critical to strengthening the initial rule package developed by DEQ staff. EQC commissioners heard you. You helped make a difference!

As I reflect upon the past year, I find so many reasons to be hopeful. In doing this work, I find great resolve to keep advocating for meaningful climate action. The Climate Protection Program shows how truly powerful public involvement can be to achieve a stable and just climate future. Thank you for contributing to these outcomes.

And while we celebrate this significant progress for the state, we know our work is not done.

One large omission from regulation by the Climate Protection Program is power plants that burn fossil fuels in Oregon and export electricity to other states--that must be fixed! Continued diligent monitoring and engagement will be required to ensure that this program delivers the promised reductions in climate pollution and investments in environmental justice communities.

Our game plan is to continue our efforts to support and encourage public engagement. We must build upon our success to convince state agencies to go farther, think bigger, act faster and adopt the strongest policies.

~ Grace Brahler,
Oregon Climate Action Plan & Policy Manager for Beyond Toxics

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Oregon Department of Forestry’s “Social License” for Aerial Spray Has Expired

 
Photo of Nehalem Bay, Oregon (above) by Don Best

 

Beyond Toxics continues to stand up for Oregon’s forests, watersheds, and communities. Keep reading to see how we’re moving the mark on pesticide use in Oregon’s state forest lands.

Tank Mixes on State Forest Lands

At the September 8, 2021, Board of Forestry meeting, we presented findings to the Board summarizing herbicide applications on Oregon State Forests from January 1, 2020, to August 30, 2021. Bottom line: in that brief 20-month period, 326 tank mixes were applied to state-managed forest lands, over a third of which were aerial sprays. Check out our first report here.

Nehalem Watershed Case Study

For the November 3, 2021, Board of Forestry meeting, we presented a case study of herbicide impacts in the Nehalem Watershed. We sent the Board a set of maps we created using data obtained from FERNS depicting pesticide applications in the Nehalem Watershed from 2015-2021, including Astoria, Tillamook, and Forest Grove Districts.

Map01_Nehalem_Overview_FinalDraft

 

Map 1. The Nehalem Watershed

 

The maps that follow take a deeper look at a few “Case Study Areas” outlined in pink. Our goal was to use this case study focused on the headwaters and other stretches of the Nehalem River to help the the Oregon Department of Forestry and the public visualize where pesticide sprays take place, note their close proximity to important fish-bearing streams, and consider related impacts on Oregon’s iconic salmon and trout populations.

Case Study 1: Headwaters of the Nehalem River

This map shows herbicide applications at the headwaters of the Nehalem River. There were 52 acres sprayed within a 500 foot radius of the river, many of which were adjacent to perennial streams that form the Nehalem River headwaters.

Map02_PA2_FinalDraft
Table1

 

Case Study 2: Lower Third of the Nehalem River

This next map shows part of the lower third of the Nehalem River, which includes the Astoria District. There were 95 acres sprayed within a 500 foot radius of the river. More than two-thirds of sprays closeby were aerial sprays.

 

Map03_PA3_FinalDraft
Table2

 

Case Study 3: Perennial Streams

ODF requires a no-spray buffer on perennial streams, so the map for Case Study 3 accounts for a 100 foot no-spray buffer. It must be noted that, despite no-spray buffers, chemicals applied may unintentionally enter waterways--especially in the case of aerial applications. A number of factors including weather and site conditions can cause aerially-applied pesticides to drift into unintended areas, including nearby streams. As shown, the overwhelming majority of sprays touching this 100 foot buffer were aerial sprays.

 

Map04_Perennials_FinalDraftTable3

 

Pesticides and Fish
As shown above, herbicide sprays of chemical tank mixes are occurring throughout the length of the Nehalem River. The Department of Forestry's spray activity starts in the highest reaches of the perennial streams that form the headwaters of the watershed, which may result in a pattern of cumulative residues in the waters and soils of critical aquatic wildlife habitat. Once in the streams, pesticides can affect fish including salmon in many different ways, including by hindering the olfactory system of juvenile salmon, reducing the ability of juvenile salmon to adapt to saline environments, or disrupting swimming and predator avoidance. And in addition to the known effects of single chemicals, tank mixes of pesticides that are used often have not been tested in their combined state so their true toxicity on fish and aquatic organisms remains unknown.

The Nehalem River is the largest “wild fish only” river on the Oregon Coast and home to several runs of salmon, including one of the healthiest runs of Oregon Coast coho. Oregon Coast coho are a federally threatened species of salmon that have key spawning habitat in this basin. Based on the data we have compiled using the FERNS system, the large majority of the Department’s pesticide sprays in the area take place in the summer, so steelhead juveniles will be hit hard because that is when they emerge. Summer Chinook spawn right at the end of the peak spray season, so their egg development may be affected as well. The biggest effects will be on Oregon Coast coho, cutthroat trout, and steelhead, all of which spend one to two years in the Nehalem as juveniles and will thus be exposed to these toxins for longer than other species that migrate downstream immediately, such as chum salmon.

Pesticides and Climate Change
Finally, we cannot ignore the connection between pesticide use and climate change.

The Pacific Northwest has warmed by about 3 degrees F (or 1.7 degrees C) in the past half-century. Higher temperatures create imbalances in natural systems, causing more outbreaks and damage from pests and invasive weeds. This leads to increased reliance on pesticide use as there are more pests to manage. However, pesticides contribute to the climate crisis throughout their manufacture, transport and application.

While all communities deserve protected, clean drinking water, pesticide use has put dwindling drinking water sources at risk. Warming waters may increase pesticide toxicity, making matters worse for climate-stressed fish and other aquatic life. Additionally, studies show pesticides kill over 70% of the microbial diversity in soils. Mature and old growth trees, diverse vegetation, and healthy soils are needed to maximize the carbon sequestration potential of our forests.

Further, as pollinator populations are declining due to climate change, pesticide use causes additional stress. Recent research indicates high bee abundance and diversity in PNW forests. However, pesticide use can degrade pollinator habitat, particularly for ground nesting native bees. Exposure to heavily-used glyphosate can harm the development of a pollinator’s gut microbiome, lowering lifespans and decreasing their ability to withstand pathogens.

Why Does Our Data Matter?
It is crucial that ODF manage state forest lands to support resilient, climate-adapted forests that can withstand disturbances and changing conditions. Board Chair Kelly even called chemical spray “an issue of social license” and we agree; following years of toxic pesticide release that has threatened drinking water and important fish and wildlife habitat, the social license for aerial spray has long since expired. Thus, we will keep asking that the Board place a moratorium on aerial herbicide sprays and initiate an evaluation of the full range of impacts of herbicide sprays--particularly aerial herbicide applications--on state-managed forest lands on drinking water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, essential fish habitat, and community health and wellbeing. Onward!

 

Read our testimony to the Board of Forestry for more details and sources (PDF).

Learn more about all our efforts to advance Resilient Forestry

~ Grace Brahler, Oregon Climate Action Plan & Policy Manager

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