Health Problems in West Eugene Warrant a Closer Look

Kylen Tromblay, Summer 2020 intern.

 

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

West Eugene Clean Air Project

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

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

 

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

Health Problems Reported in West Eugene

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

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

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

Environmental Hazards for Communities of Color and the Working Class

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

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


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

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

~ Kylen Tromblay, Summer 2020 Intern


 

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Francis Eatherington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

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

First Foods for Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camas
Camassia leichtlinii

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

Spruce Tips
Picea sitchensis

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

Fiddlehead Ferns
Various species

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

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

Black Cottonwood
Populus trichocarpa

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

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

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


12 First Foods & Medicines of the Willamette Valley

Camas: Camassia leichtlinii and Camassia quamash Cooking Blue Camas  

Elderberry: Sambucus cerulea Delicious Uses for Elderberry

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

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

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

Lomatium: Lomatium dissectum  The Supernatural power of Lomatium

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

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

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

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

Salal: Gaultheria shallon: Oregon Encyclopedia: Salal

Black Cottonwood: Populus trichocarpa How to Make Cottonwood Salve

 

Double Trouble – Climate Change and COVID-19

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

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


We Cannot Forget About the Fight Against Climate Change! 

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

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

Disproportionate Impacts on Frontline Communities – Uncomfortable Similarities

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

Moving Forward

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

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

Haley Case-Scott,
Beyond Toxics Climate Justice Grassroots Organizer


Consulted Sources

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

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

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

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

“Everyone Included: Social Impact of COVID-19 | DISD.” United Nations; Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/everyone-included-covid-19.tml

LaPier, Rosalyn, and Abaki Beck. “Misrepresenting Traditional Knowledge during COVID-19 Is Dangerous.” High Country News, 23 Mar. 2020, https://www.hcn.org/articles/covid19-misrepresenting-traditional-knowledge-during-covid-19-is-dangerous?fbclid=IwAR2v3TnFVBvhCzeU4qNbZHScpFDFBPldqL-inqyEpcpvvm2rbwxjsVUhJ0E.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

Free to breathe and thrive

Bianca Marcella Ballará

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tough Keep Going: Advancing Forest Practices and Pesticide Reform

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

 

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

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

Where Does Beyond Toxics Stand?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Lisa Arkin, Executive Director, Beyond Toxics

 

The real cause of division in communities
By David Eisler

Amanda Astor ends her recent Register-Guard column with “Better understanding of forests and the science behind decision making can bring our community closer and tear down divisions and alarmist narratives.”

Apparently she believes that scientists’ and community members’ concerns about the impacts of industrial logging are alarmist and have no basis in fact. Astor would have us all simply accept timber companies public relations and we should all get along just fine living with high-impact clear-cutting, aerial herbicide spraying, monocrop plantations and the decimation of forest and aquatic ecosystems.

So, let’s be clear about what seems to be the cause of division in the communities.

Astor correctly points out that there are many approaches to forest management used by private forestland owners. It is the management model used by large corporate landowners and timber investment management organizations, often Wall Street-based, which place value on the highest financial return for stockholders.

This management model depends on the conversion of older, healthy biodiverse and resilient forests into monocrop Douglas fir plantations that cover vast expanses of the landscape. It is the impacts — including herbicide drift onto neighboring properties and water systems, steep slope landslides, runoff sediments clogging salmon spawning streams — that create tension, division and Astor’s “alarmist narratives.”

Example of clear cut and burn forestry practices in Oregon’s Oxbow region. Photo by David Tvedt.

Plantations are not “forests.” Forests are composed of interacting communities of plants and animals that develop over long periods of time. A plantation is no more a “forest” than a 100-acre corn crop is a meadow or prairie. The complex processes that drive the development of healthy forests are increasingly well understood by researchers at Oregon State University’s Forest Ecosystems and Society program.

Astor perpetuates the industry myth that clear-cutting, burning off all residual woody material, several years of herbicide spraying and the planting of Douglas fir seedlings genetically selected for fast growth eight feet apart, somehow mimics natural disturbances such as fire or insect infestations. Scientific research has not supported this industrial narrative myth.

Any industry that has shareholder profits as its primary objective needs to convince the public that there are no environmental or human health impacts from their management. The tobacco industry put profits before truth for decades. The mining companies in Appalachia claimed to put worker safety before profits. The gasoline industry claimed that adding lead was necessary.

The timber industry has a narrative that serves their interests including softening words like “clear-cutting” to “regeneration harvests” or “overstory removal” and overusing the word “sustainable” to suggest maintaining healthy forests instead of planting seedlings to replace trees to sustain timber volume into the future.

If Astor and other industry foresters would like to educate us in the “science of decision making,” we might come to understand why clear-cutting cycles are shortening to 30 years and why it is necessary to apply fertilizer to depleted soils and why the cost and impacts of aerial herbicide spraying is economically worth the risks to human health, water quality and wildlife.

The narrative that industry lobbying groups have painted is a picture of clean water, abundant wildlife and “forests” forever, the “everything-is-just-great-folks” narrative.

While we may enjoy relatively cheap lumber prices in the short run, the industry model of high-impact logging passes along the costs of the impacts to all Oregonians.

Yes, the companies follow state laws, but with the help of a powerful lobby in Salem and a Board of Forestry dominated by industry interests, the Forest Practices Act has held off meaningful changes since 1972.

The “alarmists” and “divisions” Astor refers to are based on decades of communities directly experiencing the results of industrial forestry. Communities like Gold Beach where dozens of lives were irreversibly impacted by forestry herbicides and Rockaway Beach where municipal water now has cancer-causing chemicals, have every right to feel the divisions and expect something better from their industrial neighbors.

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David Eisler leads a 2017 resilient forestry tour at his privately owned Shady Creek forest in the coast range. Photo by Lisa Arkin

 

David Eisler, Ph.D., is a retired anthropologist. He has actively managed forest land in the Coast Range for 40 years. He was a founding board member of the Siuslaw Watershed Council and was a founding member of the Siuslaw National Forest’s collaborative Stewardship Group. David has been a long time partner with Beyond Toxics, starting with co-developing Resilient Forestry Tours. The tours have served, for the past 3 years, to educate Oregonians about the dangers of aerial herbicides sprays, the necessity of protecting balanced forest ecosystems and the possibilities of sustainably managed diverse, mixed species forests for clean water and carbon storage.

A right to clean air

Do you wonder how polluted the air you are breathing is? The fact is, the quality of our local air is a critical factor in our health. Sadly, air pollutants commonly found in Eugene-Springfield’s air are known to cause serious harm to public health.

Example of the air pollution sources common for residents of West Eugene. Unedited video footage of the Arauco North factory In West Eugene, 2019.

In the next few months, the air pollution permits for the Seneca Sawmill and the Seneca biomass plant (a.k.a., Seneca Sustainable Energy) will be considered for renewal. Beyond Toxics asked the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA) to schedule public hearings to ensure that input from those in the community most impacted by air pollution be heard and considered. Those public hearings should be announced soon.

Holding a public hearing is absolutely necessary to ensure democratic and representational input from the public. Beyond Toxics has a long history of holding LRAPA responsible for greater public accountability and transparency, including Beyond Toxics’ successful 2019 Civil Rights complaint to the US EPA. Our federal Civil Rights complaint against LRAPA was a milestone in demanding agency compliance with fair, equitable and democratic practices – we’re proud we succeeded in getting the EPA’s support (even under the current Trump administration!). Our case was one of two Civil Rights Complaint cases in the entire Pacific Northwest which were accepted as valid cases and successfully concluded!

Help our entire community keep LRAPA accountable to clean air and public health! If you value the right to clean air, please join together with Beyond Toxics to make sure that LRAPA follows the full intent of the new state law, Cleaner Air Oregon.

Cleaner Air Oregon is a set of laws created to prioritize and protect the health and well-being of all Oregonians from air toxics emissions from industrial and commercial sources. The State of Oregon recently adopted these new air quality protection laws because of the strong association between air quality and public health. I served nearly two years on the CAO Rules Advisory Committee and can assure you that Beyond Toxics fought very hard to successfully win new laws that will reduce cancers and other serious health ailments in Oregon.

New information repeatedly confirms the causal relationship between toxic exposures and the epidemic of chronic diseases in this country. The rate of cancer cases is now above 40% and climbing about 3.5 to 4% per year. According to the National Cancer Institute, estimated 2017 national expenditures for cancer care in the US were $147.3 billion. In future years, costs are likely to increase as the population ages and cancer prevalence increases. Chronic illnesses, including neurological problems, autoimmune and respiratory diseases are also associated with breathing polluted air. Until the social costs of poor public health are included in any air toxics risk assessment, we have not addressed the problem!

Upon review of Lane County’s air quality data, as gathered by the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA), a government organization that tracks the quality of our local air, it is clear that there is a problem that needs attention.

Rosboro Lumber was recently fined $9,000 for air pollution violations as a result of a complaint filed by Beyond Toxics.

Since November 1, Eugene has experienced only 14 days of good air quality. That means our air was healthy to breathe less than one third of the days in November and December. During four additional days, or nearly 10% of the time, the air was rated as “Unhealthy” for groups identified as especially sensitive to air pollution. According to LRAPA data, the rest of the days our air quality was “Moderate” about 60% of the time. Moderate air quality is acceptable; however, pollutants there may still be a moderate health concern for some people.

Many activities contribute to polluted air. For example, people start up their car in the morning long before they plan to actually start driving it. The exhaust of a stationary car with its motor running fills the air with benzene, carbon monoxide, airborne particulate matter and other toxic chemicals. Stagnant weather patterns also contribute to air pollution issues by trapping pollutants which can then reach unhealthy levels.

Our industrial economy uses our common air shed to discharge pollution, but these companies are not held accountable for their contribution to the public harm caused by cancer, asthma and other diseases linked to air toxics. As I visited various areas of Eugene on some of our stagnant air days, I saw industrial smoke stacks spewing out plumes of dirty emissions. Most of us smell the emissions, but we may ignore it or accept it as “the way things are in Eugene.”

Do you recognize the signature smell of creosote and naphthalene from JH Baxter? How about that pungent smell of methanol mixed with the sooty taste of particle pollution that sticks to your tongue from the string of wood product industries just beyond Beltline Highway? Beyond Toxics has recently completed over 300 individual surveys of how West Eugene residents experience the quality of the air they breathe and their observations about health patterns in their families. Our data suggests the vast majority of the people living in areas of West Eugene smell polluted air and feel its impacts on a regular basis.

Beyond Toxics recently conducted a Environmental Justice Bus Tour of West Eugene factories with a group of community members.

Join us in our effort to gather our collective power to demand that regulations are fully enforced to protect the quality of our air and our health! We’re planning a number of community meetings and town halls.

We’ll be reporting on our findings, as well as helping residents learn how to give effective testimony during the upcoming hearings on two of Lane County’s largest polluters, Seneca Sawmill and Seneca Sustainable Energy (biomass incineration) plant. We’ll be discussing how to win an Oregon Green New Deal.

Our first meeting is the West Eugene Clean Air Community Meeting on Saturday, January 25 at Peterson Barn at 5:00 PM for dinner and a community discussion about YOUR RIGHT TO CLEAN AIR. I hope to personally see you there!

See our events page for more details->>

Tribal Climate Resilience in the Pacific Northwest

Krystal Abrams, Social Media and Pollinator Projects Manager

Native American Tribes and First Nations are most at-risk of suffering the devastating effects of climate change. Climate change is no longer a distant threat, but a dangerous force that places our native communities and resources at immediate risk. As with so many threats, indigenous peoples have been at the front lines of the devastation caused by climate change, forced to fight to protect their land, homes, and culture. Across the nation, tribes are rallying together to fight against climate change. Although this issue impacts everyone in the world, it has an even greater impact on indigenous people and their lands.

What makes a community more vulnerable to climate change? Some factors include proximity to rivers and coastal floodplains, residing in areas prone to extreme weather conditions, and economies that are heavily dependent on climate (like agriculture, fishing, and winter sports). Many Native communities in the Pacific Northwest fit into at least one of these categories and many are already implementing climate action plans.

The ATNI Climate Change Summit
This summer I visited Kalispel land in Spokane, Washington to attend the Climate Change Summit with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and allies. This summit brought together leaders from Tribes and First Nations throughout the Pacific Northwest and North America to discuss tribal efforts to address climate change. The summit focused on tribal climate resilience, protecting and applying Traditional Knowledge in climate change initiatives, and implementing a unified tribal climate change policy agenda.

What are tribes doing to prepare?
Overall, tribes were focused on immediate action, as many nations are already feeling the harsh impacts of climate change, right here in the Pacific Northwest.

Inundation map shows where the Village of Taholah is under threat from tsunamis, storm surges and riverine flooding. A vast majority of the village is at risk of being under 20-30 feet of water with little to no notice.

A woman from the Quinault tribe on the Washington Coast mentioned that her tribe was considering a relocation plan. If adopted, this would involve moving nearly the entire village further inland. That’s because of sea level rises, brought on by climate change, that have swallowed a chunk of the coast. The Quinault, whose ancestors lived in their fishing village since time immemorial, are now faced with the prospect of uprooting their families and moving to higher ground.

The tribes in attendance also identified another crucial way to prepare for climate change: respecting and protecting traditional knowledge and incorporating it into future conversations to help shape future adaptations. Attendees all felt it was a priority to protect traditional knowledge within climate change initiatives, and rightfully so. After all, without the knowledge of our past, how can we hope to create a vibrant and equitable future?

The concept of Decolonizing Science was a hot topic addressed during presentations and discussions. This subject can be difficult to understand, after all, what does it actually mean to “decolonize” science? In other words, how has science been used as an instrument of colonization? As a science major and an indigenous woman myself, I can say with certainty that the current system that excludes indigenous knowledge in the scientific process is a problem. However, I see the concept of indigenizing the scientific method as a way to empower people to think about the natural world in a different way.

To decolonize does not displace objective data collection or methodology and has the benefit of improving science by incorporating ways that indigenous people think about and understand the physical world. It’s important to remember that our ancestors have cultivated and managed biological diversity for thousands of years. The extractive, euro-introduced economy is still very new in this place and is becoming a more toxic problem every year.

Perhaps the problems the world faces today would be better addressed if we considered those other solutions or ways of thinking instead of belittling them. One panelist, Clarita Lefthand-Begay, even took it a step further and described her research geared toward Indigenizing the Scientific Method, which essentially proposed ways to make the scientific method more native-friendly. She shared her expertise in both indigenous research methods and western scientific research methods, as well as her perspective about how to draw those two ways of knowing about the world closer together. There are many different ways to think about science and they can’t all be learned from a textbook.

Next steps
We can, in turn, learn how to build more resilient communities by taking the lead from our tribes who are refusing to turn a blind eye to these issues, and instead are rising up to make a difference. Our tribes are tackling climate change through many different avenues, such as taking a leadership role in other climate-smart trends, like renewable energy and sustainable housing development. Our tribes are stepping up to take action. Climate change is harming our tribal communities and threatening our culture. Not only is it unfair to discount the hardships our tribes endure–through no fault of their own–but it’s also unwise to ignore all the great work these communities have done to strengthen climate resiliency on tribal lands.

Since the arrival of European immigrants over 500 years ago, mainstream society has excluded the voices of indigenous peoples. This is especially true for conversations around climate change because everyone will be impacted, regardless of race, class, and privilege. If we want all of our communities to thrive in a rapidly changing and unpredictable climate, we must end this euro-introduced mentality of exclusion and denigration. Our society must invite tribal members to share their knowledge and perspectives in every task force and at every level of decision-making.

Krystal Abrams,
Social Media and Pollinator Projects Manager