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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

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Winning the Battle to Ban Chlorpyrifos!

In 2020, Oregon became the 4th state to phase-out the organophosphate insecticide, chlorpyrifos. This law came about as a result of a 2-year legislative campaign led by Beyond Toxics to ban the use of chlorpyrifos. We fought for a complete ban, and we knew a phase-out was not enough.

Today we celebrate the EPA’s August 18th decision to END the use of chlorpyrifos on all food crops, a ban that will also apply to Oregon.

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Lay Of The Land (Use)

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

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Climat-o-cides

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

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Stand to Protect Climate, People and Forests

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

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

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

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

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. 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.

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The Tough Keep Going: Advancing Forest Practices and Pesticide Reform

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.

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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.

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The Retreat from Roundup: Evidence Backing Cancer Claims

Glyphosate is a weed-killing chemical that is found in a variety of commonplace herbicides, including Monsanto and Bayer AG’s Roundup. Over the past few years, the health and safety risks associated with spraying Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides have been called into question.

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Contact

Lane County Office
120 Shelton McMurphey Blvd.
Suite 280
Eugene, OR 97401

+1 (541) 465-8860

Jackson County Office
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Phoenix, Oregon 97535

+1 (541) 465-8860 ext. 2

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Eugene, OR 97440

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