Hide and Seek: What is the forest industry trying to hide?

As a result of an R-G guest editorial last month, I sparked a firestorm of controversy proposing something simple and obvious: we should speak up if our government tries to convince the public not to worry about finding dangerous pesticides in the bodies of children who live in rural Oregon. Speaking up is not something terribly controversial from our point of view…and many of you wrote in to support our perspective.

In response to this editorial, a PR front group for the chemical industry recruited a local grass seed farmer from their board of directors to respond to the scientific evidence I presented. Here’s his jaw-dropping, arrogant retort: He thinks that finding pesticides in a child’s body is not a concern because there are “thousands of other chemical compounds that we could test for and find in that child’s urine.”

Really? Isn’t that a little like proposing that we put lead back into paint and gasoline just because lead is a toxic substance now found in children?

We realize it may be another David vs. Goliath battle, but we’re not backing down! The timber industry wields tremendous power, especially in Oregon – power to define regulations and policies, to amass financial power and social resources, and to marginalize grassroots movements. They would like to portray the pesticide drift problem in the Triangle Lake area as an isolated aberration, an odd blip from the norm, instead of the pervasive environmental problem it is for Oregonians in virtually every part of the state.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Oregon Department of Forestry seems to be playing a game of “hide” in response to other state and federal agencies “seeking” accurate spray records.

First, a little background…Whenever pesticides are applied by a timber company, the Forest Practices Act requires that daily spray records are kept. These records must be made available to the government upon request for a minimum of three years. To figure how these dangerous pesticides are getting into children’s bodies, the government needs the private timber companies to turn over their records – describing what, where and when pesticides have been sprayed.

Three months ago, the Oregon Health Authority issued a request for those pesticides spray records for the purposes of the current Highway 36 Pesticide Health Investigation. The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) can demand the spray records from the timber operators pursuant to their authority under the Oregon Administrative Rule 629-620-0600(4). Timber companies are, so far, resisting government requests to provide their spray records.

By law, timber companies must produce the records within 7 days of the State’s request, so those records should be available by now. But they have not been made available. That fact constitutes a violation of State forest practice regulations. It begs the question, is the ODF delaying attempts to get these records? In fact, Beyond Toxic members were told by ODF staff that they are “just trying to reduce hardship for the timber companies. We want to be fair to everybody.”

How is requesting records required by the law not “fair?” Is it fair for parents to worry if and when their children will get sick as a result of these pesticides in their bodies? We think it’s worth a little effort on the part of the timber industry to help us determine what the risks are to our families.

What you can do…

You can take action today by writing [email:doug.s.decker@state.or.us] or calling [(503) 373-7677Doug Decker, the State Forester, and requesting that he take immediate action on two things :

1.) Demand the pesticide spray records NOW and impose a hefty fine on any timber company that delays handing these records over to the government investigation.
2.) Tell the Oregon Department of Forestry that it is time to make all forestry pesticide spray notifications and spray records available on a public access website.

All Oregonians have a right to know about chemical trespass. This information should not be held in secret by those using pesticides for industrial forestry.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

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Pitch in to support what we’re trying to accomplish!

ALSO…

Generational Shift and Environmental Justice: Madres para la Salud

Alison stands next to Josefina Cano, one of the Madres group members, and Sheryl Stohs, of the EPA region 10 Environmental Justice Program

To be honest, I felt like an outsider when we first formed the Mothers for Health groups. After about five meetings I now really feel like one of the women of the Madres para la Salud community. It quickly dawned on me that relating to them was easier than I thought, since they reminded me of my own mother (who is Latina also and from Paraguay- a country in the heart of South America).

I think for many community organizers, the initial phases of reaching out to new people can be tricky. It is quite easy to fall into the trap of perceiving oneself as an outsider and in turn, being perceived by the group as an outsider. Yet, once you find common ground by relating as a person and not just the issues- whether it be language, culture, personal experiences- it becomes easier to merge as a member of the group.

Focusing on the bonds helps. I think one of the bonds that have emerged between myself and the Latina mothers is that to a certain extent, I am representing the kind of woman their daughters could be someday: Latina, educated in a US university, speaks English with an American accent, bi-cultural and bi-lingual, and with more Western traditions than their mothers (not necessarily a good or bad thing, just a fact). I believe this bond provides hope in the sense that the mothers wish every possible positive opportunity for their daughters in America- including living and growing up in a safe environment free from disproportionate environmental health risks.

The Bethel area, a Northwest Eugene working class neighborhood, is next door to many polluting smokestackes like this one.

Madres para la Salud met again last Friday. Though it was a small turnout (as it always is when it comes to cold, Friday evenings in Eugene), I felt it was a great outcome. Initially I began working with the mothers in the idea that I would be providing them with new information and knowledge about environmental health and toxics, but I quickly learned that the learning process is quite the opposite of the way I thought. I’ve learned that the topics and goals must come from the mothers themselves to truly motivate them! I can’t help but ask community-participatory questions like: What are they interested in learning? Why? How does it fit into their daily lives? Will this be of use to them? What information can I bring to them next time we meet? Every meeting is a fresh new beginning with new concepts and ideas to discuss and meanwhile, I hope the Madres para la Salud group helps raise the bar on what it means to educate ourselves on toxic exposures and to determine what actions we can take to protect our health and the health of future generations.

Next meeting time:
Wednesday, January 18th – 6:00 pm
Location:
Centro LatinoAmericano
944 W.5th Avenue, Eugene OR 97402

 

The Human Tongue As An Air Monitoring Station

It sure is lucky for the owners of Seneca Biomass that our tongue can’t collect toxic emission data admissible in a court of law. If there was a monitor as sensitive as the human tongue–or as sensitive as the lungs of an asthmatic child, we wouldn’t have any trouble proving the case that their biomass plant in West Eugene is fouling our air.

The Register-Guard reported in September that Seneca Biomass had “flunked” a part of its initial pollution control test related to particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. That is a fact I witnessed myself yesterday!

I drove a family friend to the Eugene airport on Monday afternoon. Everyone going to the airport has to drive right past Seneca. It’s not much of a Eugene-welcome. The stacks were spewing out dark, thick emissions. My friend was shocked! She has always thought of Eugene as such a green-friendly town. When I drove back towards the plant, the same heavy emissions were pouring forth into what would have been a perfect bright blue Lane County sky. That means the plant was polluting at an intense level for at least thirty minutes from the time I first saw it until I snapped pictures on my cell phone on my way home.

Seneca biomass power generation plant

What a contrast to the claim made by Merlyn Hough, the director of the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency! In response to the news that Seneca Biomass had flunked its first air pollution test, he said to a Register-Guard reporter, “There hasn’t been concerns about visual emissions; in fact, it appears to the person driving by as a very clean operation.”

I’ve taken several photographs on at least three trips nearby, and each photograph shows considerable air pollution from Seneca. This time I could really taste sooty air on my tongue and the smell had a sickly quality. The memory of it stayed with me for hours.

These foul emissions happen on a regular basis. Is it any wonder that Seneca failed their air pollution tests? It is outrageous that they are allowed to poison our air when the rest of us are being asked by LRAPA not to burn wood to keep warm and to reduce driving because of air inversions.

We should be asking LRAPA, the agency charged with protecting our air, several important questions:

1. Why isn’t Seneca required to stop polluting our air if they are violating their air toxics permit and we can clearly see their opaque emissions?

Beyond Toxics warned about excessive particulate matter and nitrogen oxides in our challenge to the permit – not only did LRAPA pay no heed, they built pollution-friendly loopholes into the permit.

2. Is LRAPA fining Seneca as they continue to pollute our air while they “figure out” their air pollution problem?

They should be fined each and every day, and that money should not go to LRAPA, but instead it should go to the downwind community so that we can afford to do our own air testing.

Seneca biomass plant - April 30, 2011

Our local air can be very unhealthy in the winter. Inversions often cause particulate matter to thicken for days on end. Let’s not forget the medical precautions: exposure to fine particulate matter, the kind that Seneca is belching (in excess!), shortens lives and is known to cause heart disease and asthma. The children in the neighborhood just downwind of the biomass plant are suffering from asthma at a high rate, much higher than national averages.

Let’s face it: Seneca’s profits are coming at the expense of our children’s lungs. And that’s definitely not OK with me.

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Take Action on Pesticide Reform now!

A representative from the Triangle Lake area reads the Pesticide Reform Guiding Principles at the Triangle Lake School

The Oregon Pesticide Action Workgroup, a project led by Beyond Toxics, has put out a Statement of Principles: The Pesticide Reform Guiding Principles (PDF file). The statement reflects many experienced grassroots voices and years of experience drawing public attention to the dangers of pesticides in our environment and in our bodies. These guiding principles are based on the values of environmental stewardship, human rights, and protection of native wildlife and habitat.

The Pesticide Reform Guiding Principles were first read aloud by a group of approximately 25 environmental health advocates at the Open House at Triangle Lake School on November 18th. The event was hosted by the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Department of Agriculture and the US Center for Disease Control. The Open House was an informational session about the current pesticide investigation conducted for pesticide drift and run-off in the Coastal Range of Lane County. The investigation by state and federal agencies began in response to the discovery that pesticides 2,4D and atrazine are showing up in the urine of dozens of local residents, including school children.

The purpose of reading the Statement aloud was to clearly state the guiding principles before these state and federal agencies. We must communicate what our government must do to protect the people and sustain the environment.

Please fill out the form below to indicate your support for this initiative:

Pesticide Reform Statement of Principles

Thank you for signing our petition and helping to make a healthier world. Only your name, City and State will be shared with the governor's office. Beyond Toxics will NEVER share email addresses or other personal information with any other party for any reason.

or send us an email with your name, email address and the city and state you live in with some indication of your agreement with the Pesticide Reform Guiding Principles.

The principles and the list of supporters will be presented to Governor Kitzhaber and the appropriate state and federal agencies on December 15th.


People/organizations who have signed on so far:
(see this page for a more current list of petition signers)

Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics
Eugene, OR

Deer Creek Valley Natural Resources Conservation Association
Lane County, OR

Roberta Bobbi Lindberg, Beyond Toxics
Cottage Grove, OR

Eron and Justin King
Triangle Lake, OR

RuthAnne Paul
Lane County, OR

Tom Kerns, Director
Environment and Human Rights Advisory
Lane County, OR

Day Owen
Triangle Lake, OR

Genie Harden,
Eugene, OR

Glenn Harden
Eugene, OR

Nancy Miller
Eugene, OR

Neal Miller
Eugene, OR

Evelyn Alford
Lane County, OR

Neila Crocker
Triangle Lake, OR

Roger Doll

Daniel J. Santana
Blachly, OR

Nancy Reed
Lane County, OR

Steve Paulson
Lane County, OR

John Sundquist, Forestland Dwellers
Coburg, OR

Jamon Devotion Cunningham
Lane County, OR

Amy Pincus-Merwin
Eugene, OR

Mala Spotted Eagle
Lane County, OR

Sam Hecocta
Lane County, OR

Chris Logan
Lane County, OR

Melissa Padgett-Voter
Lane County, OR

Sunni Williams
Lane County, OR

JiAna Rae Dollarhide
Eugene, OR

Audrey and Joel Moore
Selma, Oregon

PreciousDirt / IVCAPS (Illinois Valley Coalition of Alternatives to Pesticides)
Illinois Valley, Josephine County, Oregon

B. A. Grodhaus
Selma, Oregon

Frank Cordeiro
Cave Junction, OR

Ann Kneeland
Eugene, OR

Millie Illin
Eugene, OR

Ken Neubeck
Eugene, OR

Gwyneth Iredale
Eugene, OR

Garth Olson
Portland, OR

Tom Schneider
Eugene, OR

Janet Shapan
Denver, CO

William Calvin
Eugene, OR

Rhonda Hampton
Selma, OR

Darise Weller
Portland, OR

Lisa & Justin Rohde
Cave Junction, OR

Kathy Ging
Eugene, OR

Tim Greathouse
Eugene, OR

OTA is now…Beyond Toxics!

Sharon Gary-Smith, Exec. Director of McKenzie River Gathering with Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics Exec. Director and Alison Guzman, Beyond Toxics Outreach Coordinator

An organization that decides to change its name undertakes an exploration of their intentions, desires and aspirations. That is why I am thrilled by the name chosen by our Board of Directors, staff and members : Beyond Toxics!

It all started over a year ago when we asked our members to describe this organization and what they believed we could accomplish. Based on what I heard, I then realized that our name (Oregon Toxics Alliance) wasn’t right for us! (In fact, I have been asked numerous times if Oregon Toxics Alliance was a chemical consortium. Yikes!)

We received a lot of feedback: in person at that meeting and later submitted via mail email or phone calls. Here’s what I heard:

We are a grass roots group that is professional and collaborative, yet unafraid to be tenacious and edgy. Folks felt that we are one of the few Oregon non-profits that is dedicated to making sure environmental protections and social justice ethics are merged in every our project and every victory.

Indeed, that is the way we carried out our mission and performed our daily environmental justice work. The only problem was – our name just didn’t reflect that feisty and productive work ethic.

So, I feel that the chosen name of Beyond Toxics fits our vision of a world where every child is sure to develop to their full potential, uncontaminated by chemicals that can rob them of a healthy future. Our members expect that Beyond Toxics will act responsibly and aggressively to protect the public and the environment from toxic poisoning. We promise to deliver on that expectation!

I feel our new name is a re-dedication to principles and action. I promise each and every one of you to count on us, as an organization, to be ready to go the extra mile for a world beyond toxics. We are here to ensure your community has clean air, water and soil. We are here to make sure Oregon protects its environmental heritage and native wildlife. We are here to ensure that you have a rightful place at the decision-making table to plan for Oregon’s healthy, just and sustainable future.

– Lisa Arkin, Executive Director of Beyond Toxics



Healthy Home Tip of the Month – October 2011

There are Non-Toxic Ways to Reduce Allergens in Your Home!

House dust and other allergens can cause asthma symptoms as well as nasal irritation, sneezing, and itching of the eyes, nose, throat and skin. Even if you’re not allergic, one in three visitors to your home probably is!

Children may be especially sensitive. There are ways to minimize your misery by making your house as allergy free as possible.

Here is a list of things you need:

  1. Clean dusting rags or specialized dusting cloths
  2. A 16-oz spray bottle
  3. Light olive oil
  4. Lemon juice
  5. White distilled vinegar
  6. Baking soda
  7. Hot water

First tip: Have cloth moist enough to pick up dust, not scatter it. If you clean with a dry cloth or a dry mop, it is likely that dust particles will be spread around the house, not actually cleaned up and removed!

You can buy organic household spray cleaners, but may want to keep the cleaning materials simple and basic to save money, avoid allergic reactions and to minimize indoor pollution. Most importantly, avoid commercial cleaners with any kind of fragrance; fragrances are known asthma and allergy triggers.

Three Easy Cleaning Recipes

  • Make your own nontoxic dusting sprays with the following recipe:
    For wood and furniture surfaces: 2 teaspoons light olive oil, 20 drops of lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of distilled vinegar in a spray bottle. Fill the rest with water.
  • For general cleaning including and especially Venetian blinds: Mix half a cup of baking soda and 1/4 cup of distilled vinegar per quart of water and wipe down all other surfaces.
  • For windows and glass surfaces:
    Mix one cup vinegar per quart of water and wash every glass top and window in your house or at least in your bedroom and living room.

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Easy Steps to Non-Toxic House Cleaning:

  1. Take bedclothes off your bed and vacuum mattress. Wash sheets, blankets, and curtains on hot cycle.
  2. Thoroughly vacuum rugs, floors and other surfaces. Wait an hour or so for any dust kicked up by the vacuum to settle before remaking your bed.
  3. For wood, use a slightly damp cloth so wood is not harmed.
  4. For children, wash stuffed toys every week.
  5. Repeat these steps every week. Vacuum all carpeting every day.

“Living Downstream” in Deadwood, OR

Michelle Holman, Beyond Toxics Board member and Lisa Arkin, Exec. Director

In late August our organization hosted an event in Deadwood, OR at their community center where we showed the film “Living Dowstream”, a documentary based on the book written by Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and author, whom you may recall came to Eugene earlier this year to speak about environmental health, pesticides, and human rights.

On the way there, Lisa Arkin (Executive Director) and I were discussing our role in pesticide reform along Highway 36 (the highway on the way to Deadwood) and her recent ODOT report. We stopped at various places to take pictures of areas sprayed with pesticides. I was taken in by the beauty of the area–such a mystical place–in full awareness that there were a patchwork quilt of clear-cuts patched in the valley, and pesticide runoff into the lake, streams and well water. Such a beautiful place, as if from a scene from “Lord of the Rings,” and yet faced with so many environmental problems that affect all life including the people who live and work there.

Once we got to the community center, we were greeted by a fellow community resident and board member, Michelle Holman, and an OTA supporter to help us set up. I was immediately struck by a sense of the strong community there and as residents began to stream in, the place soon became packed! People were standing in the back since there were no more seats left. During the film, volunteers were rushing to and from the kitchen to stack plates, cups, napkins and coffee on the food table. The table itself was fit for a king, as community members joyously baked for the event, picked blueberries and tomatoes from their gardens, and brought homemade pies fresh from the oven. As I looked at the faces gazing up at the wall (we forgot the screen) where the movie was showing, I realized how special this community was. As the film showed, expressions of concern, awe, sadness, admiration were scattered throughout the audience which consisted of young and old, farmers and foresters, seasoned and “newbies” to environmental issues. Yet they all appeared to be on a mission.

After the movie, Tom Kerns, a human rights advocate, professor and OTA board member led a discussion on environmental health, human rights and pesticides, and strategies to move forward. I’m not sure whether it was the inspiring movie, Tom’s speech, or Lisa’s encouragement, but in those 30 minutes, the group debriefed the concerns of the residents, updated each other on recent relevant issues, determined possible solutions, and strategized next steps. So efficient were we, in fact, that people left with a stronger sense of mission and a determined focus to accomplish what was discussed. I thought, ‘as an OTA representative, I better meet their expectations!’

Knowing that OTA is supported by such a strong community, filled with hope and determination, with a strong sense of values and a powerful willingness to fight for what is right, I felt honored to be part of this organization. At the same time, I felt challenged to ensure that our organization do our part in building leadership and justice for all in Oregon.

Has the government sprayed poisons on your route home today?

When you drive home today, will you be putting your health at risk?

That is the question Beyond Toxics put to the Director of Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) yesterday in a one-on-one meeting. Dr. Tom Kerns, one of our board members, and I sat down with Matt Garrett to discuss our recently released report “Assessing Environmental Impact Quotients for Pesticide Use on State Highways in Lane County” and get his response to the report’s recommendations.

In that report, we expose three main things:

1. ODOT has never before measured the environmental impact of their use of herbicides to manage roadside weeds. Our report was written to provide them a model to do so. (After all, if a tiny, hard working non-profit could do such a helpful analysis, why can’t one of the state’s largest agencies?)

2. The greatest health risk to exposure to pesticides on any of the highways in Lane County occurs on the Randy Papé Beltway (formerly known in Eugene as Beltline Highway). This very short stretch of highway in the middle of Eugene has as much as five times greater magnitude of environmental health harm that any other highway in Lane County.

3. ODOT’s herbicides spray program directs their employees to spray dangerous, probable carcinogens and endocrine disruptors many times, every year, along highways that are directly next to bike paths, apartment buildings, homes, schools, bus stops, churches and businesses, not to mention the rivers, wetlands and rare native salmon habitat. We, the public, need ODOT to consider ways to reduce or eliminate the resulting harm for people, pets, animals, and fish.

Case in point … Garrett was interested, engaging and polite as we talked. But as the subject progressed to specific recommendations – such as does ODOT have a policy not to spray pesticides next to schools and school bus stops? – he balked. He hemmed and hawed. Then he insisted that ODOT may not need a policy because his employees were “people who use and live along highways too, so they would naturally be careful about using pesticides.”

Not so, I told him! Employees do as they are told. ODOT employees are told to spray pesticides, and a lot of them. I reminded him that there has been no direction from the person at the top – from the Director’s office – to prioritize environmental protection, to reduce pesticides, to protect people while carrying out ODOT activities. Other state DOT’s such as Washington have implemented strong and effective policies to protect the environment, and they aren’t afraid to promote the value of reducing pesticides.

Dr. Kerns and I pressed harder. We know our science and we know about the right to clean air and water. We work hard to educate about the rights of children to special protections from chemical trespass.

We argued that the research clearly shows that children are especially vulnerable to being poisoned by pesticides. Their nervous system and reproductive organs are more susceptible to neurotoxicity.

Why?

Mr. Garrett agreed to look into whether or not ODOT has a policy to establish buffer zones of safety from pesticide harm around schools and school bus stops.

I urge you, the person reading this post, to consider protecting children from pesticides as a dire problem and critical to accomplish. And, our proposed solution for ODOT, to measure and institute reductions and alternatives pesticides everywhere, is imperative because ODOT is the largest single user of pesticides in the State system.

If we are to begin a paradigm shift to reduce harm and protect the environment, we must start with a commitment to protect the healthy development of children. There shouldn’t be any “if”s, “and’s,” or “but’s” when it comes to protecting Oregon’s kids from exposure to chemicals that can make them sick or kill them ODOT must lead the way by eliminating pesticides anywhere near where children hang out is absolutely non-trivial. It is essential and effective action.

We are waiting to hear back from Mr. Garrett about when ODOT will make the right decision to protect school children from pesticides on their way to and from school.

Meeting notes from a meeting with Mr. Garrett (PDF file)

Our new report assesses the environmental impact of pesticides on five state highways

A new report, released in late August, provides Oregonians with an assessment of the environmental impact of pesticides on five state highways.

Eugene, OR, August 30, 2011: A new environmental health report for pesticide use on state highways in Lane County uses mathematical formulas to assess the overall and average health impacts of chemicals used to control weeds. The data-driven assessment indicates a relationship between pesticide uses on state highways and human health. The report, prepared by Oregon Toxics Alliance, measures and compares pesticide application trends across Highways 36, 58, 126-W, 126-E and OR 569 (the Randy Papé Beltway) and provides recommendations to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to reduce risks to people and the environment.

OTA is currently working together with ODOT to manage parts of Highway 36 without the use of pesticides. The Alliance also works with communities throughout the state to find practical ways to reduce pesticides.

According to the report, the greatest negative environmental health impact from pesticide use occurs on the Randy Papé Beltway (also called OR 569 or Beltline Highway), a commuter route serving heavily populated sections of the Eugene metro area.

The report was written in response to Oregonians’ concerns about health risks from pesticide drift and run-off,” says Arkin. “We get complaints from people who get sick from breathing in pesticide vapors from the practice of using pesticides to kill weeds along the edges of highways.

This is the first prospective study that shows data-driven input useful for the development of balanced, rational policies that reduce the risks of pesticide use while providing practical solutions along with environmental protection strategies. The report also references a Human Rights Assessment for pesticides on public highways that was commissioned by the Alliance.

View a copy of the report

Register Guard’s editorial on Measuring sprays’ effects: Scoring herbicides’ impacts provides useful tool. You can view the actual copy of the scanned newspaper article here. (9/6/2011)

 

20-Year Celebration of the Williams, OR “No-Spray/Mow-Day” Program

Beyond Toxics got this note from Williams, OR resident and activist, Lisa Horn, on last weekend’s Mow Day (Aug. 6th):

“About 15 Williams, Oregon residents showed up on Mow Day and mowed approximately 20 miles, from dawn to afternoon, using push mower, weed whips, and a riding mower. The higher elevations need another Mow Day or so, but this has completed almost half of the manual weed removal agreement with Josephine County Public Works for 2011. Thank you, volunteers!”

Beyond Toxics sponsors the no-spray project in other counties to support clean water and a healthy environment. Reducing pesticides also helps protect Oregon’s wildlife, particularly native salmon and trout . Using mowing instead of harsh pesticides to kill weeds also protects the health of all the people living along and driving on rural roads.

A couple of video clips from Mow Day 2011:

Mow Day 2011 in Williams, Oregon – Mowing Williams roadside, elder protecting soil and water, for the next generations, thank you Al! Behind the wheel of the truck trailing behind the mower was a driver who wanted to support Al’s effort.

Mow Day 2011 in Williams, Oregon – Mow Day volunteer Jeb C. using push mower on Williams roadside, to keep the county spray trucks away from our town. Bicyclists rode behind in solidarity.