Air Toxics are Unreported, thus Unaccounted

Portland Clean Air is releasing today a new report calling into question the validity of Oregon’s air permitting system. The study, A Comparison of Toxic Chemical Use by Permit Type in Multnomah and Washington County, looks at toxic chemicals used by manufacturers in Multnomah and Washington Counties that are reported to the State Fire Marshall and compares them to those reported to air regulators. The study demonstrates that up to 95% of hazardous chemical usage is by industries that do not report their hazardous air pollution to a regulatory authority.

Under federal regulations, the State Fire Marshall is required to keep track of hazardous chemicals stored on an industrial site, called a Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS). HSIS is necessary to inform and protect firefighters in emergency situations. With all industrial chemical users required to report, the State Fire Marshall HSIS data provides comprehensive tracking of chemical storage.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is Oregon’s air regulation agency. The DEQ also collects chemical information when they regulate an industry for air pollution and issue discharge permits.

The DEQ issues 6 levels of Air Contaminant Discharge Permits (ACDPs). Portland Clean Air’s research shows that Title V permits – given to the “large polluters” – emit less than 5% of total permitted air pollution. In Multnomah and Washington County, the extent of this study, only 20 out of 443 industries with an ACDP have the more detailed and stringent Title V Permits.

The report’s key findings are:

1.  Industries with ACDP’s that are not Title V, use the majority of hazardous chemicals in each HSIS hazard class. These presumably smaller industries with ACDP’s use approximately 95% of hazardous chemicals stored by industry in the Multnomah and Washington counties. Their potential to emit pollutants into air and water is significant. However, these permitted industries are not required to report emissions to the Department of Environmental Quality, the agency responsible for protecting air quality.

2. The largest polluters required to have a Title V industrial air pollution permit release less than 5% of hazardous chemical usage in Multnomah and Washington County.

3. Industries without an ACDP ostensibly do not pollute the air. However they store the majority of dangerous chemicals on site. Some do pollute the air. For example, Uroboros Glass was never required to apply for an ACDP but they are a major air polluter. The glassmaker’s emissions were neither tracked by a permit nor reported to the DEQ.

4. Title V industries in Multnomah County have 176,375 55-gallon drums of hazardous chemicals on site. In comparison, all other ACDP types have 4,954,528 55-gallon drums of hazardous chemicals on site.

gooddata_10-13-2016_600pxPortland Clean Air Director Greg Bourget believes these data gaps are serious. “It is the DEQ’s job to know how much lead or mercury, or other dangerous chemicals are going into the air,” he said. “But their permitting system is broken or, more accurately, irrelevant to the tracking of chemical pollutants.”

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director of the clean air advocacy organization Beyond Toxics, supported the conclusions advanced by the study. “Until the DEQ requires that all industrial polluters provide detailed and accurate reporting of their air toxics, Oregonians will never know what they are breathing in their community’s air,” she observed. “We need toxics right-to-know reporting, not pollution estimates provided by industry consultants.”

“Had DEQ collected the information on Bullseye Glass and understood its processes, they would have known about the toxic heavy metals being emitted into our neighborhood 42 years ago,” said Katharine Salzmann member of Eastside Portland Air Coalition, a clean air advocacy group that is part of the coalition of organizations supporting the need for the kind of data collection identified in the report.

The DEQ data gaps in chemicals emissions identified in the new report have led to serious air pollution problems. The latest EPA National Air Toxics Assessment released December of 2015 found Portland was the worst American city for respiratory distress from air pollution. Exposure to hazardous industrial chemicals causes asthma, organ damage, birth defects, and cancer. You can read the report online here: http://portlandcleanair.org/files/ACDP%20HSIS%20Study%20by%20PCA.pdf


Beyond Toxics is a statewide environmental justice organization working to guarantee environmental protections and health for all communities and residents.  We find solutions to the root causes of toxic pollution.  

Eastside Portland Air Coalition is a neighborhood group with a mission to mobilize and support neighbors impacted by toxic air pollution while partnering with stakeholders to enact permanent change in improving air quality. 

 Portland Clean Air‘s mission is to improve our air quality by educating and activating people directly affected by toxic air emissions.

Regulating air for community health – a new concept in Oregon?

Governor Kate Brown initiated the Cleaner Air Oregon campaign after state agencies discovered that glass makers were the source of heavy metals – arsenic, cadmium, nickel and chromium – impacting nearby neighborhoods in Portland. Toxics heavy metals were found in the air and in the soil, including the soil of home gardens. Children were taken to doctors to have their blood tested for heavy metals known to cause cancer and neurological impairment.  Residents were warned against eating their own homegrown vegetables! Indeed, Oregon has an air quality crisis due to a long history of lax regulations and negligible enforcement.

I’m please to share that Beyond Toxics has been invited to contribute to the Cleaner Air Oregon process. Because Beyond Toxics is an active and longtime representative of air pollution concerns in environmental justice communities throughout our state, I’ve been appointed to the Cleaner Air Oregon Policy Rulemaking Advisory Committee. My goal is to make sure that all communities, especially those outside the Portland Metro area, are considered as we craft new, stricter and health-based air quality regulations!

We are concerned that polluting industries will try to co-opt the Cleaner Air Oregon rulemaking process.  Working closely with other Portland-based environmental, social justice and public health groups, the Eastside Portland Air Coalition and Beyond Toxics sent a letter to Governor Kate Brown on September 19. We thanked her for her vision to ensure clean air for all Oregonians. But we also made it clear that we need leadership from the Governor and the state agencies to keep the public health goal front and center! We must end Oregon’s long history of allowing polluters to call the shots when it comes to regulations and enforcement! Read our letter here.

Last week, Beyond Toxics attended the public forum on Cleaner Air Oregon held in Medford hosted by the Oregon Health Authority and the Department of Environmental Quality. I commend the two agencies on a thoughtful and interactive program.  I encourage everyone to try to make it to one of the upcoming Cleaner Air Oregon forums (Bend, Pendleton and Portland). These forums are a fabulous opportunity to have your voice heard.

I believe it is essential that Oregonians from outside the Portland Metro area help our regulators and the Governor understand that serious air pollution problems exist in many communities, not only Portland. Please show up at a regional forum and tell your story from your own community. If you can’t attend, you will soon be able submit your air quality policy choices through this DEQ website.

Toxic air fumes less than a block from homes in West Eugene

Toxic air fumes less than a block from homes in West Eugene

We’ve served on workgroups, task forces and advisory committees before. We know that the process has to be squeaky clean and we also know protecting public health should be paramount.

Believe it or not, Oregon has never had health-based air regulations. Agencies grant air pollution permits without an assessment of health impacts to nearby neighborhoods.  Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality never asks how communities are affected by multiple toxic chemicals coming from the smokestacks of one, or many, manufacturing facilities. Just imagine how much harmful pollution exposure communities surrounded by industrial corridors have endured over the decades, places such as West Eugene, Springfield, Medford and Northeast Portland!

Air toxics fumes near downtown Medford.

Air toxics fumes near downtown Medford.

I will be standing strong for the most protective human health-based air regulations possible. As I see it, Oregon needs to adopt air quality regulations that throw out the old paradigm of giving air pollution permits without regard to how airsheds become saturated with solvents, gases, heavy metals, diesel particulate and more!  Beyond Toxics has been vocal in our demand to require accurate pollution emissions reporting, assessment of cumulative impacts from multiple toxics exposures, stringent air pollution control mandates, frequent ambient and facility monitoring and hefty fines for non-compliance.

Help us keep the Governor, the DEQ and the Health Authority true to the mission of Clean(er) Air Oregon!  Let them know you support Beyond Toxics and EPAC’s unwavering demand for an effective air toxics regulatory overhaul protective of human and environmental health.

 

Crow Feather Farm

Beyond Toxics is publicizing local gardens friendly to our increasingly fragile population of pollinators. In this blog we visit Jessica Jackowski’s garden in Eugene.

Along a path at Crow Feather Farm, borage blossoms unfurl in spirals. A honeybee dances among them, then attaches herself upside down to a nectar-rich mini-grotto, proboscis sucking up sweetness. A few spirals over, a plump velvety bumblebee alights, and a hummingbird waits on a post nearby.

Journey to Mexico's butterfly sanctuaries and stand among hundreds of millions of monarchs as they complete their remarkable migration.

Journey to Mexico’s butterfly sanctuaries and stand among hundreds of millions of monarchs as they complete their remarkable migration.

 

Jessica’s vegetables and flowers spill over each other here in deceptively haphazard exuberance. I’ve come to learn about attracting pollinators, but her holistic vision doesn’t allow for one-tracked goals. Everything here supports everything else. The borage offers its pollen to bees and butterflies, while its deep taproot softens hard soil. Likewise, its fleshy foliage can be used for mulch, and is a great addition to the compost pile.

A few yards away, in its own microclimate, a patch of red leaf lettuce is shaded by tall buckwheat drinking up the sun. Buckwheat is a “wonderful nectary,” notes Jessica, and “makes rich dark honey.” It’s a fast growing cover crop, too, flowering quickly. “If there’s a bare spot in your garden, and you’re not ready to plant for a month or two, buckwheat is perfect.”

Jess with male Monarch

Jess with male Monarch

She touts culinary herbs as well. “Plant more than you need, and let several flower and go to seed; bees will be all over them.” Thyme, oregano, winter savory, and mint peek through mulch throughout her garden. Veggies too are pollen providers. We can let a few perennial leeks go unharvested, and curb that impulse to rip out bolting kale. Insects love the flowers of both.

As we amble along, Jessica identifies a vigorous plant as parsnip. It turns out parsley, dill and parsnip are all insect playgrounds. Their umbel structure — hundreds of tiny clustered flowers arranged in concentric circles — seduce a wide range of pollinators. Beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps and lacewings are also frequent visitors.

Jessica states, “I’m trying to create a habitat not only for my family, but other beings too. The more I’m integrating and supporting all parts of the garden — the habitat for birds and insects, the microbes in the soil, all the different players — the stronger it’s becoming.”

The relationship is reciprocal. Five years ago a member of NABA (North American Butterfly Association) noticed the abundant nectaries at Crow Feather Farm and donated milkweed, the unique host for Monarch butterfly larvae. Two years later, when the plants flowered in June, Jessica brought a bouquet inside the house for her child’s fourth birthday. After a week or two, they found a Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed leaf; it had hatched right on the bouquet.

The Monarchs return annually to lay their eggs on the milkweed patch, and “for Avery’s birthday, we raise a butterfly every year.”

******************************

Please join Jessica 10am on Saturday, August 20 for a tour of multi-functional late summer pollinator friendly plants at Crow Feather Farm. Email growfoodlearnhow@gmail.com to reserve your spot and get location details. Space is limited.

For more information visit www.crowfeatherfarm.com or contact Jessica at growfoodlearnhow@gmail.com.

“Herbicides as a Last Resort” – A County Policy Ignored, Never Defined and Never Implemented

Beyond Toxics was one of the members of a Lane County Roadside Integrated Vegetation Management Plan Stakeholders group. The IVMP stakeholder group was very diverse, with members ranging from the Lane County Farm Bureau to NCAP to ODA to Beyond Toxics. The reason I agreed to join the IVMP stakeholder group was to tackle the challenge of researching, writing and working with others to adopt a true Herbicides as a Last Resort Policy. Lane County supposedly had such a policy on the books, but it was never actualized.

My personal and organizational position during the year-long stakeholder process was that roadsides should be managed without the use of herbicides. Happily, I can state that I was not the only stakeholder member to voice this. The environmental advocates, scientists and practitioners on the stakeholders group all agreed that the herbicides are human and environmental poisons that have no place in routine roadside maintenance. Herbicides result in dead zones that are not only ugly and unhealthy, but also create the perfect environment for invasive weeds! The evidence we presented about the harmful impacts of herbicides in the environment helped move the entire group towards recommending very high standards focused on “non-herbicidal control methods,” “prevention,” and protection of public health, environmental health, water, wildlife, aquatic species, amphibians, and pollinators.

Example of broadcast herbicide spray along roads (left). In sharp contrast (right), roads can be pollinator pathways.

Example of broadcast herbicide spray along roads (left). In sharp contrast (right), roads can be pollinator pathways.

We also recommended a lengthy vetting process before any decision can be made to use herbicides. The criteria for establishing a list of allowable herbicides is strictly health protective: no carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, reproductive or neurological toxicants, and nothing that harms pollinators, fish and other species of wildlife. Not only does the Board of Health weigh in to approve a list, but the Director of Public Health and the Lane County Health Advisory Committee also bring their medical and health expertise to the process. The public will also be involved.

The success of this proposed policy is bound to collecting robust environmental data about noxious and invasive weeds. The policy demands that data collection drive the decisions. We must make use of technologies such as new GIS mapping software, weather forecasting, tracking invasive species across a landscape, combined with trained botanists surveying our roadsides to identify weed species and create weed inventories.

Lane County also needs to develop greater tolerance for weeds and “unwanted” vegetation. This tolerance will become more important as we see greater weed variance coming as a result of the effects of warmer weather and dryer landscapes.

Both robust data collection and increased tolerance for unwanted vegetation are part of this proposed policy.

Two scenarios convinced me that I could be part of a consensus vote to approve a limited, very narrow and data-driven IVMP proposal that might include the use of herbicides:

1. A dangerous guardrail on a blind curve is a location where limited herbicide use could be warranted. Workers have been injured while cutting away vegetation underneath guardrails that are constructed between the curved road and a steep embankment. Beyond Toxics supports worker safety and fair treatment of workers.

2. Puncturevine is a noxious weed that can injure livestock, people, and pets when stepped on and can even puncture bicycle tires. It easily spreads via mowing. It is difficult to remove. However, sprayed once, it can be knocked back. Then, because puncturevine doesn’t compete well with other vegetation, it can be restrained by encouraging natural vegetation to cover the open areas and reduce the potential for growth.

When I was interviewed for the Register Guard article, I specifically said that I wholeheartedly support the current No Spray Roadside policy. That statement was not reported, but it is important that my position is known. The recommendation for the proposed Vegetation Management Policy is a consensus position from a diverse set of participants in a work group. The recommended policy prioritizes human and environmental health, data-based decision making and strict restrictions on when, how and what herbicides might be used, and only after prevention and non-herbicide methods have been employed. True, the proposed policy is not a complete ban, but it is the “Herbicides as a Last Resort Policy” the County has on the books but was not defined or implemented. This is a health-focused, environmentally-sound model for roadside management. Other city, county or state agencies can adopt this model in order to end the common methods of routine, broadcast and foliar sprays of poisons. Lane County can lead the way to commit to protection, prevention and alternatives to toxics.

Lisa Arkin, Exec.. Director
Beyond Toxics

We Need Resilient Forests

Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics Exec. Director, at a resilient forest near Selma, Oregon.

Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics Exec. Director

“Timber’s Cover-Up” tells the forest story and offers solutions … in 4 minutes

Recently, I had lunch in the employee cafeteria of an international corporation based in Lane County. I was somewhat amazed, but pleased, to see efforts to celebrate Farm Worker Appreciation Week. There were large colorful posters of farm workers and glossy brochures.  Their handouts urged the reader to consider how their food is grown, who harvests their food and if workers are treated fairly.

In other words, consumers were being asked to evaluate the ethics of our food system and the impact our choices have on our planet and the people who work in the fields.

Why aren’t we demanding the same information about the wood products we buy?

That was a question posed during the 2016 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference session, “Models of Biodiverse Forestry as Alternatives to Oregon’s Industrial Timber Practices.” Beyond Toxics sponsored this panel featuring three innovative Oregon foresters. They laid out solutions to a host of vexing environmental and economic problems exacerbated by Oregon’s conventional model of industrial forestry.

The owners of Zena Forest, Hyla Woods and Shady Creek Forest Resources described a forest management and timber harvest model that parallels the organic foods movement. They challenged the audience to demand wood products that are produced without environmental harm.

Just as consumer demand for environmental benefits has created growth in the organic food movement, shouldn’t we each be asking similar questions about timber harvesting such as,

“Did this 4×4 come from a clear-cut that’s been sprayed with chemicals? Is it FSC certified?”

“Is my baby crawling on beautiful oak wood flooring harvested locally from a responsibly managed forest or chemically-treated laminate flooring from China?”

These experiences grew into the idea to create a short film that challenges the greenwashing ad campaigns by the conventional industry and offers a vision for a modern forest management model.  And we did it in under 4 minutes!

Beyond Toxics’ new, short film, “Timber’s Cover-Up” uses aerial photography to look far above and deep within industrial forests “Timber’s Cover-Up” reveals how forest ecosystems are interrupted and destroyed by conventional industrial forestry. It debunks the myth that tree plantation farming is “sustainable reforestation.”

Dave Eisler and Sarah Sheffield

This is what a resilient forest looks like. Shady Creek Forest Resources owners, Dave Eisler and Sarah Sheffield.

The film goes on to explore the question “what is a healthy, resilient working forest?”  You’ll get an introduction to innovative foresters like Dave Eisler of Shady Creek Forest. Dave is building a forest economy favoring selective logging of Oregon’s native hardwood tree species mixed with Douglas fir. Shady Creek Forest never sprays herbicides by air or on the ground, never clear cuts and thereby recognizes the value of Oregon’s native hardwoods as marketable timber.

Forests managed responsibly, known as “Resilient Forests,” allows for ecological values to be embedded within an economic model.  We need a different economic model now. The Oregon Forest Practices Act fails to require timber management that meets the needs of a changing climate future. Oregonians should not let these short-sighted forest policies continue.

Forests can be managed intentionally for native biodiversity, stream protection and neighboring community safety.  We must demand environmental benefits from forest practices.

We need Resilient Forests. “Timber’s Cover-Up” produced by Beyond Toxics, proposes that Oregon become an industry leader. We must create consumer demand business incentives for resilient forestry.

Oregon needs local toxics-reporting laws

By Mary O’Brien and Lisa Arkin

It’s important to know when you’re being poisoned by industrial toxic discharges, whether to air, water or land. Some would even say you have a right to know. But how much you can know depends on good laws. Gaps and loopholes in federal and state regulations have allowed stained-glass manufacturing companies to pollute Portland residential neighborhoods with heavy metals without anyone knowing that extremely hazardous air pollutants were going into the air.

Flakeboard_Factory-W-Eugene_600px

The “flakeboard” factory in West Eugene

State officials stressed how “caught off-guard” they were when a U.S. Forest Service air monitoring study revealed very high levels of cadmium and arsenic in the air of several inner-city Portland neighborhoods. Thousands of people had been unknowingly exposed for decades.

In 1996, the citizens of Eugene amended their city constitution to make it everyone’s right to know about even small amounts of toxic chemicals that local manufacturers are using and emitting. The businesses, of course, were already keeping careful track of their dollars coming in and going out. We were sure they could do the same for toxics. And now they do.

Each year, Eugene businesses using more than 50 pounds (5 pounds for extremely hazardous substances) of hazardous chemicals file a report with the fire marshal. The report covers chemicals federally listed in the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Accuracy is accomplished by requiring businesses to report the amount of chemicals brought onsite each year and where each toxic has gone — for instance into the air, water, stored on-site, trucked away as waste or incorporated into a product. Sensible and reliable, this reporting program is called the Community Toxics Right-to-Know law. The fire marshal’s detailed report is filed online for public access, 24/7.

In 1999, under pressure from the Associated Oregon Industries, the Oregon Legislature voted to adopt onerous and complicated provisions making it virtually impossible for other communities to implement a community toxics right-to-know program. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber would have had the votes to uphold a veto; he didn’t do so, ignoring the need to protect public health.

Fast forward to Portland in 2016. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) indicates they knew that cadmium and arsenic were elevated in Portland’s air prior to the Forest Service monitoring, but they didn’t know where the emissions were coming from. That’s because businesses do not currently have to report toxic discharges less than 10 tons per year. Under Eugene’s system, chemical reporting is by the pound, not by the ton.

However, these smaller sources of toxics add up. Simply put, Portland’s plumes of cadmium, arsenic and chromium went up in the air and fell right through an information and regulatory gap. The situation with glass manufacturers could just be the tip of the iceberg. If Bullseye Glass and Uroboros Glass were located in Eugene, the DEQ (and the public) would have immediately known all the sources locally emitting cadmium and arsenic. Everyone would have been able to track historical emissions trends, as well as determine whether other nearby polluters were adding to the problem. Knowing might mean the difference between a resident being exposed for a short time, or in the case of Portland neighborhoods, a very long time.

While the wheels of toxics regulatory reform turn extremely slowly if at all at the state and federal level, communities throughout Oregon could enact right-to-know laws within the next two years if Oregon’s Legislature would take its foot off the communities’ necks — and their lungs and children. All it has to do is allow Community Toxics Right-to-Know, based on Eugene’s tried-and-true model. Reporting toxics in, toxics out. Posting the information on a website. It’s that simple, and it’s a heck of an incentive to stop using toxics unnecessarily, because everyone is watching.

Mary O’Brien, Ph.D., is Utah Forests Program Director with the Grand Canyon Trust and original author of the “Eugene Toxics Right-to-Know” charter language. Lisa Arkin is executive director of Beyond Toxics, a statewide environmental health and justice organization, and an appointed member of the Eugene Toxics Board.

Timber’s fallen: Efforts show promise for working conditions in Oregon forestry

PART III | Advocates, reforestation operators say effective policy changes will need to come from the top down

by Emily Green | 18 Feb 2016

This is Part III of a three-part series on the working conditions and treatment of Oregon’s immigrant forestry workers.


Marko Bey was sitting in on the squatters’ movement and organizing soup kitchens on New York City’s Lower East Side when he set his sights on the Pacific Northwest.

He was 19 when he arrived in Oregon. He needed to work, so he took a job planting trees.
Today he coordinates large-scale ecological restoration projects in Southern Oregon, but back then, he was an idealistic kid who just wanted to stop clear-cutting.

It was 1987, and an increasing number of tree planters and other reforestation workers in America’s forests were Hispanic immigrants. It was a shift from 10 years earlier when hippies and other Anglo outliers were filling these jobs.

Bey worked across Oregon and Northern California throughout his 20s under a handful of reforestation contractors.

He said he enjoyed the camaraderie among crewmembers but was troubled by what he saw.

“The land was being devastated by big industry, and the workers were being exploited,” he said.“The land was being devastated by big industry, and the workers were being exploited,” he said.

Three decades later, healthier forest policies have emerged to circumvent wholesale devastation of the land, but abuse andexploitation of immigrant forestry workers endures.

Advocates and reforestation operators say effective policy changes will need to come from the top down – whether that means changes in government contracting policies, a better strategy for enforcing labor laws, stiffer penalties for serious safety violations, or all of the above.

During its September meeting, Oregon’s Environmental Justice Task Force listened to Latino forest workers and farmworkers testify about their experiences with wage theft, dangerous working conditions, exposure to toxic chemicals, and retaliation for reporting violations and injures.

Since then, the task force has been formulating recommendations for better protecting these vulnerable workers, which it will forward to Gov. Kate Brown.


STREET ROOTS EDITORIAL: Oregon must protect all its workers


Task force chair Ben Duncan said in an email, “The testimony we heard in September moved all of us, for its passion, its pain, and perhaps most importantly, for our work, for hope in a better future for those in our state who are most impacted by environmental and workplace hazard.”

He said the task force will work with state agencies to provide more information to workers about their rights and will examine current enforcement investigations to ensure training is adequate and protective of workers.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, who’s taken up issues around H-2B guest workers, said more needs to be done to protect all Oregon workers.

The H-2B non-agricultural worker visa program allowed for more than 800 foreign workers, primarily from Latin America, to fill forestry jobs in Oregon in 2013. Riders attached to a federal spending bill last year forbid certain expenditures on the enforcement of protections for these workers.

“First, we need to make sure that Oregonians have a chance to secure these forestry jobs and that contractors are not abusing the H-2B visa program,” Merkley said. “Second, strong enforcement is needed to make sure that all workers in Oregon have a safe workplace and aren’t being mistreated. There are too many stories of workers being put in unsafe working conditions or exposed to pesticides.”

In the meantime, gradual policy shifts on the federal level and grassroots efforts in Southern Oregon show that improvements to the working conditions of Oregon’s reforestation workers are possible, if not expeditious.

It’s in the contract

In the late 1990s, the U.S. Forest Service began moving away from its policy of automatically awarding tree planting and thinning contracts to the lowest bidder – a policy that drew criticism for its potential to put contractors under pressure to maximize profits by cutting costs in a sector with already tight margins and high employee turnover.

“The people who get impacted by those corners being cut are the laborers,” Bey said.

With government inspections few and far between – Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspects about 5 percent of reforestation contractors each year – remote job sites, and immigrant and guest workers who are fearful of reporting labor violations, employers can keep costs down by shorting workers on pay, skipping formal training and not providing adequate safety gear.

Today, the U.S. Forest Service awards contracts to the “best value” bidder. This means other criteria, such as technical ability and quality of work, as well as price, are taken into account.

But because bids are confidential, very little data shows how often the lowest bidders are awarded these contracts.

Cassandra Moseley is the director of Ecosystem Workforce Program at the University of Oregon. She also chairs the USDA Research Advisory Council. She’s been studying U.S. Forest Service contracting for years, and after signing confidentiality agreements, she examined reforestation contracts in New Mexico to see how best-value awards were playing out.

She determined that while criteria varied from contract to contract, price was typically equal to all other factors combined. Of 34 contracts studied, the U.S. Forest Service awarded 74 percent to the contractor offering the lowest price. However, the sample was so small, she can’t definitively say whether it points to a larger pattern.

What she can say for certain is that it’s a competitive marketplace.

“Different contractors have different strategies for dealing with that competitiveness,” she said, “and some of them are strategies that work better for workers than others.”

She said a number of businesses have begun to diversify their services by offering fire suppression during wildfire season and reforestation activities, such as thinning, in the off-season. This allows them to keep people employed and improve their skills – and they can afford to bid lower on thinning contracts because it’s not their only source of revenue.

Grayback Forestry is an example of a contracting company that offers year-round services. Its owner, Michael Wheeler, said he pays his employees fair wages and benefits, and follows all labor laws, which puts him at a competitive disadvantage.

“For the last five years, more rules have been added and less contractors are adhering to them,” he said – rules such as paid sick days. “For the last five years, more rules have been added and less contractors are adhering to them,” he said – rules such as paid sick days. 

“My biggest grievance is minimum wage,” he said. The Service Contract Act sets wages for reforestation activities. “A lot of competitors don’t pay that – add all that other stuff, and it makes it tough to compete.”

Stephen Baker, spokesperson for U.S. Forest Service Region 6, which oversees forests in Oregon and Washington, told Street Roots his agency considers “a number of factors when making a decision on how to award a service contract” and “decisions are not decided on ‘lowest bidder.’”

Moseley said there isn’t any fresh evidence pointing one way or the other.

“I do think that budgets have gotten tighter and targets are still really important and that’s an area where the Forest Service is working to make change in how they measure their performance,” she said.

She said a shift away from focusing on production volume is a strategy the U.S. Forest Service could take that would remove pressure from businesses to treat high quantities of acres and focus on quality of work instead.

Enforcing labor protections

The most effective strategy for combating worker exploitation, said Moseley, would be to cross-train U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management inspectors to function as labor and safety inspectors as well.

State labor and safety regulators don’t have the resources to visit more than a small fraction of these remote job sites, and simply finding them can be a challenge.

But federal land management inspectors are already driving out to each of these sites to inspect the quality of the work.

The U.S. Forest Service and state and federal industry regulators have been collaborating on this issue in Oregon since 2006, but how consistently and comprehensively efforts are implemented on the ground is unclear.

U.S. Department of Labor developed a red-flag checklist for the U.S. Forest Service nearly a decade ago so it could train its inspectors on how to spot wage and hour and safety violations, labor department officials told Street Roots.

This way, they said, U.S. Forest Service employees would be better informed to make referrals to their department.

According to its spokesperson, Baker, the U.S. Forest Service does “monitor conditions and report violations to the Department of Labor.” He said, “If violations are occurring on site, we can issue a stop work order until the concerns are addressed.”

While their inspectors have been trained on how to spot certain labor and safety violations, it’s no match for a comprehensive inspection and has not appeared to effectively stifle what research at the Northwest Forest Worker Center suggests is still widespread disregard for labor laws among contractors.

Moseley said what she’s suggesting would be “an integrated job – and an expectation.”

Perceptions among reforestation workers and advocates Street Roots interviewed for this series are that making sure contractors are abiding by the labor laws within its contracts is not a priority for Region 6 inspectors.

Director of the Northwest Forest Worker Center, Carl Wilmsen, said it’s been the position of his organization for years that the U.S. Forest Service should enforce the labor provisions in its contracts, and only hire contractors who abide by the law.

“Their response is, ‘We don’t have that expertise, it’s the Department of Labor that does enforcement,’” he said.

Wheeler’s experienced a similar reaction.

“They don’t check compliance,” he said. “They say, ‘we got it in our contract.’”

According to Department of Labor officials, it inspects less than 1 percent of America’s job sites each year. Since 2004, it’s conducted 19 investigations into Oregon reforestation companies for wage and hour violations. Oregon’s OSHA inspects an average of 14 per year for safety.

There are 284 reforestation employers across the state, according to data at Oregon Employment Department.

Combatting fear

The underlying issue, Moseley said, is that reforestation workers are vulnerable to exploitation.

“Making it easy and safe for people that are being mistreated to speak up is really critical, and that’s very difficult in this environment,” she said.

At a Feb. 5 meeting of the Environmental Justice Task Force, top regulators at Oregon’s OSHA and Bureau of Labor and Industry told a representative from the Northwest Forest Worker Center to contact their agencies when workers come to the center with grievances.

Virginia Camberos, program coordinator at the center in Medford, is the person who’d be making those calls.

She said she’s optimistic about conditions improving in light of recent efforts to unite agencies, but it’s difficult to get workers to come forward and file a complaint.

“This is their only source of income, and many do not qualify for unemployment benefits if they are fired,” she said.

There is a solution to this problem, although not a permanent one, said Andrea Miller, executive director at Causa, Oregon’s Immigrant Rights Organization.

In November 2014, President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions to prevent the deportation of up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. In part, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans would allow undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. since 2010 and have U.S.-born children to apply for work permits that protect them from deportation for renewable periods of three years, while Congress comes to an agreement on immigration reform.

While not all reforestation workers are undocumented, this program would have addressed one of the reasons some workers are fearful of coming forward about wage theft, reporting injuries, exploitation and abuse.

The application process would have begun Feb. 18, but a district court judge in Texas issued an injunction that temporarily blocked the implementation process, and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld that injunction. Now the matter is in the U.S. Supreme Court, with a final decision expected in June.

With the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a vacancy on the Supreme Court means Obama needs the vote of a least one conservative justice. Otherwise, a 4-4 tie would preserve the lower court’s decision.

“If people had their immigration status, they would have more liberty,” Miller said. She said many undocumented immigrants fear that if they lose their job, they might not find another one.

“The reality for many workers is that a bad job is better than no job at all,” she said.

A different way of doing business

 Lomakatsi employee
A Lomakatsi employee clears brush at Table Rock as part of an oak restoration and climate adaptation project in 2015. Table Rock, north of Medford in Southern Oregon, was a sanctuary for the Takelma Indians.
Courtesy of Lomakatsi Restoration Project

In 1995, Bey and fellow reforestation laborer Justin Cullembine, co-founded a nonprofit called theLomakatsi Restoration Project, based in Ashland.

“The reason we formed the nonprofit,” Bey said, “was because we were trying to create a new model.”

Twenty-one years later, Lomakatsi is taking the lead on many large-scale restoration projects in Southern Oregon, working with native tribes, municipalities and contractors to complete ecological projects while benefiting its workers and area communities.

Bey said many of his employees worked for reforestation contractors before coming to work for him.

“It’s night and day – working for us compared to the other contractors,” he said.

Bey said he’s able to avoid pressures associated with low-bid service contracts by focusing on what areknown as stewardship projects, which combine timber sales with restoration service contracts.

When the U.S. Forest Service offers a stewardship contract, it reinvests any profit it earns from selling timber into the restorative work that gets done. Normally that money would go to the U.S. Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C.

These projects are also required to have a restorative emphasis.

“You can’t clear-cut on a stewardship contract,” Bey said. “It’s ecosystem restoration.”

This creates a scenario in which a company may have the ability to win the contract without feeling pressure to bid lower than it can reasonably afford, but whether this benefit trickles down to the worker has not been studied, Moseley said.

Wheeler said his company, Grayback, also prefers stewardship contracts, although he still bids on stand-alone restoration contracts, too.

“Not all service contracts are bad,” Bey said. “There’re some good-paying ones. There’s some good crews that do good work and pay people well. It’s not that it doesn’t happen, but from my experience, typically, it’s more of that low bid system.”

As a nonprofit, Lomakatsi typically operates under agreements with the government rather than bidding on contracts, and often approaches agencies with a proposal.

Like stewardship contracts, these agreements involve both logging and reforestation services, with money earned off timber going back into the project.

But as a partner to the agreement, Lomakatsi must bring 20 percent nonfederal matching funds to the table, which it does in the form of grants and other sources, Bey said.

“It sets up a whole program, not just of restoration, but we can integrate workforce training, youth training and education, work with schools, and we can run all these tribal forest restoration programs with the tribes we work with – because there’s a need to build capacity and skills,” he said.

“It gives us the opportunity to take people who run chainsaws and help them learn technical skills so they’re not stuck in the labor side their whole life – they can advance.“It gives us the opportunity to take people who run chainsaws and help them learn technical skills so they’re not stuck in the labor side their whole life – they can advance. Or in the case of young people, partnering with schools and universities to integrate forestry sciences into the programs. It’s more of a nonprofit-type end result objective in an agreement, where a contract is just work.”

Additionally, when Lomakatsi takes the lead on controversial projects, environmental groups typically don’t sue because they trust his organization will respect the land, he said.

Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center has a history of challenging timber sales in southern Oregon, and its conservation director, George Sexton, agreed with Bey’s claim.

“They walk the talk,” he said.

Lomakatsi is the only nonprofit reforestation operation in the Pacific Northwest.

“It took two decades to get there,” Bey said, “but now the agencies are finally paying attention. It was a very bottom-up grass roots effort to move things along.”

Contact reporter Emily Green at emily@streetroots.org

Eugene struck out with Seneca deal

It’s the bottom of the ninth, and Lane County citizens are down 0-3. From our seats in the nosebleed section of the bleachers, we find our home team facing direct impacts of localized carbon pollution, air quality and the size of our energy bills.

During Eugene’s recent cold snap, we shivered as temperatures dropped below freezing. The air grew still, and pollution levels exceeded federal health guidelines for safe breathing. Air monitors measured particulate matter dense enough to cause respiratory and cardiac problems, even for normally health people.

The Lane Regional Air Protection Agency issued a “red alert” advisory for unhealthy air conditions, The Register-­Guard reported. In an attempt to mitigate the spike in poisonous air pollution, LRAPA also instituted a ban on residential fireplace and wood stove burning. Such burning releases dangerously toxic tiny particles into our air, the same sort of pollution now plaguing Beijing. During such a ban, any visible smoke from a chimney could result in enforcement action and a fine for residents.

Not so for Seneca’s Sustainable Energy’s wood-fueled incinerator in west Eugene. While we are prudently prohibited from warming our homes with wood, Seneca’s wood-burning boilers continue to discharge particulate matter into our air, amounting to many tons annually, further increasing the risks of asthma and stroke. It’s not looking good for the home team.

Seneca Sustainable Energy’s wood-fueled “biomass” incinerator in West Eugene. Photo by John Jordan-Cascade.

Seneca Sustainable Energy’s wood-fueled “biomass” incinerator in West Eugene.

Then came a second news article, this one reporting on the Eugene Water & Electric Board’s plan to raise residential energy rates. One of EWEB’s suppliers is Seneca’s woody biomass plant. Seneca’s secret contract with our public utility has been blamed, in part, for rising costs. That contract requires EWEB to buy Seneca’s electricity at a price that ignores decreases in competitive market rates. We, through EWEB, are locked in to these higher rates until 2025.

What irony! Families banned from using wood stoves and fireplaces during weeks of freezing temperatures are then forced to rely on EWEB’s electricity to heat their homes — including electricity from Seneca, a significant source of wood-burning pollution!

In retrospect, EWEB’s decision to tie its “sustainable energy” star to Seneca’s woody biomass incinerator handicaps both ratepayers and our local environment. The board president now admits that EWEB “made a ‘mistake’ when it signed a long-term contract to buy power from the Seneca wood-burning electricity plant north of Eugene, and the utility has tried, unsuccessfully, to get out of the contract.”

EWEB’s mistake, and Seneca’s obstinate imposition of its contract, are three strikes against local solutions to global climate change. Meanwhile, Seneca gets to steal home base.

Strike One: We, EWEB’s customers, should be dismayed that Seneca significantly pollutes the air we breathe. Then, bafflingly, Seneca requested and was recently granted a permit to increase its fine-particle pollution!

Strike Two: Seneca’s mislabeled “sustainable” electricity is a significant source of greenhouse gases associated with global warming. According to LRAPA, Seneca is the second largest industrial carbon polluter in Lane County. Last year the plant emitted 213,828 tons of greenhouse gases, 14 percent of all industrial carbon emissions. Per megawatt generated, woody biomass burning emits 1.5 times the carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse pollutants when compared to energy production using fossil fuels.

Strike Three: The carbon price tag of biomass starts adding up long before the burnt wood goes up Seneca’s smokestack and into our atmosphere. Their woody feedstock comes from Oregon’s forests.

According to “Clearcutting our Carbon Accounts,” a 2015 report from the Center for Sustainable Economy and GEOS Institute, when a forest is logged and cleared, the carbon stored in trees is released. Not all stored carbon is lost at once. Some carbon continues to be stored in longer-lived wood products, such as structural lumber for buildings.

On the other hand, biomass incineration releases stored carbon into the atmosphere quickly and prematurely. Deplorably, Seneca’s carbon contribution will not be reabsorbed for hundreds to thousands of years.

But here’s the real foul ball of unsustainability: Seneca converts millions of taxpayer-financed subsidies into more air pollution and higher energy bills, offloading its financial and carbon debt onto surrounding communities.

As Eugene does its part to confront global climate change, it is crucial that we look for energy solutions that do not release a plethora of toxins and pollutants harmful to our environment and our health. With its air pollution, carbon pollution, and misdirected investments, biomass is a bean ball smacking us in the head as we seek truly green and renewable energy.

~Lisa Arkin,
Executive Director

GUEST BLOG: Toxics in our Living Rooms

The comfortable chair that I just bought and sit in for hours each day is giving me a sore throat and making my eyes sting. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve been experimenting for about a month now, and I can say for certain that after about a half hour of sitting in it – reading, doing my emails, or whatever – my throat starts to feel raw and I need to blink my eyes more. If I get up and move away from the chair, the symptoms dissipate until I go back there, and it starts again. I would just return the chair to the store, but there’s a no return policy. And if it’s actually emitting some sort of harmful chemical or fibers, I don’t want to give it away to an unsuspecting person who, like me, just wants to relax without side effects.

That this is happening now, as I’m working on an upcoming symposium on environmental justice, is purely coincidental. But my research on pollutants in the environment has got me thinking about all the chemicals our bodies confront on a daily basis, as we unsuspectingly go about our routines. We wash our hair, brush our teeth, put detergent in the washing machine, drink from plastic bottles, and yes, sit on fabrics treated with chemicals that render them anti inflammable, stain resistant, and wrinkle free. Most of the time we bear these chemicals without even realizing it. Nothing hurts us, and so we think we’re safe. This comfy chair is telling me loud and clear: “There is something not right here; what more evidence do you need?”

The symposium that I’m planning, along with Disability Studies scholar, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, is called “The Problem of Intersex Frogs: Feminism, Disability, and Environmental Justice.” The central issue is this: we have evidence that chemicals in the environment are having an impact on the reproductive systems of frogs and fish. How does this line of research, and the negative language of “abnormality” that goes along with discussions of “strange” and “deviant” frogs, affect discussions of reproductive anomalies in human beings? Are intersex variations “normal” differences, as I and others have been arguing in an effort to reduce the pathologizing of intersex conditions and specifically to ban unnecessary genital surgeries? Or are they caused by toxic chemicals in the environment that threaten humans’ reproductive anatomy just as they do amphibians’? And does asking this question, which necessarily conflates frogs with humans, contribute to a “sex panic,” whereby any bodies or behavior that fall beyond what we consider “normal” are used in ways that not only direct attention to environmental toxins but also undermine the efforts of disability activists to achieve equality?

There is no doubt that intersex frogs grab people’s attention, but perhaps the real notice needs to be toward the comfy chairs that we all sit in. And not just the chairs, but deodorant, water bottles, mascara, carpets, and the like. Perhaps most people won’t develop chemical sensitivities like what I’m experiencing with this chair, but the damage caused by chemical exposure can be insidious; the rise of cancers, allergies, learning disabilities, and infertility is staggering, but it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint exactly what kind of exposure is causing these medical troubles.

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(redjar/Flickr | CC BY-SA)

Activists have noted that the Toxic Substances Control Act, originally passed in 1976 in an effort to regulate chemicals used in everyday products, is no longer sufficient, and that it has become easy for chemical companies to work around. Most new chemicals (and manufacturers have introduced 80,000 new ones since 1976) have not been tested for their negative effects on the environment and human health. Rather than showing that chemicals are safe before they get approved, the law works in such a way that the government has to prove harm in order to eliminate a dangerous chemical. Innocent until proven guilty should not be the strategy when the proof is so hard to assess.

By ELIZABETH REIS
Originally published on October 15, 2015 in Nursing Clio online journal

BLOG: Helicopter herbicide sprays are poisoning Oregon…is it rigged or is it rogue?

Two years ago, there was little public awareness about the common industrial practice of using helicopters to spray thousands of acres of forests with herbicides. That was before the Cedar Valley spray case in which over forty people reported being sickened by exposure to a chemical soup raining down from an aerial herbicide spray. After all, who could really imagine that Oregon’s timber companies routinely hire helicopter pilots, dozens of hazardous chemical truck drivers and pesticide applicators to carry out a program of blanketing forestlands and streams with toxic chemicals? It seemed unbelievable, until the public learned more.

When the brave folks from Cedar Valley came forward to tell their story, regulators and many legislators scoffed. “That’s just one rogue pilot, a solitary incident!” Industry lobbyists claimed, “We follow all applicable laws!”  However, now their claims have been blown out of the water by the Applebee Aviation case. Applebee handles a large percentage of the contracts for aerial herbicide sprays in Oregon. They are hired by companies ranging from privately-owned Seneca Jones Timber to the State Department of Forestry.

Applebee Aviation’s illegal activities were exposed by Darryl Ivy, an aviation mechanic and truck driver licensed to pilot hazardous waste trucks. He called Beyond Toxics for help after he attended one of our Herbicide and Health town hall meetings in Roseburg last April. He was very sick and he was shocked at what Applebee Aviation and Seneca Timber asked workers to do, and endure, as private forestry workers.  Ivy was working for Applebee Aviation driving trucks filled with jet fuel, pesticides and other chemicals on public roads and logging roads throughout southern Oregon. Ivy wasn’t really sure he wanted to call us, because he is a man used to working with dangerous chemicals in perilous situations like the North Slope of Alaska. What he witnessed compelled him to act.

Darryl Ivy on the phone with Oregon OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health) reviewing labels of the chemicals used on his job site while working for Applebee Aviation in Douglas County.

Darryl Ivy on the phone with Oregon OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health) reviewing labels of the chemicals used on his job site while working for Applebee Aviation in Douglas County.

He took videos of illegal practices and handed them over to Rob Davis, investigative reporter at The Oregonian. That changed the whole game. Ivy documented what really happens behind the closed gates on private timber land – he exposed the lie that Oregon’s timber industry protects the environment. No longer are the pesticide and timber industry lobbyists able to circle the wagons to fend off the public’s complaints. No longer can the Oregon Department of Agriculture and OR-OSHA sweep complaints under the rug and fail in their duties to protect the public. Now, Applebee is the focus of a spate of citations and fines for illegal activity issued by the Oregon departments of Agriculture (ODA), Transportation (ODOT), and Occupational Safety and Health Division (OR-OSHA). As of October 16, Applebee Aviation has been grounded and is being fined nearly $42,000. We hear there may be more fines to come.

Here is the real “elephant in the room,” the problem so big that no one dares to talk about it!  Applebee helicopter pilots, chemical truck drivers and pesticide loaders were all being supervised by timber company executives and state agency personnel – while they were illegally spraying pesticides. Official regulators tasked with upholding the law merely watched and said nothing when workers were being sprayed, streams were being contaminated, and trucks were leaking herbicides (including atrazine, 2-4D, and glyphosate and more) on public roads and parking lots.

Are these isolated occurrences? No, indeed, they are part of a system that has turned a blind eye on public health and safety. Steve Owen, the pilot who sprayed 40 folks in Cedar Valley, or Mike Applebee, whose spray company has been grounded, are pesticide applicators who knew the system would allow them to get away with egregious acts of poisoning others for their own financial gain – with a very low risk of being caught.

Beyond Toxics is continuing to expose a corporate/industrial culture that ignores the law and ridicules folks who have been harmed by pesticide poisoning. I felt a sense of vindication and relief when I read Oregon Attorney General’s statement to a Circuit Court judge for the motion to request an injunction and restraining order for Applebee Aviation, stated that:

“The State of Oregon will suffer irreparable harm if Defendants (Applebee Aviation) are not restrained …. The joint investigation found that Applebee Aviation violated the State Pesticide Control Act by performing pesticide activities in a faulty, careless or negligent manner, thereby seriously endangering worker health and safety and presenting a serious risk to the public.”

Board member David Bahr (left), Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics, Exec. Dir. (center) and Darryl Ivy (right) met on April 28th before he came forward to the press with his story.

Board member David Bahr (left), Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics, Exec. Dir. (center) and Darryl Ivy (right) met on April 28th before he came forward to the press with his story.

“I’ve got blisters on my tongue, my neck and my arms,” Darryl told Beyond Toxics staff last April. “I feel like I can barely take a breath sometimes, and I’m coughing up blood. The helicopter keeps spraying us workers with herbicides and there is no place for us to hide.”

With guidance from Beyond Toxics, Ivy filed formal complaints with Oregon Department of Agriculture, OSHA, ODOT, and federal agencies. His photographic evidence, along with the media coverage and our policy discussions at the State Legislature, is compelling the regulatory action we now see.

This is the time to act and Beyond Toxics is ready. For the past decade, we’ve been helping workers and residents to seek justice. We’ve doggedly brought this issue to the attention of the EPA, state agencies, the Legislature and Governor’s office.  Beyond Toxics is the source of research and the media you’ve been reading about Douglas County, Triangle Lake, Cedar Valley, Tiller, Rockaway Beach and Florence.  We plan to do what is necessary to stop pesticide poisonings. We need your support to fully address the problem of aerial pesticide spraying and its havoc on health and ecosystem. Please become a member and take a stand now.

Lisa Arkin, Exec. Director
Beyond Toxics

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Supporting Documents:

1. Attorney General’s Order to compel Applebee Aviation to stop applying pesticides through a restraining order and injunction (10/12/2015)

2. OR-OSHA order to issue Applebee a citation and fines (9/23/2015)

3. ODA to issue Applebee a citation and fines (9/25/2015)