Oregon must address environmental in-justice, starting with a response to a Southern Oregon forum

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Environmental Justice Bus Tour of West Eugene. Lisa Arkin (left), former staffer Alison Guzman (right holding mic).

Poverty, hunger and gang violence in Central America and Mexico have persisted for decades. According to the Pew Research Center, the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula was the murder capital of the world in 2012. This city is where most Honduran children refugees come from when they arrive at America’s borders, sent by their parents to find a safe, civilized life. But what does this all have to do with Oregon and the environment?

Refugees from these socially ravaged countries come to Oregon seeking employment and safety. These workers are sought after in the timber, agricultural and hotel service sectors. These industries also bring plenty of migrant workers here “legally” on temporary H2B work permits. They work for lower wages, they can’t report wage theft, nor can they report sexual harassment on the job.

And they are witnesses to environmental in-justices. They are required to use pesticides, oftentimes without adequate training, and never with the kind of training that would allow them to actually get a pesticide applicator license. They witness environmental damage. They get dragged into perpetuating bad forestry or agricultural management practices. They see harm to the health of workers. They feel it themselves.

That is one reason why the Oregon Legislature recently established the Oregon Environmental Justice Task Force. According to the commission’s statement of purpose, environmental justice is equal protection from environmental and health hazards, and meaningful public participation in decisions that affect the environment in which people live, work, learn, practice spirituality and play. “Environmental justice communities” include minority and low-income communities, tribal communities, and other communities traditionally underrepresented in public processes.

Beyond Toxics has been working on our state’s environmental justice issues since 2009.  We know that when people are disproportionately exposed to health risks, their situation may affect their ability to cope with and confront issues of environmental injustice. Some communities may be more vulnerable to environmental toxins than others.

That is why we are the lead non-profit organizing the first-ever Oregon forum on Environmental Justice to take place in an impacted community.  A coalition of five Oregon-based environmental justice organizations – PCUN, Unete, Beyond Toxics, Oregon Action and NW Forest Worker Center – are hosting the September 25th meeting of the Oregon Environmental Justice Task Force in Medford, Oregon. This is a very important first step to addressing environmental inequity and harm more commonly found in the lives of low-income, rural residents, communities of color and migrant workers on federally-approved work visas.

The public is invited to “Fairness for the Land and the Worker:” 2015 Oregon Environmental Justice Task Force Meeting. Many of the people who will come to give testimony are farm and timber workers who have come to Oregon to find a better life. What they seek is not far different than the refugees now pouring into Europe. In America, we don’t see them in the same light and don’t develop the same concern for their plight.

Justice, fair treatment, a guarantee of safe working conditions, and the end of subjecting vulnerable communities to higher exposures of pollution – that is what we are working towards.  Oregon has its share of these problems. Historically, state agencies and government have looked away. Let’s work together now to make sure laws, policies and practices do not ignore the high impact of toxic pollution on the most vulnerable and least-empowered of Oregon’s residents.

Lisa Arkin,
Beyond Toxics Executive Director

The Bee, the Puppy and You!

2015 Beauty of the Bee Director's Choice Winner

2015 Beauty of the Bee Director’s Choice Winner

This week national environmental leaders in bee protection, including Beyond Toxics, signed on to letters sent to Ace and True Value Hardware stores asking them to act now to protect bees! Our petition is for Ace and True Value to commit to not sell products containing systemic neonicotinoid pesticides harmful to bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife.

It only seems fair that Ace and True Value should act responsibly, since they claim to want to meet growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly garden products. News alert! Systemic neonicotinoid pesticides are not environmentally friendly!

Two commitments are needed from Ace and True Value:

  1. 1. Do not sell products containing neonicotinoids. 2. Do not sell garden plants treated with these chemicals.

Plant nurseries and garden suppliers all need to get in step with the nation’s search for lasting pollinator protections – actions that will stop the precipitous decline of native and managed bee populations. Just last year, the USDA reported that bee keepers lost over 42% of their hives. Native bee die-offs are occurring all too frequently (however, they are not officially measured). Native bees pollinate more than 72% of flowering trees and plants, and thus need immediate protection to save ecosystem biodiversity. Also they are the strongest pollinators, so native bees are essential to agriculture as well.

On August 15th, Beyond Toxics launched the nation’s first Native Bee Conservation Awareness Day. Thousands of folks have signed a Take Part petition to launch native bee protection days in their own state! In the same month, thousands celebrated National Honey Bee Day and sent letters, made calls and visited Ace Hardware stores demanding steps to protect pollinators and the planet. The response from Ace? Silence. They have not committed to a timeline or benchmarks to phase-out products and plants that contain these chemicals. In response to consumer concerns, at least Lowes and Home Depot are taking steps to phase out these products and plants that received neonicotinoid applications.

We love bees, of course, but there are human consequences of neonic use too. Beyond Toxics is also dedicated to raising awareness about the important environmental justice aspect to this issue. Read these compelling words spoken by a top farmworker representative:

“ Unseen, unheard, yet on the front lines of neonic pesticides on garden plants are the farmworkers in the nurseries and greenhouses that grow and ship the plants that Ace sells to the public,” said Tirso Moreno, general coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida. “If the pesticides are killing the bees, they are certainly impacting the health of the farmworkers who are exposed every day — eight, ten, twelve hours a day — at their places of work. Protecting bees means protecting farmworker families.”

Human health concerns are now starting to surface in the scientific literature. Alarms are being sounded about the relationship between neonicotinoid pesticides and childhood learning disabilities. It’s sobering to know that, in addition to farm workers being exposed, your family may be exposed to neonicotinoids in flea and tick sprays for dogs and cats. If you use sprays, dusts, powders or skin applications for fleas or ticks on family pets, you are likely exposing your household to these neurotoxins. What child is not constantly hugging their dog, or playing on the carpet where the cat was rolling, or watching TV in the room where a flea bomb was set off?

Yes, it’s time for consumers to raise their voices again! We must demand that Ace and True Value stop selling neonicotinoid pesticides in their stores.

And what can we do personally? Each of us who stops using these products in our homes and gardens is not only protecting the viability of future bees and ecosystems, we are also taking action for the good of our families, particularly the next generation of healthy active minds. Thank you for doing all you can to Save Oregon Bees (and the future!)!    — Lisa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Humble Bumble Gets Its Own Day of Gratitude

Photo by Cole Keister

Photo of bumblebee by Cole Keister

Have you been enjoying watching the furry bumble bees visiting your garden flowers? They seem to be out-and-about, buzzing the blossoms just at dawn, and hanging around for that last nectary drop even as the sun sets.

Cherish them as they flirt with your oregano and lavender. Despite their apparent bounty in your garden, native and wild bee populations are in serious decline, perhaps nearing extinction.

Recognizing this reality, Beyond Toxics petitioned Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown to proclaim an annual day of awareness to save Oregon’s native bees. We are proud to announce that Governor Brown has proclaimed August 15 as Oregon’s Native Bee Conservation Awareness Day! We are very grateful that the Governor has recognized that collectively, we are all responsible to learn more about the importance of native bees in the natural world and take action to protect their survival.

Oregon is the first state in the nation to declare a special statewide day of conservation for wild and native bees. It was also in Eugene, Oregon that Beyond Toxics successfully initiated the first municipal ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Our hope is that the Governor’s action will encourage a nationwide call to action to save wild bees.

We act out of deep concern that native bees, such as bumble bees, sweat bees, mason bees and the other 4,000 native bee species in North America, are at risk for precipitous population decline. Troubling trends are already observable. The Western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) was once the most common bumble bee in the Pacific Northwest, now it is rarely seen. The Franklin’s bumble bee (Bombus franklinii), a bumble bee endemic to the Klamath mountains of Oregon and California, appears to have recently become extinct.

Researchers are finding that bumbles and other native bees are in jeopardy from environmental stresses including habitat loss and pesticides. Unlike honey bees living cooperatively in hives with many worker bees, most native bees are solitary. If the mother bumble bee is poisoned and does not return to her nest, all her offspring and future generations perish. Each native bee is essential to species survival.

Last month, I received a call from a Portland resident who saw bumble bees dying on a sidewalk underneath Linden trees. This was the 5th report of similar bee kills in Portland within the week. We reported it to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which started an investigation. They sampled plants and dead bees for neonicotinoid pesticides. Laboratory analysis indeed showed the presence of neonicotinoid pesticide residue in plants as well as the dead bees.

The investigators’ unexpected finding was that the trees had not been recently sprayed. In fact, earlier this year, the state of Oregon banned the use of the four most commonly used neonicotinoids. The Department went over pesticide records from the past and determined that the bees were poisoned by a neonicotinoid spray from a full year ago, before the ban.

How did the bees die? It is suspected that the neonicotinoid applied to a plant in 2014 is still potent enough to kill bumble bees in 2015! These systemic pesticides are often used as a soil drench or injection months before flowers are blooming. They move through the tree to end up in plant pollen and nectar, which are the sources of food sought by bees. Neonics are manufactured to be systemic and persistent. They are designed to concentrate in the flowers and leaves.

Native bumble bees are highly attracted to Linden trees. Exposed to neonic poisons, they may die on the spot or a few hundred feet away. When native bees don’t make it back to their nest, their offspring are doomed. The toxicity of pesticides negatively impacts some native bees much worse than honey bees.

Native bees pollinate crops and wild plants that honey bees cannot pollinate, do not pollinate, or poorly pollinate. Honey bees pollinate better when native bees are present. America’s food sources depend on bees and their amazing pollination capabilities, which generates a national economic value of $20 billion a year.

The survival of each native bee is essential to ecosystem biodiversity. At stake is the future of 70% of the flowering plants and trees, and the nuts and berries that feed birds and animals.

We encourage individual action and better policy to reverse the decline of native bee populations. Please stop using pesticides and protect native bee habitat. And contact your Governor today and ask them to declare August 15 as your state’s Native Bee Conservation Awareness Day!

Lisa Arkin
Executive Director
Beyond Toxics
Eugene, Oregon

Oregon Rain (a guest blog)

By Kate Taylor

This blog is republished with permission from Kate Taylor. Originally published in The Cleanest Line, Patagonia.

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I stand at my kitchen sink, looking out the window as I fill a glass of water. I live in Rockaway Beach a coastal community of 2,500 people, renowned for all that is epic about the Oregon coast: stunning beaches, lush forests and rich ocean and inland waters.

I take a sip from the glass. Outside, targeting a nearby clear-cut hillside, a helicopter sprays a sheet of herbicide. I spectate as the chemicals float to dirt, supposedly doing their job—killing weeds that might choke out saplings. Those weeds line Jetty Creek, the source of my small community’s drinking water. Yes, you read correctly: logging companies spray chemicals over my community’s drinking water. And under the protection of the archaic Oregon Forest Practices Act, they’re permitted to do so.

Jetty Creek is a small body of water flowing into Nehalem Bay. Coho, wild steelhead, elk, deer, bald eagles and other wildlife depend upon this creek for sustenance. A 2002 Environmental Quality Assessment outlined the critical and sensitive nature of the creek and the surrounding forest and wetlands. From 2006 to 2012, two private timber companies clear-cut more than 80% of the timber surrounding the watershed. This massive tree removal caused increased turbidity, clouding up formerly gin-clear water. To address this, our town water filtration plant installed two major upgrades, costing a cool 1.5 million taxpayer dollars. The EPA mandated the most recent upgrade, since our water did not meet minimum standards.
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The spraying adds insult to injury. To prep for the next round of harvestable trees, the companies regularly spray manually and aerially with harmful herbicides that are known carcinogens. They are not required to notify the public when these treatments take place. As a feeble safety precaution, the stream buffer for aerial spray is 60 feet from the water’s edge and ten feet for manual spraying.

You can’t protect yourself from wafting chemicals unless you see the helicopter approaching. Luckily for me, today I can see it working like a busy bee, side-to-side along the steep hills from the safety of my kitchen. But if I’m out running, fishing, walking my dog, I might get crop dusted with a carcinogenic cloud.

Video: THIS IS OUR WATERSHED by Kate Taylor.

These outdated and poorly considered practices clearly place economic, environmental, and health burdens on local citizens. Advocating for change has fallen upon legislators’ deaf ears. But we’re not going to walk away from this issue. It’s time for Oregon to put an end to massive clear cuts and harmful herbicide applications that impact our drinking water up and down the Pacific Coast. Please join us by signing our petition and let’s spark change that encourages protection of coastal community watersheds.

I pour the glass of water down the drain. It’s a bottled water kind of day.

Take_action_largeHelp Kate and the Rockaway Beach Citizens for Watershed Protection get stricter regulations for aerial chemical spraying near homes, schools and watersheds in Oregon.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the petition

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Kate Taylor is a Patagonia ambassador, fishing guide, hunter and full-time funhog. She lives with her partner Justin and their yellow lab Kada in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. 

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Low-wattage legislators dim the lights on forestry practices reform

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A year ago the editors of the Register Guard urged Oregon legislators to “shine a light on forest sprays.” Our low-wattage legislators did the opposite. Today aerial forest spraying continues unabated.

Communities sprayed with poisons remain in the dark while chemical lobbyists hold sway in the offices and back rooms of our legislature. The response from Oregon’s Legislature? No change to Oregon’s infamously outdated and weak Forest Practices Act.

Our lawmakers have a long and snuggly relationship with these industries. In the 1980’s, regulations imposed a 500-foot no-spray buffer around homes. Timber lobbyists raised a ruckus, legislators blinked, and all buffer zones were eliminated.

Here in Oregon, our forestry regulations promote forest defoliation strategies reminiscent of wartime Vietnam. But today’s battle-zone casualties are humble neighbors and defenseless schoolchildren.

Industrial lumber companies load helicopter tanks with toxic chemicals, and, just as Agent Orange was used in Vietnam, herbicide defoliants rain down on hundreds of thousands of acres of forestland. These sprays are not well controlled—because effective restraints do not exist. Repeatedly, a wide swath of herbicide drift coats communities, schools, children, food crops, drinking water sources, pets.

We acted on this ongoing tragedy. Beyond Toxics brought the issue, the science and the voices of Oregonians to this year’s legislative session. Along with many rural Oregonians, we sought reasonable remedies.

On our side, members of the public–who traveled hundreds of miles at their own expense for a chance to give three minutes of testimony–were sorely disappointed in the so-called democratic process. Rural Oregonians made sick by herbicide sprays were never given a chance to testify because “public hearings” were cancelled at the last minute or switched to “invited testimony only.” At one point, a few regular citizens were begrudgingly allowed just two minutes each before a legislative committee to describe their ordeals. As they began to testify, some legislators got up and walked out. It was clear that timber and chemical industry representatives had already met privately with them.

With very few exceptions, Democrats and Republicans alike hit the off-switch on reform. They don’t want you to know that Oregon is the worst in the entire West when it comes to preventing pesticide exposures. A 2011 US EPA report found that Oregon lacks adequate water protection buffers, weather-related best management practices to control drift, and human health guidelines.  No, we won’t find it explicitly written into law, but the effect is the same as if it was: Oregon regulations encourage forest practices that result in pesticide poisoning.

For every reasonable solution we offered, the timber lobby’s knee-jerk reaction was to keep Oregon in the Dark Ages. Discussions about the science on pesticide drift and toxicity were quickly curtailed.

But we kept trying. The conversation went like this…

Beyond Toxics: We propose advanced notification of aerial herbicide spraying.

The industry’s response: “Not necessary because industrial timber is a good neighbor!” (Translation: the sound of approaching chopper blades is as good a warning as neighbors will ever get.)

Beyond Toxics: We suggest that the Oregon Board of Forestry study the current science on pesticide drift and buffers and use the information to update the law.

The industry’s response: “That’s a non-starter.” (Translation: industry doesn’t want Oregon’s laws in line with current science!)

Beyond Toxics: How about agreeing on a 100 ft. no-spray buffer to protect kids at school?

Industry: “Nope. That hurts our profit margin!” (Translation: the health of Oregon’s school children is not worth taking any precautions!  We are not required to give kids any protections, unlike salmon that are protected by law under the Endangered Species Act.)

Beyond Toxics: Spray and weather data should be provided to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Industry: “A solution in search of a problem!” (Translation: We prefer the “scout’s honor” system where no one really checks on what we are doing.)

The 2015 Public Health and Drinking Water Protection Act was a real opportunity to make these and other substantive improvements to Oregon’s forest practices. Instead, legislators did their utmost to keep the issue quiet. And legislators kept important personal stories of acute and chronic illnesses associated with aerial spraying from seeing the light of day.

As this session neared its end, one legislative observer noted, “The sound of an approaching helicopter will remain Oregonians’ only formal notice that chemicals are about to be sprayed next door.”

We are still optimistic. We believe there is some daylight ahead at the end of the tunnel. Reporters from Portland to Miami to Washington, DC are chronicling Oregon’s repeated failure to prevent the toxic aerial spraying of innocent bystanders and industry workers. Our nation now reads troubling accounts about our Oregon men coughing up blood and our children having trouble breathing after helicopters spray poison brews from the sky near or on their homes.

Importantly, journalists are uncovering another disturbing pattern. State agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture–rather than protecting the public—repeatedly cast aspersions on the integrity of rural residents who speak up about pesticide drift. Reporters find that protocols for conducting pesticide investigations are woefully deficient and, in any case, routinely ignored and subverted.  And investigators wait too many days to respond to poisonings so that corroborating data are lost. Pesticide spray records are withheld from health providers desperate to treat patients. Agencies don’t even know where and when helicopters are flying and what they are spraying.

Thanks to the brave testimony of rural Oregonians and to the careful reporting of respected journalists, these and other gross injustices caused by aerial forest spraying are being illuminated. Despite their deep pockets, their relentless political influence and persistent marketing, the timber and chemical industries are unable to bury the truth.

Salem lawmakers now have the opportunity to wake up and start a bright new day of meaningful reform. They can choose to truly represent the public interest and lift Oregon from the lowest ranking of protections from forest defoliants. And yes, Beyond Toxics will be there, shining a light on the path to a healthy Oregon.

Lisa Arkin,
Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

Overspray

Preface by Lisa Arkin
Dr. Tom Titus was a guest speaker at the Legislative Briefing Day for SB 613. SB 613 was introduced as the Public Health and Water Resources Protection Act in the 2015 Legislature. His presentation on amphibians and herbicide exposure was so informative that we asked him to submit his thoughts for the Beyond Toxics blog.

Dr. Titus wrote the following piece before it was announced that SB 613 was not going to get a hearing in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Senator Chris Edwards.

The Oregon Legislature failed to protect the people of Oregon. As you read this excellent article, knowing that SB 613 is no longer viable in the 2015 Legislative session, we hope you will be inspired to continue to work with Beyond Toxics to protect Oregonians and our ecosystems from pesticides. This issue is too important, and we are not giving up!

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Tom Titus

Tom Titus, Ph.D. Institute of Neuroscience, University of Oregon. Photo by Paul Neevel.

Politics are not my thing, and a helicopter with spray booms protruding like thin wings on either side sending a mist of herbicides drifting over a clearcut is not an image that inspires poetry. But it is an image you should keep in mind as you contemplate Oregon’s herbicide future. Imagine the whirling blades propelling the chemical cloud downward and outward. Ask the question: What is a reasonable buffer zone around water and human habitation for aerial spraying? Currently Oregon’s pesticide protections are less restrictive than those of Alaska, Idaho, Washington, and California. Oregon Senate Bill 613, the Public Health and Water Resources Protection Act, is the first legislation in four decades designed to bring the state’s herbicide regulations out of the dark ages.

Currently our state requires only a 60-foot buffer zone around fish-bearing streams and no buffer for streams without fish, even though many of these waterways contain amphibians and most flow into fish habitat. In 1996 Oregon removed all buffer zones around homes, only a few years after the federal government abandoned herbicide use on public lands. In contrast, Washington State requires a 200-foot spray buffer around human habitations and a 300-foot buffer along fish-bearing streams. Thus, Oregon’s buffer zone for fish-bearing streams is 1/5 that of Washington, and our protection for humans reflects the level of care for people living in herbicide application areas: zero.

SB 613 is not wild-eyed environmental legislation. The bill is not a ban on aerial spraying. It dictates reasonable protections for humans in areas of herbicide application by requiring advance notification of spraying and a publicly accessible database containing details of the herbicides applied, and it directs the State Department of Agriculture to establish buffer zones around places where people live, drinking water, and fish-bearing streams by the year 2017.

A vast literature now exists documenting the toxic effects of herbicides on animals. Atrazine causes feminization in amphibians and reduced sperm counts in all vertebrate classes studied so far. Dioxins in herbicides such as 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D influence a well-characterized biochemical pathway that can cause immune system impairment, developmental abnormalities, and cancer. Glyphosate is the most commonly applied herbicide in the United States and is used in western forests to control broadleaf competitors to Douglas fir. Pure glyphosate has a variable half life of 2-197 days, is bound to soil and degraded by soil microbes, and is “relatively” nontoxic to vertebrates. However, detergents and other so-called “inert” ingredients included in sprays to facilitate spreading and absorption on leaf surfaces can increase toxicity to fish and amphibians by an order of magnitude above that of pure glyphosate.

The herbicide Roundup Regular kills 50% of Pacific Chorus Frog tadpoles that are exposed to concentrations of less than half the EPA-accepted level for human drinking water. Toxicity studies on fish and amphibians are typically performed on life stages that do not address herbicide sensitivity of early embryos, particularly at stages before the development of the liver, the primary organ of detoxification. Studies on embryonic effects would be especially important for amphibians because herbicides are often applied to forests during the spring breeding season when eggs are laid.

Most ecotoxicology studies have dealt with the direct effects of herbicides on organisms. There are few data on indirect ecosystem effects. What is the effect of removing early succession browse on elk and blacktail deer populations? How do endocrine-disrupting chemicals affect sex ratios of exposed vertebrate animals, their fertility, embryonic and larval growth, and size at maturity? Why are there now so few crayfish in many coastal streams, and what is the outcome of removing these key scavengers on nutrient turnover and on their predators such as sea-run cutthroat trout and river otters? What we do not know is daunting, and yet it is precisely because we don’t know that timber and chemical companies say we should persist with the status quo. Shall we continue to accept that the burden of proof for chemical toxicity falls on people who are worried about or have experienced harmful effects? What has become of the doctrine of “Do No Harm”?

We are self-centered animals and respond more strongly to human health concerns than to those of our fellow creatures. Herbicides make people sick. This is now well documented in a huge body of biomedical literature that is beyond the scope of this essay. Just last month, a research paper implicated glyphosate in elevated risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Stories of people and animals sickened by herbicide overspray come from a dozen Oregon counties, the most recent out of Cedar Valley in southwestern Curry County (see the documentary film Drift: A Community Seeking Justice by University of Oregon Environmental Studies students). Residents were thwarted by the Oregon Department of Forestry in their efforts to find out what had happened to them and why.

As the fight over SB 613 becomes increasingly public, you can count on the timber and chemical industries with a profit margin at stake to play their economic card. Yet there is no reasonable economic justification for rejecting SB 613. Chorus frogs don’t earn minimum wage. Salmon and trout do not care about board feet or economic “growth.” These are human abstractions imposed on the biosphere that are now accepted as reality in biological cost-benefit analyses, as though they mattered to anyone other than people. Even if economics were a reasonable platform from which to argue best forest practices, the largest companies applying herbicides on Oregon forests operate without economic hardship in Washington, Idaho, and California under stricter rules. They might be making more money in Oregon because of our lax regulations, but they are certainly not going broke elsewhere.

Speaking of human constructs, we will we always be beholden only to property lines? The U.S. Forest Service has not allowed aerial spraying on public forests since 1984. The Bureau of Land Management does not even spray their roadsides. Yet we bow to imaginary lines of ownership and allow vast tracts of private forest land to be sprayed, largely as the owner sees fit, even though streams flowing through that private land continue into public waterways that harbor drinking water and coho salmon and giant salamander larvae. The owners of private lands care about profits, not the public trust, and will act accordingly in their forest practices. As long as the laws follow property lines and profit at the expense of ecosystem health, including human health, then making money will remain the name of the game.

Call and write to your state senator and representative and tell them you support herbicide reform in Oregon. For more information, stay in touch with Beyond Toxics.

Tom Titus, Ph.D.
Institute of Neuroscience, University of Orego

Chilling … public health ignored

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In front of the Capitol Building (left to right) Jim Welsh, James Aldridge, Pam Aldridge, Kathryn Rickard, Lisa Arkin, John Burns, Barbara Burns

Over the past year, the issue of exposure to toxic soups of herbicides and other chemicals from aerial helicopter sprays has spurred an outpouring of public indignation! Cases of outright poisoning or suspected harm have been reported in Lane, Curry, Tillamook and Douglas counties.

Poisonings of law-abiding Oregonians, innocent by-standers really, were covered by top journalists in both local and national press. Reporters concluded that the use of helicopters to spray neurotoxins near homes, schools and drinking water is a very serious threat to health and the environment. Everyone who took action on this issue should be proud that the practice of aerial pesticide spraying is now one of the premier issues facing our state legislators.

It’s no small accomplishment to find a thousand people attending town hall meetings and events in small to medium size rural towns–from Gold Beach to Roseburg to Newport. There was even a benefit concert in the tiny town of Nehalem that raised $500! Sixty Oregonians from seven different counties attended the Advocacy Day at the State Capitol in March.

Yet, it is becoming increasingly clear to the people of Oregon that there is little political will among many of our state legislators to protect our families and private property from the threat of pesticide spray.

Political operatives from chemical, logging and agricultural industry groups are busy muddying the facts and getting legislators to forget the many people who have reported becoming ill from aerial sprays. These Oregonians are now being ignored, despite repeatedly speaking out about how they must now endure the loss of their former healthy lives and their sense of security.

The public outcry moved the hearts of several caring legislators to craft SB 613, the Public Health and Drinking Water Protection Act. The goal of the bill is to bring Oregon up to date with the current science and environmental protection standards used throughout the Pacific Northwest.

SB 613 would enact three necessary reforms:
1. Buffer zones for homes, schools and drinking water.
2. Advanced notification
3. Public access to information on what was sprayed and where.

SB 613, as modest as it was, never got ONE hearing! I find it difficult not to wonder, ‘Where is the backbone and resolve we deserve from our leaders?’ and ‘Who has the real power?’

The work groups were set up to fail from the start by giving the majority of seats to timber industry lobbyists and lawyers, people with personal financial interests in using pesticides. When that happens, industry lobbyists get veto power over everyone else. Industry lobbyists openly said that their profits outweighed any effort to pass protective regulations. In response to the question, “Would the timber industry support a 100 foot buffer zones around schools?” their answer was, “Absolutely not. We can’t see the economic benefit in that.” And that was the end of the buffer discussion.

The plight of the people sickened by pesticide spraying was treated with disrespect and disbelief. Clearly, not even a school yard full of children had any value compared to timber industry profits.

Please stand with Beyond Toxics and the good people whose lives have been forever changed after being sprayed. We will not be quiet or complacent about the Legislature’s failure to protect public health and our forest ecosystem. Nor will we abandon this fight. We will continue to build strong and honest coalitions throughout the State. The rural-urban friendships and partnerships we established in this fight give our work deeper meaning. With your steadfast commitment to stay with us, we feel certain we will prevail and win an environmental health victory!

Right now, you can help keep a strong protective reforms on the legislative table. Let your state senators and representatives know you are incredulous that Senate Bill 613, which would have offered modest protections like requiring notice before a spray and creating buffers from spray around schools, won’t move this session. Tell them none of us will drop this issue. It is shameful that the timber Industry lives with better protections in other states, but Oregon doesn’t have a problem with a man mowing his lawn or a woman planting flowers in her yard getting sprayed with herbicides from a helicopter.

Are you interested in a rally at the Capitol? Let me know!

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director

Portland joins Eugene as one of America’s Most Bee-Friendly Cities!

Beyond Toxics’ idea to ask local governments to ban neonicotinoids started in Eugene with our proposal to the City Council. You remember…Eugene became “America’s Most Bee Friendly City!” in the early part of last year. Then the idea spread to Seattle, Spokane and Sacramento, as well as towns in Alaska, Minnesota and other states.

And today, the big news is that the Portland, Oregon has made good on their promise to Protect Portland’s Pollinators! The city’s Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to ban neonics immediately on all city-owned property. What’s more, they will no longer purchase plants that have been doused with this toxicant. The City’s commitment is a move that creates strong market incentive for plant suppliers to use organic pest management methods. That directive is especially important because these long-lived insecticides can persist in the tissues of plants for years! Bees visiting the flowers of a tree or plant that was once sprayed can be harmed long after the original application.

But it is not just about cute creatures like butterflies and bumble bees, ‘though we love them dearly! At the most fundamental level, neonics destroy the very web of life. They accumulate in water and soil, killing the small things – water bugs, caddis flies, worms– that form the first link of the food chain. Without such critters, there is nothing for the birds and bats, the salmon and trout, to eat. The use of neonics harms the near-invisible and helpful soil bugs that create ecosystem balance. We need these bugs to give life to the soils and to fend off infestations that are more likely to occur when the environment is stressed or out of balance.

In the spring and summer of 2013 and 2014, Oregonians became unfortunately familiar with the term neonicotinoids, a poison that caused hundreds of thousands of bumble bees to tumble out of the sky to a spasmodic, nerve-paralyzing death. Their tragedy spurred Beyond Toxics and others to tackle the root cause of the problem: the heavy-handed marketing of a new class of systemic, long-lived nerve poisons.

Happily, tomorrow, the second day of April, the earth will sing a sweet song celebrating life in gratitude for the precautionary action taken in Portland. We can all join in that song by giving respect to the interconnectedness of all living things, and doing all that we can to avoid life-killing chemicals.

Thank you to Commissioner Amanda Fritz and her chief of staff, Tom Bizeau, for their vision and their hard work to Protect Portland’s Pollinators!

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

Each of us can demand protections from aerial sprays!

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Photo by David Tvedt

On March 12th, Beyond Toxics and our partners in the Oregon Conservation Network hosted the first ever Oregon Legislative Briefing on Herbicides and Health. Over fifty Oregonians came from communities across the state to talk to their legislators about gaps in the Oregon Forest Practices Act that leave homes, schools and drinking water unprotected from pesticide drift, run-off and volatilization.

I was moved and inspired by the voices of rural Oregonians who have been harmed by pesticide drift exposures. For some, their lives have been forever changed, and they may never regain their former health. If you haven’t yet seen the UO School of Journalism video on the issue of aerial herbicide spray and the health of a community in Curry County, I highly recommend Drift: A Community Seeking Justice.

Photo by David Tvedt

Photo by David Tvedt

Simply put, these earnest rural folks, as well as Beyond Toxics and its members, are standing up to two of the largest corporate interests in Oregon – the timber and chemical industries! Their lobbyists claim that any discussion of the health impacts from exposures to herbicides is “fear-mongering” and that aerial spraying of herbicides is safe. Their purpose is to shut down public discourse and promote the status quo, which keeps aerial pesticide spray documentation secret.

Rather than provide advanced warning, logging businesses prefer to force Oregonians to run and hide at the sound of an approaching helicopter.  Like a feudal system of land ownership and elite power, they seem to believe that private property rights are only for wealthy timber owners and not working-class rural residents who are their neighbors.

Photo by David Tvedt

Photo by David Tvedt

Some legislators are balking at correcting the imbalances and inequities in the Oregon Forest Practices Act. Two bills are worth your consideration and your time: SB 613, which, among other benefits, advances advanced notification and public access to records when there is an aerial spray; and HB 3123, which would ban aerial sprays. Over thirty years ago, the federal government banned aerial sprays due to evidence of human health harm. Washington, Alaska, Idaho and California have strong laws that protect people and drinking water.  Oregon does not.  Oregon lags behind. How could any leader in our state fail to rush to correct this wrong? Sadly, many are hesitant.

We need your help! Please take action and write to your legislator. You can also quickly send an email via TakePart.com. Please stand with us to advance meaningful change for real environmental health.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

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Photos graciously provided by professional photographer and Beyond Toxics supporter, David Tvedt.

Hope for sufferers from herbicide drift: Sensible legislation promotes health in forestry practices

Today, the announcement was made that the Oregon Legislature will take up a bill to address forestry chemical use.

Two courageous Oregon legislators, and seven other co-sponsors, filed a bill to protect the health of rural Oregonians living near industrial forests and farm land. When I first read the text of SB 613, the Public Health and Water Resources Protection Act, my eyes started to tear up. I thought of the heartbreaking journey that pesticide drift victims have traveled to arrive at this moment.

How deeply moving it is to see their concerns addressed in levelheaded, rational, and solution focused legislation.

Then I had a good laugh when I read the comments from opponents of the bill in today’s media coverage! According to a news report on OPB, “Timber industry leaders say federal and state laws already provide enough protection, and that the bill is the result of a perception problem.” Really? A “perception problem?”

Since when is it merely a “problem of perception” when an entire community suffers from repeatedly coughing up blood, vomiting, incessant and unstoppable nose bleeds, blurry vision and neurological problems after a forestry herbicide spray?

Donna being interviewed by UO student, Marla

Donna being interviewed by UO student, Marla

This last weekend a group of eighteen University of Oregon students on a research field trip interviewed Donna, a woman who lives on the Oregon coast. We all cried when she told us that after a helicopter sprayed her while she was gardening in her yard, she became so ill that she couldn’t move from her bed. She remained bed-stricken for nearly a week and could not go to her brother in Eugene. He had called for Donna to come to him and ended up dying alone in his home, with no sister beside him. She is heartbroken at the memory.

Since when is it a “problem of perception” when many people in nearly a dozen different Oregon counties report the same ailments and the same fear of the sound of the helicopter appearing unannounced? Is it a “perception problem” when a rural family’s budget is blown because they have to drive to town to buy bottled water, instead of drinking from their own spring or stream–for which they have water rights?

Lily Hansen and her daughter

Lily Hansen and her daughter

It’s been twenty years since federal forest practices eliminated aerial spraying of defoliants (herbicides) on national forests. It’s been many decades since Washington and California required reasonable no-spray buffer zones around all streams, homes and protected ground water. It’s been three decades since some local Oregon companies have run sustainable, economically viable and responsibly operated forests reducing reliance on herbicide spray.

Nonetheless, corporate lobbyists insist that it is okay to spray in coastal mountains where rural communities and the best salmon habitat are found. What is their reason for defending outdated state forestry laws? It must be their fear that if Oregon adopts the same best management requirements as other states, the timber industry won’t be able to use Oregon as their “demonstration project” to defend the last of the archaic chemical use statutes.

Kathryn Rickard, a Cedar Valley resident

Kathryn Rickard

Kathryn Rickard, a Cedar Valley resident whose family suffers ongoing medical problems since being sprayed in 2013, spoke to bill sponsor Senator Dembrow by phone today, and told him, “After the way state agencies treated my community during their pesticide investigation, I lost faith and trust in my government. This bill restores my faith by showing me that legislative leaders want what is right for the people of Oregon.”

I think that Kathryn expresses the hope that Oregonians are beginning to feel when they learn about the goal of SB 613. This bill champions normal, sensible public health actions that people in other states are entitled to: timely notification prior to an aerial spray, accuracy in reporting pesticide use, a protective buffer around homes and schools, and a new role for the Oregon Health Authority to assist in cases of pesticide exposure. None of this is extreme. All of it is necessary to ensure the simple human right to Public Health and Drinking Water Protection.

~Lisa Arkin, Executive Director