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)

Oregon agencies cite multiple pesticide violations and levy fines against helicopter company in a worker whistleblower case

Highly toxics pesticides should not be sprayed on workers, but the Oregon Department of Agriculture concluded that is what Oregon-based Applebee Aviation did to its employees. On September 30, the Department, which is responsible for regulating state and federal pesticide laws, issued a citation revoking the Applebee’s operating license in the state of Oregon and levying a fine of $1100.

The same day, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (OR-OSHA) cited Applebee Aviation for 12 serious violations of worker safety and protection laws and fined the company $8,850.

Herbicides leak out of an Applebee truck in Douglas County. Photo by Darryl Ivy.

Herbicides leak out of an Applebee truck in Douglas County. Photo by Darryl Ivy.

We should also hear from the Oregon Department of Transportation. Applebee Aviation is accused of leaking very hazardous, restricted-use herbicides, such as atrazine, on public roads and in public parking lots. How would you like to park your car and step out onto pavement where an Applebee truck had just leaked atrazine?

The crackdown came after Darryl Ivy, who worked as an Applebee Aviation hazardous materials truck driver, became a whistle blower reporting on dangerous and unsafe practices he witnesses during numerous aerial spray operations. Ivy recorded videos of the illegal activities on his cell phone before he went to an emergency room for treatment of illness due to pesticide exposure.

“I had sores and rashes, was spitting up blood and felt very sick after three weeks on the job,” said Ivy. “I’ve worked in a lot of dangerous occupations before, but had never seen such careless treatment of workers and poor work practices that put all of us, nearby communities and the environment at risk of pesticide contamination.”

“I felt it was my duty to report what I witnessed to the authorities,” said Ivy. “The results of their investigation proves that Applebee’s pesticide practices are illegal.”

Darryl learned about the work of Beyond Toxics after attending our town hall meeting in Roseburg, “Forestry Herbicides and Health.” He attended the event because he was instructed to do so by his employers. Many of the one hundred attendees were employees of Seneca and Applebee Aviation.

Helicopter spraying pesticide over Darryl Ivy’s truck as he sought refuge inside the cab.

Helicopter spraying pesticide over Darryl Ivy’s truck as he sought refuge inside the cab. Photo by Darryl Ivy

As part of their investigation of the Darryl Ivy case, OR-OSHA cited other cases where Applebee had not properly reported accidents, deaths and injuries of workers. As recently as September 2015, an Applebee Aviation chemical delivery truck crashed and spilled 500 gallons of water mixed with glyphosate as well as jet fuel just off Highway 199 in California near the Smith River. Ivy had previously reported to authorities that Applebee did not properly maintain the brakes and pesticide tank seals on their trucks. He gave the state agencies photographs of pesticide batch trucks with leaking seals and streams of pesticides dripping down the sides of the tanks. You can view three of Darryl’s photos here.

The response from two state agencies comes on the heels of a weighty discussion at the Oregon Legislature after hearing dozens of complaints about poisoning from aerial pesticide sprays.  Helicopter companies like Applebee Aviation spray tank mixes of herbicides on thousands of acres of Oregon forests.  Beyond Toxics worked with legislators during the 2015 session to pass HB 3549, a bill to help address a long history of public complaints about getting sick from aerial pesticide sprays.

Although new laws were passed to establish no-spray buffer zones around homes and schools and set stiffer fines for pesticide violations, legislators barely scratched the surface of the problem. Darryl Ivy’s case is another striking example of the highly hazardous practice of aerial pesticide spraying hurting workers as well as nearby residents.

Residents in at least eleven Oregon counties have come forward to report being sickened from aerial spraying of industrial timberlands. Symptoms include nausea, rashes, diarrhea, headaches, asthma, bleeding noses and eye damage.

The state agencies cited numerous violations, including:
• not training workers how to handle hazardous pesticides;
• not providing chemical safety data sheets;
• not providing protective gear to prevent chemicals from splashing into eyes and onto skin;
• not conducting monthly inspections of equipment and vehicles;
• neglecting worksite safety and not caring out required worker safety inspections;
• having workers wash their pesticide-contaminated clothes in public laundry facilities without proper precautions to prevent contaminating other people’s clothing.

Applebee will be required to provide proof that the company has fixed more than a dozen identified problems before it can get re-licensed for business in Oregon.

This latest investigation gives the public an insider’s view of the deplorable safety standards for poisonous pesticides that occur in Oregon. State agencies know very well that these violations are common, but it took a whistleblower’s documentation to bring any inquiry and action.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

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

CedarValleyGang_w_Legislator_SalemCapitol-SQ

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