The economics of exporting coal through Oregon

Each coal train spews 1 pound of dust per mile travelled!The Port of Coos Bay is planning to build a terminal to export coal delivered via rail by trains that would snake through the Columbia Gorge and Willamette Valley before switching tracks at Eugene onto the Coos Bay Rail Link. Many other communities in the Northwest are threatened with severe health hazards (coal dust leaks and diesel fumes from the increase in train traffic) as coal gets transported through communities in Oregon and Washington by rail, barge, or shipped through the Columbia River Gorge, Portland and towns north.

In today’s world of experts, economists and politicians who intone with somber faces, ‘don’t worry about the risks, we know what’s best for you,’ I have a tendency to lead my arguments for environmental sanity with the infallible “common sense” of economics. Health concerns are always vitally important to me, of course! And frankly, how can we really expect (as the bumper stickers so bluntly summarize) to have jobs on a dead planet? But we don’t usually have to go there when we lead with economic issues. Invariably when I look at the economics of a proposal, it’s not long before the benefit to the very narrow interest of one or more industry–at the expense of the public interest–becomes plain as day. But that does not stop those narrow interests from raising the fear that if we don’t do exactly as they advise the economy will collapse even further and faster than it already has. If we can beat back polluting development proposals that do not meet the public’s best interest using their own measures of value: the dollar and jobs creation, it seems like the easiest path to success.

And so it is, we can all anticipate, with the issue of the endless parade of coal trains slated to rumble through Eugene’s rail yards on their way to Coos Bay for export to supposedly coal-hungry Asian destinations.

OK, so let’s start with economics, shall we?

A report from the Sightline Institute from August of last year shows the West Coast has been down this road before–and not with pretty results. It turns out there is a very significant cost to develop land for coal export. Costs that include severe poisoning of land and water that cannot be easily cleaned up or transformed to other uses should the world wake up to the fact that maybe burning the planet up with C02 is not such a good idea. (I’m really counting on this realization very soon!) And for how many potential jobs? The Sightline report clearly documents that based on our past experience: not many at all.

But if we leave it there, the whole story cannot completely unfold. As with any business decision, it always helps to ask, how else could property be developed to create jobs? In other words, what other developments could provide MORE jobs for a given job creation investment? Isn’t that the kind of common sense we should be applying to development—besides considering the cancer and asthma risks?

The answer from the report is rather sobering: A study at the Port of Baltimore, for example, found that “coal export supports just 0.11 jobs per 1,000 metric tons, as compared to 0.41 for other dry bulk commodities, 0.43 jobs for containerized cargo, and even 1.71 jobs for autos.”

So what happened with past plans for West Coast port projects to export coal? The Sightline report summarizes several past developments that did not consider carefully the use of taxpayer money in sound long-term investment in a stable commodity. The efforts of the Port of Portland in the 80s and the Port of Los Angeles in the 90s are both portraits of broken promises and complete failure. If you add in the very real risks to global climate change represented by the continued use of coal as an energy source, it seems clear that investing in a new infrastructure to ship coal oversees is a wild-eyed gamble not worthy of serious consideration.

In reviewing past port coal development failures in Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles the report concluded that, “The abandoned coal export facilities locked up millions of dollars in stranded investments and clean‐up expenses, not to mention years‐long missed opportunities for more durable economic development choices.” That’s not encouraging. Sadly, when a city or county considers new development, it rarely considers what happens if and when the market for that commodity or product dries up. With coal, the dirtiest fuel on the planet, the consequences are severe and costly!

John Jordan-Cascade,
Communications Manager for Beyond Toxics

See the Beyond Toxics Stopping Coal in Oregon home page for resources and more background on the issue.

Next week: more sobering news about the costs to human health from exporting coal.

See shocking raw footage of a coal train in transit (YouTube) and the trail of coal dust it leaves behind!

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A Day of Protecting our Local Watershed

I was amazed that when I woke up this morning, my back and shoulders weren’t very sore, just my forearms. That was after a full day of watershed restoration work near Fish Creek, one of the salmon habitat streams in the Siuslaw Watershed in Western Lane County.

A few of the 17 volunteers who stepped forward: 5 employees of Mountain Rose Herbs, 10 residents of the community and 2 volunteers from Beyond Toxics, including Carlos Barrera (far right).

I had spent the day – with sixteen other dedicated folks – pulling and bagging invasive weeds because we want to keep our watersheds pesticide free. Ten were residents from Triangle Lake who care deeply about the health of the people in their community; five were from our fabulous supporter and business partner Mountain Rose Herbs and two from Eugene (including me)!

Did you know that Oregon’s state and local governments sprays thousands of gallons of fish-killing pesticides along every highway and byway? This old pesticide-dependent paradigm is supposed to make a “vegetation free zone.” Imagine the hundreds of thousands of miles of the public’s right-of-way poisoned throughout the spring, summer and early fall, year after year! Everything underneath the spray nozzle of the pesticide truck becomes blackened vegetation and dead soils, a place that is only hospitable to more invasive weeds. The invasives grow back quickly and continue to spread, which creates a never-ending cycle of counterproductive practices and bad outcomes. The new paradigm involves removing only the invasive vegetation – mechanically with mowers and cutters and by hand.

No Spray Zones encourage beautiful, beneficial plants to flourish.

These are No Spray zones. Our public right-of-way is kept pesticide-free and the good vegetation is encouraged to grow. Yesterday, I saw wild daisies, native grasses, lupine, Oregon grape and many other beneficial plants. These beautiful plants are needed for several reasons: as animal habitat, to crowd out any invasive weeds and to filter the pollution coming off roadways.

There are three No Spray model projects in our State, all supported by Beyond Toxics. In Lane County, we have the No Spray project on Highway 36 in the Triangle Lake valley. In Lincoln County, our friends Concerned Citizens for Clean Air maintain 25 miles of Highway 101 without the use of pesticides. Our supporters in Williams, Josephine County hold the annual Williams Mow Day, keeping pesticides out of the Williams River, which feeds into the Wild Illinois.

Your community could also start a No Spray project to protect your local streams and rivers! It only takes a couple of days per year, but the results are impressive. Check out the pictures (above) of what a No Spray scenic corridor looks (left) like compared to the Pesticide Poisoned zones (right). Let’s move Oregon away from the killing paradigm to an exemplary life-supporting model for the nation!

Perhaps you live near one of Oregon’s county and state roads that have been built in scenic corridors, like the Siuslaw River, McKenzie River, the Santiam River, the Pudding or the Rogue River. Beyond Toxics can support you if you’d like to start a No Spray model project in your community! Just give us a call (541-465-8860) or email us! Together we can keep pesticide poisons from seeping into our precious watersheds, the source of our drinking water and the habitat for Oregon’s native fish.

Shade cloth laid near Horton Road as part of a pilot project to control a dense patch of noxious weeds.

If you are a business owner, you can help sponsor these projects by assembling employee work parties and making a donation to cover the cost of supplies. Horton Road Organics farm, for example, sponsored the shade cloth (see photo above) that we are using to kill invasive weeds on Highway 36 near Horton Road!

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director

Bees and Our Future

Photo by Jim Drivas, neighbor and Healthy Bees supporter

Bees are really cool. I have two different bee families happily buzzing and sipping nectar in my backyard. One was a real surprise! I had put out a beautiful bird house that I bought from a vendor at Saturday Market. Instead of a family of finches, I attracted a batch of bumble bees. I see them going in and out of the opening into which they stuffed bits of fluff and string to give themselves privacy!

My second bee family is humming along in a traditional bee box hive. Like the bumble bee crew, the honey bees were gifted a cheerfully painted box from my neighbor Linda, an artist who usually paints furniture and flower boxes. Her bee hive design is wonderful!

I love knowing that my bees are visiting the flowers and vegetables of my neighbors as far away as a few miles, helping to make food grow and bring native plants to life.

I am able to host the bee hive because I have pledged to be pesticide-free, and all the neighbors on my block have taken the same pledge. Nearby Washington Park is also a No-Spray zone, which the Friendly Area Neighbors work hard to maintain without the use of harmful chemicals in partnership with the City of Eugene. Local beekeepers Jen and Doug Hornaday are introducing bee hives and doing the actual beekeeping for residents like me who pledge to make our neighborhoods safe for bees (and kids)! I really want to thank Jen and Doug for helping learn how awesome bees are and helping me host a hive in my backyard.

Bees. Gardens. Food. Health. The Future.

These five things are all related, and intimately so. As the bee goes, so do we. Seventy-five percent of all the flowering plants in North America needs pollination from an insect or bird; bees are the most prodigious pollinator of them all! According to The Daily Green news, a recent National Academy of Sciences report documented a crisis among honey bees and native bumblebees. European studies have documented similar declines in pollinators there. It is a global phenomenon related to the use of pesticides (and other related practices).

If bees disappeared from North America, or from the earth for that matter, a chain of events would be set in motion leading to plant extinctions, crop failures, and eventually famine.

We can make sure this doesn’t happen in our cities, our counties and Oregon! It is so easy to take action that has meaningful and long-lasting results. All you have to do is take the Honey Bee Friend pledge and become a messenger for the sake of the bees in your immediate block. Tell your neighbors how they can pledge, too! And you can help us help the Hornadays build hive boxes and nurture bees throughout our community by becoming one of 1000 Save Oregon’s Bees. We would appreciate your donation of $10 (or more) toward this worthy cause! (from the “Program Designation” option near the top of the page, simply choose the 1000 Save Oregon’s Bees by clicking on the down arrow). We need and very much appreciate your support for this project!

I’ll let you know when the honey is ripe and I have a garden party to celebrate.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director

Taking Responsibility for Justice

Eugene, nationally recognized as a bike city, a community near nature and a place where we value sustainability, would not normally attract attention around environmental human rights and justice issues. Which is why for one day, Beyond Toxics and Centro LatinoAmericano invited city and agency officials, students and community leaders on an environmental justice bus tour to West Eugene where we got the opportunity to see how families live through the lens of “environmental justice”.

To achieve justice, we need to help major decision makers in our community face some of the injustices that unfortunately exists so uncomfortably close to home. To achieve justice, we need to challenge the current structures in place so that other people and certain communities also gain access to political attention and social resources that may not normally be readily available.  Unveiling the hidden discomforts that exists in our society, forces both believers and nonbelievers of environmental injustices to take a second look and determine the action needed.

The truth is that communities, specifically low-income communities, live in areas that are in critical need of public health improvements due to their disproportionate exposures to toxics such as polluted air and contaminated ground water. If we don’t watch out for the health of our children AND acknowledge that communities are disproportionately affected by poverty, then who will? Let us continue to move forward and not resign ourselves to stagnancy and a calcified system- regardless of the privileges you have access to.

As Winona LaDuke put it, “Take responsibility for history. Recognize that sometimes things take a long time to change.” So, what is the lesson for us in Eugene? Don’t be weary of fighting for what is just in Eugene. You never know how many lives you may save or change by your actions in the long run.

As if a wall of chemical gas is enveloping us…

When we take our children to the playground, the smell of
chemicals overwhelms us. We can’t stay outside.
It’s awful … as if a wall of chemical gas 
is enveloping us.

This is how one young mother described what it is like to live across the street from a chemical company in West Eugene. She spoke to over 75 people who attended Beyond Toxics’ Environmental Justice Bus Tour (the first-ever in Oregon). They met her in Lark City Park in Bethel where she takes her children to play.

Last week, Beyond Toxics hosted dozens of people who boarded two school buses and journeyed out (see the map of the route the bus tour took) to visit several key toxic hot spots, like Lark City Park, where air and ground water pollution harms Eugene families every day.

Travelers included:

  • Mayor Kitty Piercy,
  • City Councilors Andrea Ortiz and George Brown, and Lane County Commissioner Rob Handy
  • Bethel School District Superintendent Colt Gill and members of their staff,
  • Many local organizations
  • Staff from city, county and state agencies and the EPA,
  • UO students and equal numbers of West Eugene residents.

Bus travelers gathered at Lark Park to hear residents testify to everyday exposure to dangerous toxic chemicals.

You might ask me, what was the purpose of our Environmental Justice Bus Tour? Beyond Toxics set out to demonstrate that we need a set of air toxics solutions based on a notion of justice, and not just a weak regulatory system. We did this with both facts and with the voices of vulnerable residents. I am proud that we were able to show that Eugene does have an Environmental Justice community because we don’t talk about this much in the public discourse. These residents are not able to enjoy their equal right to clean air and water and receive special consideration for children and pregnant women who are most at risk for harm.

I felt one thing that became very clear during the bus tour is that Eugene is actually two different communities, two different worlds of experience. Many people on the bus had never seen the row of air and water polluters along Roosevelt Avenue (hidden behind trees and frontage buildings); and they had never considered what it must be like to raise a family less than one block from some of the nation’s most notorious polluters (e.g., JH Baxters). In fact, link to this NPR Report on worst polluters and see what it is like in Eugene!

When we drove our bus north on NW Expressway, I described the scenario of coal trains entering Eugene’s rail yard to park and switch tracks – the length of one train would take up nearly the stretch of road hugging the west side of the River Road neighborhood. If coal trains are allowed to come to Eugene, there will be coal dust over gardens, on cars, coming in windows, and choking the lungs of very child in Trainsong and River Road neighborhood.

I was also struck by the look of realization on the faces of the travelers as we drove down Prairie Road and Highway 99, while adding up the cumulative exposures to some very dangerous air toxics. We learned that 99% of all the air toxics in Eugene are located in the Bethel 97402 zip code area – according to the Eugene Toxics Reporting system, about 500,000 pounds of airborne chemicals every year.

I saw the look of panic on some faces when we did an exercise (right there on the bus) showing how it feels to have an asthma attack. Some of the people on my bus said it felt like they were drowning from lack of air. I hope the data and the experience got people thinking –is it time to factor the intensity of daily exposures to these asthma triggers into a public health plan?

Beyond Toxics pointed out that Envision Eugene, the plan to expand Eugene city limits, recommends building new homes, schools and parks across the street from creosote factories, biomass plants, chemical manufacturers and sawmills (a distance of about ¼ to ¾ mile). I hope that people thought about the need to pay more attention to siting homes and schools near heavy industrial sites.

There will always be debates about the costs of protecting health versus the costs of doing business. An Environmental Justice bus tour attempts to get us past these arguments.

Our Environmental Justice Bus Tour overcame doubts and arguments by using both local data and the voices of local residents to expose the underbelly of Eugene’s toxic Industrial Corridor. We are calling on our City to hear the voices of the disenfranchised residents –Spanish and English alike. We need to put those voices at the forefront of decision-making processes on land use, air protection and public health.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director, Beyond Toxics


Mourning the Results of the Government’s Conclusions on the Highway 36 Pesticide Study

This bag of Atrazine was found dumped in a stream in the Highway 36 area. Atrazine was one of the forestry herbicides that was found in the urine of local residents.

I wish all of you reading this blog here were sitting with me as I write. Together we would mourn this week’s release of the report, Exposure Investigation: Biological Monitoring for Exposure to Herbicides in the Highway 36 Corridor. The report contains vague statistics about ways the government can “normalize” pesticide detections in our bodies.

I shake my head in disbelief at their murky conclusions. The report’s attempt to diffuse accountability and transparency help us understand how rural Oregonians, recently speaking at our rallies in Lane and Josephine counties (Chemical Trespass: Voices of the People) feel. Over 130 stood up to lament and protest against the wrongness and inhumanity of pesticide sprays by large industrial interests. We have to keep it up, get out and rally, sign petitions and take grassroots action!

I had to do my own math to realize that the investigation found the pesticide 2,4-D in the urine of 92% of local residents! I guess the investigation team was afraid to actually spell that out. The report also found 2,4-D in the urine of two children under the age of 6, but dismissed the significance of that by assuring us that at least it was “below the group mean” (note: they didn’t disclose how far below the mean). I’ll bet their parents are not reassured at all.

The last sentence in the report’s conclusion states “Despite an apparent greater exposure than the US population, these data indicate that, at the time of testing, the participants were not exposed to 2,4-D at levels expected to cause adverse health effects.” Again, the investigators neglected to tell us the full truth – that the agency did find that levels of 2,4-D, even in the absence of active spraying, were above what was expected based on nationwide statistics!

Compare the conclusion of this report – our government’s responses to chemical poisoning from forestry pesticide exposures – to a recent court ruling and pesticide policy transformation in France. A few weeks ago, a French court ruled in favor of a grain farmer who was harmed by an herbicide and found chemical manufacturing giant Monsanto guilty of “chemical poisoning.” The farmer reported experiencing neurological harm including memory loss, headaches and stammering. Now the Court is requiring Monsanto to pay monetary damages for harming the farmer.

What’s more, the government of France is taking the issue of protecting the public’s health seriously: As the largest agricultural producer in the European Union, the country has pledged to cut pesticide use by 50 percent before 2018. This includes private farming and forestry.

Oregon’s response is a far cry from France’s wake-up call on pesticides and health. People exposed to chemical trespass in Oregon are told they are just “complainers.” Our state agencies treat Oregonians who file pesticide complaints with dismissiveness and disdain. Beyond Toxics has been trying for 4 months to get an appointment with the Governor’s Natural Resource advisor staff, and there hasn’t yet been a single answer to our many polite phone calls and email messages.

I believe that there are some underlying moral and scientific failings that have our state agencies running in the opposite direction of true public health protections.

1. Our society tends to doubt and dismiss women and women’s health problems. Many women in the Highway 36 Pesticide Investigation area have told authorities that, after a forestry spray they have had menstrual problems. I take offense that this Investigation tried to predict what a lifetime of chronic low level exposures might do to the hormonal systems of young girls and women of childbearing age by concluding that their exposure is “not expected to cause adverse health effects.” Case in point: in a presentation at the recent Environmental Law Conference at the UO, Dr. Hayes of UC Berkeley reported that exposures to forestry herbicide atrazine resulted in visible deformation of female breast tissue in laboratory experiments, changes associated with the onset of breast cancer. These cellular changes were found when atrazine levels were similar to those found in the Highway 36 folks.

2. The study said very little to nothing about what health problems people in the study have experienced. The study focused on amorphous statistics and never reported on the actual health problems. This de-humanizes those who agreed to be tested and ignore a history of cancer and other ailments reported by residents. Some people had illnesses just like the French farmer experienced.

3. The investigators made no mention of whether the 6 participants with statistically high levels of 2,4-D in their urine analysis are children, women, men and said nothing about their ages and occupations. Being reduced to mere statistics, we are less likely to think of these people as our neighbors who have a moral and medical right not to be subjected to chemical trespass from industrial forestry activities.

How dare the Oregon Health Authority claim that 2,4-D in the bodies of children “aren’t expected to have adverse health effects.” Why isn’t our government using the precautionary principle to keep our children safe?

If it is a constitutional right to be guaranteed safety of person and private property, why can’t we get a single government official to stand up for justice? If the entire country of France can acknowledge the importance of protecting people from chemical trespass by pledging to reduce pesticides and ban the worst of them, why hasn’t our Governor and our legislators said, by golly, so can Oregon!?

We are your David in a world of Goliaths!

A recent report* published in the national news has bad news for the viability of grassroots environmental groups. The study showed that large national NGOs get far and away the biggest funding for environmental causes, and yet it is the small grassroots groups that carry out the most effective and lasting change! The study reminded me of many examples from history: from women’s suffrage to the Arab Spring. Grassroots groups like Beyond Toxics get an itty-bitty, tiny share of the donations that fund environmental protection, yet it is smaller groups that carry out the lion’s share of the work to make significant changes in the quality of life we’re all striving for.

Feisty. Tenacious. Grassroots. We are your David in a world of Goliaths!

These are words our members have used to describe us. I offer proof that we are living up to that reputation! In the span of just 9 days, Beyond Toxics has made its mark in towns across the state: in Portland, Salem, Triangle Lake, Selma and Eugene!

  • On February 6, we met with Lane County Health officials to discuss a ban on children’s products laced with BPA along with our local partner Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth.
  • On February 8, I was interviewed on Jefferson Public Radio, reaching thousands of people about pesticides and rampant chemical trespass.
  • On February 10, staff member Alison Guzman and I gave a report to a room full of health care professionals at the 4th Annual NW Environmental Health Conference at Portland State University. We spoke about children’s health and environmental justice in West Eugene and the toxics in their air that contributes to asthma. This is exactly the kind of topic that doctors and nurses need to hear about.
  • On February 11, Beyond Toxics co-sponsored two large and energetic rallies to protest the chemical trespass that comes from aerial pesticide spraying of forests in Josephine County and Lane County.
  • Four days later on February 15, I testified in front of the Oregon Transportation Commission on the results of our Highway Spray report, Environmental Impact Quotients of Highway Spray. My testimony, highlighting the dousing of our highways in pesticides, was a key part of the message of the Pesticide Panel, a panel we advocated to convene.

This means your support has guaranteed our hard-won victories.

L to R: Lisa Arkin, John Jordan-Cascade, Alison Guzman

What will we do next to continue to demonstrate to you, our supporters, that we are keeping our promise to be all the things you admire about us: feisty, tenacious and grassroots-based?

1. We are linking up with others to stop coal trains from rumbling through Eugene and the Willamette Valley. These mile-long trains, if allowed to pass through our communities, will pollute a pound of “black lung” coal dust, per car, per mile!

2. We are mapping how air toxics hot spots harms the families who live in impacted neighborhoods with an incredible ARC GIS project. We’ll shine a light on the problem of cumulative air pollution exposures.

3. We are planning a protest on the State Capitol steps to draw the Governor’s attention to the issue of aerial pesticide spray drift.

So, the bottom line is simple: never underestimate the power of the small, local, grassroots group! When it comes to change, think small. It’s the best investment you can make.

*The report, “Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders,” is at

Asthma Awareness Workshop – This Friday!

What’s in the air we breathe, both indoors and outdoors?

Join us: Friday, February 24th, 2012!

Beyond Toxics and Centro LatinoAmericano present a FREE Bilingual Workshop on controlling asthma and green cleaning alternatives for a healthier life!

Come and learn what you can do to make your home healthy for you and your family!
Tips on:

  • Green Cleaning,
  • Controlling asthma and allergies
  • General good health practices

WHEN: Friday, February 24th / 4:30 – 6:00pm

American Red Cross
862 Bethel Drive, Eugene, OR 9740

For more information, please contact:
Roxanne or Alison at Beyond Toxics: 541.465.8860 or at Centro: 541.687.266

Every participant will receive a FREE Eco-Cleaning kit, sponsored by Coastwide Laboratories.

Tribal Elders and Rally Speakers To Our Dr. Governor – Protect Us from Pesticide Drift!

A nearby neighbor who has a house on the shores of Triangle Lake heard the loudspeaker from the Chemical Witness Rally, and wandered over to see what was going on. What she found was an open microphone at the lakeshore park, a place and time for people to speak to their personal experience about being harmed by pesticides. She said she knew nothing about the growing movement to stop aerial pesticide sprays on the forestlands of her own community, nevertheless she stepped up to the microphone.

What this neighbor said was poignant. To paraphrase: At some point in my life, I became highly sensitive to scents, chemicals, and many common air pollutants. My employer had to create a “bubble-like” environment for me, just so that I could function at work. It is torture to live with these severe reactions to chemicals. I can really appreciate and support what you folks are talking about today. Exposures like this make so many people ill.

The energy of water and sun sparkled down on the twin-planned events at Triangle Lake and Lake Selmac. Over 140 people gathered from many different communities to give witness to an unacceptable situation – pesticides sprayed from helicopters all over Oregon’s beautiful coastal mountain range. Vapors get carried onto private property by wind currents, fog and droplet drift. Rural communities want protection from the state government.

Three national news stories recently did large stories on the problem of pesticide drift in Oregon from forestry pesticide sprays. See these articles and interviews MSNBC Jefferson Public Radio

I was deeply moved by the heartfelt testimony. To frame the notion of chemical witnessing, both rallies started with an invocation from two prominent tribal elders – Grandma Agnes Pilgrim, one of the original Takilma elders of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, and Esther Stutzman, a highly regarded Kalapuya and Coos Elder. The two women represented tribes who have fished, hunted, gathered and sustained their traditions through their long-standing and profoundly deep connection with the land. Esther Stutzman reminded us that the members of her tribe have seen the harm caused by pesticides to the native salmon. She told how native women can no longer gather plants and materials from the land to make baskets because of the poisons. Esther spoke strongly: this is the right time to bring our shared concerns to action, to stop the poisoning of the land and the people.

Audrey Moore, the leader of Precious Dirt in Selma, reflected on the electrifying gathering on the shores of Lake Selmac: “So many willing and wanting to share their stories, each unique and yet the same, all knowing this insanity must end, and that we now demand our Human Rights. We expect as much from our Governor, and our State.”


Exposures to Air Pollution in Medford, Oregon

Executive Director Lisa Arkin and I made the three hour drive to Medford, Oregon to give an Asthma Care Workshop. A long trip for us, but well worth it. Last summer, UNETE, a farmworkers’ advocacy organization, invited us to collaborate with them in doing a workshop (see our pictures from the workshop) for the people they serve. Perfect, we thought, since they work a lot with timber and agricultural farmworkers and therefore are heavily exposed to herbicides and pesticides. In fact, many of the participants who attended may have worked for the local herbicide manufacture or timber companies. UNETE provides support to Latinos in the Medford community, including education, legal support, labor rights, etc. In fact, UNETE is the only Latino-led non-profit in the Rogue Valley.

As I gave my Asthma presentation, I saw the participants’ facial expressions change when I mentioned a startling statistic. According to a recent USA Today Report, some schools in Medford ranked in the 2nd percentile in the Nation for poor air quality. Rankings are based on modeled concentration and severity of chemicals known or believed to cause cancer. According to the report, this ranking means that there is a “greater likelihood that toxic chemicals could be present at levels that could threaten children’s health.” For example, if you see a school whose overall toxicity shows up in the second percentile, you’ll know only 1% of the nation’s schools had higher toxicity levels.

I could see expressions of concern, curiosity, disbelief, and concern, cross the faces of the people who came to listen. In the midst of delivering the bad news, I knew I was doing my part by empowering citizens to take action in their own lives to improve the air they breathe. In doing so, individuals end up feeling better about their lives and the health of their families.

Though our presentation was billed as an “Asthma Care Workshop”, much of the information shared could have easily applied to anyone. The people who came had a lot of great questions: Do pesticides cause cancer? How will I know if my husband has asthma if I’ve never taken him to the doctor? Why are children more affected by air toxics than adults?  I later found out that most of these parents had children with disabilities. ‘No wonder they looked so worried,’ I thought. Yet, the feeling of empowerment and content was spread throughout as they learned about tips, guidelines, and tools to reduce their families’ exposures to indoor and outdoor air toxics.

Exposures to air toxins can lead to general respiratory illnesses and/or discomforts. In Medford’s Crossroads School alone, for example, at 97% of overall toxicity, the top polluting chemical is formaldehyde.  As the report indicates, “this is the overall toxicity measure, but includes only those chemicals known or thought to cause cancer.” Not only cancer, but also asthma.

Have you heard that saying, “Knowledge is power”? Well, this was especially true in this case. UNETE and Beyond Toxics are looking forward to tackling environmental health issues together for these and other concerned parents.

But I’ll save those details for my next blog…