Ask city for change to prevent more Baxter-like pollution issues now facing west Eugene

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(this article was originally published as an opinion editorial in the May 15th edition of the Eugene Register-Guard)

 

For over 50 years, J.H. Baxter operated a wood treatment facility in West Eugene where wood products are infused with potent oil-based pesticides and chemical treatments. In recent months, J.H. Baxter, facing large civil penalties and an expensive environmental clean-up, announced that they would “mothball” their facility. The owners claimed they were faced with “market volatility” and “diminished returns” and concluded that “it simply doesn’t make financial sense to continue current operations at [their] Eugene facility.” Apparently, JH Baxter’s choice of operational methods, which never made moral or legal sense, is no longer financially sensible.

Celebrations from environmental justice advocates and neighborhood residents are justified. However, the decades of pollution violations, unpaid civil penalties, and unaddressed contamination caused by poorly regulated wastewater and harmful toxic air emissions mean that closed doors may be as much an act of evasion as an act of surrender.

Environmental sampling in the wake of yet another string of investigations has shown there are significant quantities of PCP leaching out from under the facility into surface and ground water and dioxin wafting out and settling in the surrounding neighborhood.

Dioxin, a toxic and persistent organic pollutant (POP) and a component of the biological-chemical weapon ‘Agent Orange’ is now a fixture of West Eugene’s public spaces, a glaring harm to properties, and substantial risk to residents. Per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): “Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones.”

A Community Effort for Change

Beyond Toxics and thousands of residents of West Eugene have raised the alarm on J.H. Baxter’s pollution for decades, citing noxious smells, illness, discomfort, and respiratory issues among other adverse health effects, including incidence of rare childhood cancer. J.H. Baxter has been cited with over twenty pollution violations in the last 30 years.

Despite laws and environmental protections codified to protect ‘public health and welfare,’ poison on the playground and pollution off the porch have repeatedly threatened residents of West Eugene. Today, nearly 40 Bethel residents wait to find out if their property is marked unsafe for children, unsafe to grow food, unfit for typical use.

Today’s antiquated laws, as codified, allow our state and federal government to permit harm and, functionally, designate sacrifice zones. And unfortunately, absent an injunction from a court or cease-and-desist order from either the DEQ or from the governor, these violations and cited penalties end nothing—to a company like JH Baxter, it’s just a cost of doing business.

Our communities and our regulatory agencies lack the legal tools necessary to hold chronic polluters like JH Baxter accountable to environmental regulations and fiscal responsibilities. A serious reconsideration of our planning, land use, and environmental protections is long overdue.

Proposed Changes In The Works

Beyond Toxics is proposing a series of impactful changes to Eugene’s local government. Top on our list 1) Restructure Land Use Compatibility Statements (LUCS) (a process involved with granting conditional use permits for development); 2) Codify a Public Health Overlay Zone (a new ordinance layering additional protections related to public health and equity to existing zoning regulations); 3) Create a Risk Bond requirement (a bond the polluter most hold to insure against significant risks of environmental and public harm posed by a new development or land use).

Since the inception of Beyond Toxics, we’ve been dedicated to addressing the root causes of toxic pollution. By working to dismantle entrenched and unfair legal loopholes and “perks” for polluters that allow unabated contamination with no accountability we will go a long way in the fight against these root causes. A vital part of that work includes updating land use laws and strengthening environmental regulations. Accomplishing these goals will provide lasting protections for all communities, in perpetuity.

~ Peter Jensen, Environmental Justice Law and Policy Extern and Lisa Arkin, Executive Director

 


City of Eugene Work Sessions

1) Addressing Chronic Toxic Polluters Work Session: Monday May 23 at 5:30 pm
MORE: https://www.eugene-or.gov/DocumentCenter/View/5448/Tentative-Working-Agenda

TAKE ACTION
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https://www.eugene-or.gov/3360/Webcasts-and-Meeting-Materials

See the "Live Sessions" section on that page to access live webcasts of City Council, Budget Committee or Planning Commission.  The button for meeting that is currently live will be highlighted. Live sessions and recordings of previous meetings can also be accessed via our City of Eugene Public Meetings YouTube channel.

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Beyond Toxics Endorses Freedom from Aerial Herbicides Bill of Rights

At its August 28th meeting, Beyond Toxics’ Board of Directors voted to endorse the Freedom from Aerial Herbicides Alliance’s charter amendment to ban the aerial spraying of herbicides in Lane County.

Oregon lawmakers and state agencies have shown an entrenched resistance to address the problem of toxic exposure to aerial spray drift. The two local charter amendments in Lincoln and Lane counties to ban spray now appear necessary to protect Oregon’s people, wildlife and waters.

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

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

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

As a result of an Register-Guard guest editorial last month, I sparked a firestorm of controversy proposing something simple and obvious: we should speak up if our government tries to convince the public not to worry about finding dangerous pesticides in the bodies of children who live in rural Oregon.

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The Human Tongue As An Air Monitoring Station

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

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Has the government sprayed poisons on your route home today?

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

That is the question Beyond Toxics put to the Director of Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) yesterday in a one-on-one meeting.

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

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

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Contact

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