A bulldozer and garbage truck on a landfill waste site

What’s Trash Got To Do With It? Toxics!

Over the first weekend of March, I had the opportunity to attend the 2024 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, most commonly referred to as PIELC. Every year, lawyers, policy experts, and activists come from all over the United States and the world to exchange views, strategies, and projects regarding some of the most salient environmental issues currently facing society. My objective was to increase visibility around Beyond Toxics’ burgeoning work on the topic of climate and toxic impacts from landfills. To accomplish this, I reached out to our partners, the Valley Neighbors for Environmental Quality and Safety, to organize a panel.

Joel Geier, an hydrogeologist who works internationally, and Mark Yeager, a water quality policy expert, agreed to help. Together we presented "Landfills: the good, bad, ugly, and the alternatives" to a packed audience. Our panel covered the climate impacts of methane produced by landfills, long term liabilities to host communities, and the effects of leachate on ground and surface water. Leachate is the toxic stew produced by water percolating through garbage and picking up chemicals, heavy metals, microplastics and other "forever" chemicals from waste. Leachate is collected by pipes underneath the landfill and trucked to local wastewater treatment facilities. These facilities are not capable of treating or removing many of the toxins in leachate.

During the questions portion of the panel, we heard from audience members from all over the United States who face issues similar to Beyond Toxics. We discussed struggles, strategies, and solutions with experts from Missouri, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Oregon. For me, it was both instantly gratifying and disheartening to hear so many other advocates dealing with the same issues across states. On one hand, feeling solidarity is empowering, while on the other, it’s tough to face the pervasiveness of problems resulting from landfills.

The second goal I had in attending PIELC was to learn more about toxic issues that intersect with landfills. For example, I learned that landfills are one of the largest single sources of PFAS chemicals in the environment. PFAS is a group of chemicals used to enhance waterproofing and non-stick properties in consumer products. They are nearly indestructible, earning the name “forever chemicals,” and many of them cause cancer. Testing done by local governments in Oregon show clear evidence of high concentrations of PFAS chemicals in landfill leachate. We also know PFAS chemicals end up in the Willamette river, risking the safety of recreationists, fishermen, and communities relying on the river for drinking water. Phasing out PFAS would eventually cause landfill leachate to reduce its PFAS concentration, and cause less to go in the Willamette and other rivers.

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Map of Leachate Movement in the Willamette Valley

I felt delighted to see other environmental advocates present legislative goals to phase out PFAS from cosmetics, carpets, contact lenses, and more. This proposed phase-out is commonly referred to as an “upstream solution,” when a problem is solved or mitigated at the source. Putting an end to the production of PFAS means preventing all the problems it causes later in our streams, food, and bodies.

The same process could be said for plastics. Reducing the production and consumption of single-use plastics, such as cups, to-go containers, and excessive packaging, would result in several benefits to society. One, plastics contain many toxic additives used to enhance flexibility, waterproofing, toughness, and heat resistance. These additives escape products made from plastic during use and enter food, skin, and leave residues of chemicals in the environment. Reducing the excessive use of oftentimes unnecessary single-use plastic prevents exposure to additives. In a similar manner, this would reduce the amount of plastic we burnin incinerators or dump into landfills at the end of its life cycle, both of which have dangerous implications for health and the environment. Lastly, it would dramatically reduce plastic waste in oceans, beaches, wildlife, rivers, and more.

PIELC attendees repeatedly affirmed how important each step of toxics management is–both upstream and downstream–in order to create a cleaner and safer future for everyone. While our presentation on landfills highlighted all the problems created by the disposal of consumer and industrial waste, many other panels focused on all the problems that could be solved by phasing out or reducing certain substances from production. Beyond Toxics will continue to advocate for safer management of solid waste in landfills, and we will keep supporting our allies across the state as they fight for upstream solutions.

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By Mason Leavitt,
GIS and Spatial Data Coordinator

Pump to Progress: Ending the Legacy of Gas Station Contamination

Underground petroleum contamination is a widespread problem that drains public resources and has been routinely mismanaged to the detriment of public safety and environmental integrity. The first of many steps that should be taken to address this problem is banning the construction of new gas stations.

Creating Safe Spaces: The Fight for Environmental Justice in West Eugene

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(R) Arjorie Arberry-Baribeault, West Eugene Community Organizer and her daughter, Zion (L). Photo courtesy of Collin Bell

Working as the West Eugene Community Organizer, I have heard heartbreaking stories. Residents express their fear of being the next victim of chronic illness in a polluted neighborhood, and I, too, live in constant fear of cancer. When my family moved to West Eugene, we trusted the laws to protect us, only to discover that the Bethel community has long suffered from environmental racism. Growing up in low-income black neighborhoods in Texas, I accepted the constant threat of chronic disease and related hardships as the norm.

Raising awareness in marginalized communities is crucial. Beyond Toxics bridges the gap between the city, state, and community, empowering leaders and advocating for the Public Health Overlay Zone Policy. This policy would, if implemented, create a buffer zone to protect public health by separating heavy industry from residential areas.

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J.H. Baxter creosote factory quit operations in Jan. 2022. It operated for 80 years in the midst of a West Eugene residential neighborhood.

Currently, there are no safeguards in place to prevent pollution and protect communities. The urgent need for protection extends beyond West Eugene to the entire city, state, and even worldwide. Implementing preventative measures would have spared my child from cancer and prevented countless preventable illnesses.

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Arjorie (R) with friend Laurie and her daughter Savannah in front of the shuttered J.H. Baxter creosote factory. Photo by Lisa Arkin

Our homes should be sanctuaries, but environmental racism has disrupted that tranquility. Equity is lacking as families no longer feel safe in their own yards. Our parks and schools should be safe places for children to play and grow, free from concerns about cancer or asthma. No child should have to fear being the next victim of illness.

Creating change requires raising awareness, empowering communities, and implementing protective policies. We must ensure that industry is never allowed near homes, parks, schools, and other community spaces. Let’s work together to build a world where our children look forward to positive achievements and never cower in fear of devastating sickness. Let’s strive for a world where children no longer feel the need to ask, “Am I next?

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Written by Arjorie Arberry-Baribeault,
West Eugene Community Organizer for Beyond Toxics

Victory for Clean Energy

NW Natural Withdraws its Hydrogen-Fracked Gas Blending Project in Eugene

Gas tap with pipeline system at natural gas station.

What does it really take to fight for non-polluting and equitable energy choices while calling out greenwashing and false solutions? Beyond Toxics made a decision to step forward to halt an ill-conceived energy project put forward by NW Natural, a corporation that makes its profits by promoting the sale and use of fracked methane gas. Our decision aligns with our environmental justice values, specifically supporting community health and fair treatment.

This October, Beyond Toxics joined with other organizations to intervene in a proposal by NW (Not-so-very) Natural to stop a $10 million project to build an experimental hydrogen-blending facility in West Eugene. Our intervenor status was approved by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, which would need to approve NWN’s project before any proposal could proceed.

On November 1st, mere weeks after our team intervened in NW Natural’s application, the corporation formally withdrew its application. The cancellation of the methane-hydrogen blending project in West Eugene is a clear victory for community organizing! We were able to see this experimental project for what it was - greenwashing and the continuation of climate-destabilizing fossil fuel infrastructure.

It was important we took immediate action to block NW Natural’s predatory plan to use the Bethel neighborhood for the experimental project. As climate justice advocates, we want to share the facts about why hydrogen is the wrong choice for the Bethel neighborhood, and for Oregon!

The project objective was to send methane-hydrogen blended fuel into 2,273 residences in the Bethel neighborhood in West Eugene, a working class neighborhood. However, Bethel residents weren’t given a choice to opt-out, which meant the project was being forced on unsuspecting residents. As one Eugene elected official told me, “Here in Bethel, we’re their guinea pigs.” In addition to being the test subjects for this controversial project, NWN admits the costs of building out a large new fossil fuel infrastructure would be shifted to Oregon ratepayers.

That is merely the start of why this project is better dead. While NWN’s methane-hydrogen project plans are shelved for now, we are skeptical that they will remain forever buried. Should these plans come back to Lane County, the public must be armed with the knowledge of its potential negative impacts on our community.

Greenhouse Gas
Methane is the most potent greenhouse gas in the short term. Methane has twenty-one times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Yet, NWN’s $10 million “blending” project will remain 90-95% methane gas, with only 5-10% hydrogen in the blend. That minimal reduction in methane gas accomplishes next to nothing to reduce methane in the atmosphere where it will continue to swiftly affect the earth’s temperature and climate system.

Dangerously Unstable
The volatile nature of hydrogen makes sending hydrogen into homes highly risky. Hydrogen erodes metal pipes and valves, a process called Hydrogen Embrittlement. This occurs when metals become brittle as a result of introducing hydrogen into pipes and appliances. The degree of embrittlement becomes significant when it leads to cracking. Older appliances in houses may have weaknesses that make it more risky to introduce even modest amounts of hydrogen blended in with natural gas. A recent explosion of hydrogen in North Carolina seriously damaged 60 nearby homes, including making at least one home uninhabitable.

Water Usage
Technological inefficiencies along with green hydrogen’s reliance on freshwater during its production process are very worrisome, particularly because the West Eugene project would be using our drinking water from the McKenzie River. In Oregon, as well as other areas of the world, increasing drought conditions may put thirsty communities in competition with multinational hydrogen corporations for fresh water necessary for human, environmental and agricultural survival. A recent article on hydrogen in Reuters cited an Australian study estimating the upper end of water use at over 21 gallons to create one kg of hydrogen - which is equal to 1 gallon of gasoline in BTU equivalent. That’s a lot of water for very little energy.

Public Health
Blending hydrogen and methane increases emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) compared to burning methane alone. This raises the risk of NOx-associated chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. Furthermore, if hydrogen blends cause pipe embrittlement, there may be increased health risks from carbon monoxide leaks from escaping methane gas.

Economics
Economic concerns being discussed by research firms, such Carbon Tracker (10/20/2022), have warned that up to $100 billion of “dirty” hydrogen investments – those which utilize fossil fuels as a feedstock – could become obsolete as nations move to reduce reliance on gas, particularly in light of the desire to avoid purchasing gas from Russia while it attacks Ukraine. According to Forbes Magazine (7/31/2021), “... many of the companies pushing hydrogen aren’t doing so to save the planet. They’re doing so to save their business models in a time of extreme transition towards greener technologies and e-mobility.”

It seems worthwhile to explore the possibilities for clean hydrogen in fuel cells needed for transportation (after all, hydrogen is rocket fuel) or heavy industrial uses. However, we know that blended hydrogen in homes does very little for public health or to help Oregon achieve its carbon reduction goals. NW Natural's claim that hydrogen is the pathway to “transition” away from fossil fuels for residential use is pure greenwashing. It is clear that their claims are merely a ploy to maintain the status quo for gas companies and keep us chained to fossil fuel infrastructure such as gas pipelines and appliances.

The more we learn, the more we understand that, wherever big natural gas companies peddle hydrogen blending projects, their proposals take us in the wrong direction to realistically meet climate harm reduction goals. For these reasons and more, Beyond Toxics stepped up to successfully stop this risky project. Now we can get back to the business of investing in the emissions reductions we need, and quickly, to protect health and step back from the brink of climate disaster.

Lisa Arkin,
Executive Director

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Time to celebrate Oregon’s climate action success!

 

Did you hear the BIG news? On December 16th, 2021, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission voted 3-1 in favor of establishing the Department of Environmental Quality’s new Climate Protection Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels used in Oregon. Beginning in 2022, this program will help secure a healthy climate future, invest in frontline communities, and hold corporate polluters accountable. And while the final program may not be perfect, it sets in motion a massive statewide effort to reduce emissions from the use of transportation fuels and natural gas utilities. The outcome is transitioning Oregon off of fossil fuels and setting an example for other states to follow.

Here are some key highlights from the new program:

  • Science-based emissions reduction targets for oil companies, "natural" gas utilities like Northwest Natural and Avista, and major industrial facilities to cut their climate pollution in half by 2035. This presents opportunities to innovate, propelling Oregon toward a clean energy future.

  • Improved public health and resiliency for communities in Oregon most harmed by burning fossil fuels and climate change. Reducing harmful pollution can save Oregonians billions of dollars annually by avoiding health impacts such as lost workdays to asthma and respiratory effects, to heart attacks and hospital visits, to fatal outcomes.

  • Investments in clean energy projects to support job creation, a strong economy, and cleaner, cheaper, healthier energy and transportation options in communities of color, tribal, low-income, rural and coastal communities across the state.

Powerful Public Engagement 
A whopping 7,600 comments on the Climate Protection Program (CPP) rules were sent to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), exceeding typical comment period totals by thousands. Noting the severity and urgency of the climate emergency we face, over 70% of these comments were in support of adopting strong outcomes for climate, equity, and the environment without delay. 

In response to the tsunami of public comments, the CPP rules were strengthened in the following ways: 

  • The “cap” placed on oil companies and fossil gas utilities to reduce their emissions was made more aggressive to require 50% reduction by 2035 and 90% reduction by 2050. Previous versions of the CPP rules included a reduction of just 45% by 2035 and 80% by 2050.

  • The final program sets emissions targets for major industrial facilities covered by the program to cut their climate pollution in half by 2035. Previous drafts of the CPP rules failed to set mandatory reductions for these emissions sources.

  • The program will fund up to $500 million annually in Community Climate Investment (CCI) projects to support cleaner, cheaper, healthier energy and transportation options in communities of color, tribal, low-income, rural and coastal communities across the state. DEQ strengthened rule language to make it clear these investments would prioritize environmental justice communities.

Calling for Carbon Sequestration
Also, Beyond Toxics took a strong, loud stance to push Oregon to invest in carbon sequestration! In order to truly mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, we know that pulling down atmospheric carbon and storing it in our soils, trees and vegetation, and waters must be prioritized alongside efforts to ratchet back greenhouse gas emissions. This will not only benefit our climate but also result in better soil health, water availability, and air quality.

During the Environmental Quality Commission's (EQC’s) vote to approve the Climate Protection Program, carbon sequestration took the main stage once again. As a result, the Department of Environmental Quality is going to coordinate with the Oregon Global Warming Commission to discuss opportunities to support carbon sequestration in Oregon’s forests, agricultural lands, and wetlands moving forward.

We expect this important discussion to continue at the EQC’s next meeting in early February.

Grit and Gratitude
Public participation throughout the rulemaking process played a major role in improving the final program. Your written comments as well as your presence and voices at public hearings were critical to strengthening the initial rule package developed by DEQ staff. EQC commissioners heard you. You helped make a difference!

As I reflect upon the past year, I find so many reasons to be hopeful. In doing this work, I find great resolve to keep advocating for meaningful climate action. The Climate Protection Program shows how truly powerful public involvement can be to achieve a stable and just climate future. Thank you for contributing to these outcomes.

And while we celebrate this significant progress for the state, we know our work is not done.

One large omission from regulation by the Climate Protection Program is power plants that burn fossil fuels in Oregon and export electricity to other states--that must be fixed! Continued diligent monitoring and engagement will be required to ensure that this program delivers the promised reductions in climate pollution and investments in environmental justice communities.

Our game plan is to continue our efforts to support and encourage public engagement. We must build upon our success to convince state agencies to go farther, think bigger, act faster and adopt the strongest policies.

~ Grace Brahler,
Oregon Climate Action Plan & Policy Manager for Beyond Toxics

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Oregonians Expect Bolder Action on Climate

Let’s be honest--the state of the climate emergency can be downright overwhelming and difficult to face day after day. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints an especially bleak picture: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”

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Climat-o-cides

We face a future full of challenges about the health of our communities and the impacts of a warming climate. Of the many intersections between environmental justice, health and climate change, one that is often overlooked is pesticide use.

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Breathing life into our leaders of color

“I can’t breathe!” One man’s dying words, choked to death by a Minneapolis police officer, has become the rallying cry of our era.

As George Floyd’s murder galvanized some of the largest and sustained protests in United States history, a respiratory pandemic swept through the world. Masked protestors surged in the streets, demanding a world where the right to breath was no longer determined by skin color.

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Please join us in working for a world beyond toxics.

Beyond Toxics is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and all contributions are fully tax-deductible.
Please consider giving a gift of a Beyond Toxics membership to a friend or family member!

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Contact

Lane County Office
120 Shelton McMurphey Blvd.
Suite 280
Eugene, OR 97401

+1 (541) 465-8860

Jackson County Office
312 N. Main St., Suite B
Phoenix, Oregon 97535

+1 (541) 465-8860 ext. 2

Mailing Address
P.O. Box 1106
Eugene, OR 97440

Hours
Daily: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Saturday: Closed
Sunday: Closed

info@beyondtoxics.org

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