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A Breath Of Fresh Air: Eugene's Bold Step Towards Pollution Control

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

On Monday, October 23rd, the Eugene City Council voted unanimously to adopt the concept of Public Health Protection Zoning, what we have been calling a Public Health Overlay Zone! The City Manager will next draft an ordinance to include public health requirements in Eugene’s zoning laws. This represents a historic win for environmental justice, as we will be the first city in Oregon to adopt this innovative concept!

I moved to west Eugene as a teenager in the ‘90s and later raised three children there.
While raising my children in west Eugene, we spent plenty of time in parks or swimming in the neighborhood pool. Our family lived in the Bethel School District where we embraced playing outdoors, engaged in team sports and enjoyed time in public spaces with friends and family. I tried to take my children to the park every day, rain or shine.

We felt safe and at home in west Eugene. Plus it was affordable in those days! Historically, housing tended to be less expensive in this community, which was crucial to our family, as it is to other low income, working class families. We felt a sense of security and belonging in the neighborhood; we never suspected the dangers that surrounded us or the threats of industrial pollution that would impact my family forever.

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Zion and Arjorie

In the heart of Bethel, over 30 industrial facilities loom over the landscape, including wood preservation companies spewing dangerous air toxins regularly. Combined with the ceaseless traffic on 3 busy highways, our community is constantly inundated with diesel emissions on top of the industrial air pollutants. For years we breathed in air laden with dangerous industrial pollutants.

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Polluting factories are a common sight near residential areas of West Eugene.

We were surrounded by industrial sources of pollution, but I had always thought, ‘they’re just doing business, right?’ Living so close to industry, it never bothered us that our homes were located near smokestacks that emitted clouds of "smoke." What they were releasing was not necessarily our concern. At the time I told myself things like “Surely, we wouldn't be subjected to anything that could hurt us”. And "Certainly, the city is aware of what can happen when factories are allowed to operate near homes, schools, parks and other community spaces." We had no clue that behind those innocent-looking smoke-stacks lay something more sinister than we ever dared to imagine.

While it was a blow to learn just how naive it was to believe that our city had strong public health regulations in place, my faith in society’s ability to protect public health from harm was completely shattered the day my family heard the doctor’s diagnosis: ‘Zion has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma’. I have shared my story of being a mother of a childhood cancer survivor before, but the impact of her battle and survival from illness changed my life. And, I believe, her difficult journey left a lasting impression on the power of community advocacy. With our victory from the Eugene City Council’s October vote*, my faith in the power of community action has been renewed and my hope for a better future restored! The struggles of folks in this neighborhood, who have been made vulnerable and burdened with sickness and in some cases death of loved ones, have finally been recognized as a cause for concern by the powers that be!

This new zoning ordinance will, potentially, take effect citywide in order to help protect the community from the dangers of industrial pollution in our neighborhoods. One of the ways this concept will improve the safety of our neighborhoods will be to create a quarter-mile buffer between industrial facilities and residential, park, and school zones. This is a brand new concept and it will take time to work out the details, but it represents an extraordinary moment in west Eugene’s history. This is a big victory for the environmental justice movement!

Thank you to all who have supported making history by your compelling testimonies and hard work to bring this into fruition. Congratulations, Eugene!

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~  Arjorie Arberry-Baribeault, West Eugene Community Organizer

For more about Arjorie's journey, see the interactive presentation, "Beautician Turned Environmentalist" on ArcGIS's StoryMap

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.

From Culinary Luxury to Silent Threat: The Dark Side of Gas Appliances

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A young Mason enjoys a moment with his mother who taught him how to cook.

I grew up in a family devoted to the pleasure of cooking, serving, and enjoying food together! Every time my family gathers, each of us comes prepared to cook the best appetizers, main courses, and desserts we’ve tried since our last meeting. So, when I moved into my current house, I was ecstatic to find my kitchen was equipped with gas appliances. Like many people, I had been led to believe that cooking with a gas range was the epitome of luxury and the ultimate culinary tool. It never occurred to me that it's rather odd to believe that combusting fossil fuels in my kitchen enhanced my cooking experience. In retrospect, as an avid runner, I always dreaded breathing car or leaf blower exhaust. Why would I intentionally invite similar toxic emissions into the indoor air I breathe while spending time cooking in my kitchen?

Curiosity Leads to a Discovery
My whole view of gas stoves changed when I took home a Flow 2 air quality meter from the Beyond Toxics office. The Flow 2 (pictured right), is capable of measuring Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOCs). Sure, I had heard on the news that NO2 from gas stoves causes 12.7% of childhood asthma, but as an adult with healthy lungs, I didn't believe I had anything to worry about.

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Flow 2 air quality meter made by Plume Labs

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However, I was intrigued to collect and analyze my own data about my home’s air quality. Data gives me something concrete to look at and helps me understand what's happening around me. I eagerly unpackaged the Flow 2 meter, and followed the directions to set up the device. After two days of calibrating the device, I went to do my weekly meal prep: potato and roasted veggie breakfast burritos, a coconut milk curry with rice for lunch, and salmon with roasted brussel sprouts for dinner. Using 2-3 burners and a gas oven, I prepared my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the work week. I also watched in horror as the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in my kitchen skyrocketed to levels considered dangerous for humans to breathe, both healthy people and those with compromised lungs and hearts. I promptly opened all the windows and let in as much fresh air into the house as possible. I wondered, how is this amount of air pollution legally allowed inside people’s homes? Why did I think that gas stoves were okay for public health? I showed my roommates the data and their eyes widened in shock.

Soon, I developed a regular habit of checking the Flow 2 meter everytime my roommates or I cooked. Each time I saw NO2 levels reaching concentrations ranging from unhealthy to hazardous depending on the time spent cooking and the amount of burners used. Our gas powered oven seemed especially egregious as it consistently pushed the NO2 in our house higher than when we used the stove. NO2 is not just harmful to kids and people with asthma. Long-term exposures to high levels such as what I was measuring in my own kitchen, can cause chronic lung diseases according to the Center for Disease Control.

In January I worked with my colleagues, Meet Panchal and Alyssa Rueda, to carry out a gas stove emissions pilot project in 13 houses with gas appliances in Eugene and Springfield. We wanted to see if we could consistently visualize the air pollutants commonly emitted by gas appliances. In each house, we deployed the Flow 2 meter as well as a Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) video camera. The FLIR camera is a professional grade camera used by the gas industry that is capable of visualizing unburned hydrocarbons such as methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas, and some specific VOCs produced by gas stoves like benzene and toluene. You can view our full report here. We detail lots of research done on gas stove pollution, our methods, findings, and some recommendations on how to improve your air quality if you have gas appliances.

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Pictured above: Mason Leavitt (foreground) records invisible toxic plumes from a gas stove using a FLIR camera; Alyssa Rueda opens oven door during filming.

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The Protocol
In each house we turned on a single stove top burner on at a simmer for 1-5 minutes. In houses with an oven, we preheated it to 350 degrees and then turned the oven off. This was a pilot project, so the amount and duration of gas fell short of the typical amount of pollution emitted when actually cooking a meal, which can involve multiple stove burners or heating an oven to higher temperatures. Nonetheless, the results were concerning. The camera’s footage stunned participants and staff alike.

Curiosity Leads to a Discovery
The Flow 2 measured a rising concentration of NO2, hydrocarbons and VOCs, even after turning on gas stoves and ovens. In 9 of 13 houses, an increase in NO2 was sufficient enough to result in an acute increase of asthma symptoms for kids (1). In 5 of 13 houses, the NO2 levels were considered chronically harmful for vulnerable populations such as children, elderly, people of color, or those with preexisting respiratory health conditions. In 3 of those houses, the NO2 reached levels the World Health Organization (WHO), a branch of the United Nations, concluded as harmful to every person regardless of their history with respiratory illness. One of those houses reached NO2 concentrations WHO says constitutes emergency conditions, and individuals should vacate the area, or minimize their breathing and physical activity as much as possible if they can’t leave.

The Bigger Picture
In our full report, we detail how gas ranges emit many more concerning pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Carrying out this case study on gas appliances and indoor air pollution has given our community the opportunity to understand the health risks of cooking with gas stoves, and the advantages of switching to electric appliances in our homes and businesses.

I encourage you to check out the report for more details, and also stay tuned to Beyond Toxics’ updates (sign up for our e-alerts) as we continue to collect data on gas stove pollution, and find tips on how to improve the safety of our kitchens and homes!

For now, I will take steps to ventilate my kitchen because, as a renter, I don’t have the choice to switch to electric appliances. In the future, I hope to live in a home that is equipped with electric kitchen appliances that I know are safe and healthy for everyone, including my family of passionate cooks.

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Written by Mason Leavitt, GIS and Spatial Data Coordinator

Photos of FLIR camera testing sessions by Emily Matlock

Reference:

1) Belanger, K., et al."Household Levels of Nitrogen Dioxide and Pediatric Asthma Severity."
Epidemiology, vol. 24, no. 2, 2013, pp. 320-330.
https://doi.org/10.1097/EDE.0b013e318280e2ac

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

Clearing the Air: Uncovering the Risks of Gas Stove Pollution

Over the course of one work week, my colleagues on the Beyond Toxics Air Quality team and I visited 14 homes in Eugene and Springfield, toting a FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared) camera and air quality monitoring equipment. We wanted to “see” what our naked eyes could not: what air toxics are being emitted from gas appliances.

Gas appliances emit two groups of pollutants of concern to us. One, appliances do not burn 100% of the natural gas going into them, and they release unburned methane, ethane, and butane, all of which contribute to global warming. Two, when natural gas is successfully burned, the previously mentioned pollutants turn into CO2, a major climate contributor, and PM 2.5, NO2, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants closely tied to childhood asthma and premature death in adults.

 

I was asked to tag along to take photos to document the process. I don’t often get to work “out in the field” with the team, so this was an exciting opportunity to work directly with the Air Quality team and learn firsthand the dangers of gas appliances.

Seeing is Believing
I was immediately taken aback by what the camera captured in the first house I visited. I didn’t know what to expect, but seeing plumes of gasses and VOCs spewing into the air was eye-opening. To be perfectly honest, I had never thought much about the use of gas in our home. As a kid, I remember when my family moved into a home with a gas stove, it felt like an upgrade. But now I’m wondering, why do we consider burning fossil fuels in our homes and polluting our indoor air to be an improvement over electricity?

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The FLIR camera we rented for our 14-home testing tour.

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The FLIR camera, often used by professionals to visualize gas leaks, reveals a plume of pollutants emerging from a preheated oven. | Photos by Emily Matlock

After visiting several homes and seeing the same toxic plumes at each, I was thankful for my electric appliances. Admittedly, I’m not much of a cook but it works just fine for my needs. By the end of the day, I had a headache, and I can only imagine it was caused by my exposure to gas and VOCs throughout the day. We simply turned on gas stoves and ovens for several minutes to capture the plumes on the FLIR camera. Imagine cooking every night for a family of four, using every burner and the oven, and inhaling the fumes for the hour or so it takes to prepare a meal.

The residents we spoke to all said similar things: I love cooking with my gas stove, but it’s not worth the risk to my health. Or, after seeing the fumes, I would switch to electric if I could.

And that’s just it, many of us don’t have the choice. My last rental home had gas appliances, but inadequate ventilation above the range. Many homeowners feel that they can’t afford to make the switch, or wouldn’t know where to start.

Choosing a Better Future
We need policy in place to ensure a climate-smart and healthy future. Eugene’s recent ordinance prohibits gas infrastructure in new, low-rise residential construction. It doesn’t take away the choice for buyers to purchase gas appliances or homes, but rather adds electrified homes that will ensure a healthier future for residents and the planet.

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Our FLIR video footage reveals the presence of toxic gasses beyond the flame we can see.

The manufactured controversy of so-called “energy choice” is fraught with greenwashing from an industry that doesn’t want to lose its stronghold on a community dependent on fossil fuels. Gas industry profits are made at the expense of those of us who don’t have a choice but to pollute our homes and the environment. The gas industry touts it as “clean” and “natural,” when studies like ours with the FLIR camera clearly show high levels of pollutants and toxins entering the home.

If our study could be replicated on a larger scale, I think many Eugene residents and folks across the country would be surprised–maybe even horrified–to see plumes of unburned methane, VOCs and other toxics coming from their home appliances. Eugene’s gas ordinance is a first step, but Beyond Toxics will continue to educate and provide resources for moving toward a fossil-free future. It’s the only future that makes sense for future generations.

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~ Emily Matlock,
Beyond Toxics Membership and Communications Coordinator


Read the NEW Beyond Toxics Report
Seeing is Believing: Visualizing Indoor Air Pollution from Gas Stoves (PDF)

Find out more about Building a Fossil Free Future, our climate justice campaign!

 

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It’s National Public Health Week. Let’s tackle toxic chemicals!

Every child deserves a safe environment to grow in that allows them to become strong and healthy and develop to their full potential. During National Public Health Week, it's important to draw attention to the health impacts and risks from toxic chemicals in products and the places where children live, learn and play. It is now estimated that 10 million synthetic chemicals are added to the marketplace every year. They range from the chemicals in plastic toys, pesticides on our lawns and school grounds, and harmful additives in our personal care products that go directly onto our skin and are absorbed into our organs.

These chemicals can cause immediate and long-term harm. Toxic chemicals are linked to neurological damage which can leave a child with learning disabilities. Over time, chemicals can lead to a wide range of health problems from endocrine and reproductive disruption to cancer. Exposure to harmful chemicals in consumer products and the environment disproportionately impact communities of color and lower income communities that are more often exposed to cumulative toxins. It is often the case that cheaper and deadlier products are marketed to the most vulnerable members of our communities.

What is Oregon doing to address toxic chemicals?
Thankfully, there are three key bills addressing toxic chemicals this 2023 Session being led by Oregon Environmental Council and Beyond Toxics and their partners. We continue to advocate for and defend these bills from staunch opposition from the chemical and pesticide industry and demand that toxics be prioritized by our lawmakers.

This year, National Public Health Week coincides with an important deadline in Oregon’s legislative session, and thus determines what health-protective policies will, or will not, move forward. On April 4th, every bill currently being considered by the Oregon legislature must have been voted out of its first chamber committee.

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What do these bills do, and what is their current status?

1) Toxic Free Schools (SB 426)

Oregon school districts and regulatory agencies currently lack funding, coordination and resources needed to implement safer pesticide use practices. As a result, unintentional yet illegal pesticide uses are occurring at Oregon schools. SB 426 will fix a 14-year unfunded mandate for schools and create a path towards modernized record keeping and safer choices for pest control under the Healthy and Safe Schools Act.

The Toxic Free Schools Act will:

  • End a 14-year unfunded mandate by providing resources and technological assistance to school districts to reduce harmful pesticide use.

  • Modernize pesticide record-keeping processes and increase transparency for communities.

SB 426 was voted out of the Senate Education Committee on March 30th and has been referred to the Joint Ways and Means Committee to address its fiscal impact.

Read more about Toxic Free Schools

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2) Toxic Free Cosmetics (SB 546)

People assume personal and beauty products (collectively called “cosmetics”) are safe. But it is estimated there are over 10,000 chemicals in the beauty market today, and account for a $100 billion beauty industry. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FDCA) has only restricted 11 chemicals since 1938, while the European Union has banned over 1800 chemicals.

Through SB 546, Oregon can require the public disclosure of all chemical ingredients on a company’s product webpage. Doing so is an accessible way for consumers to make educated purchasing decisions. Additionally, it will ban the sale of the worst chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products like many other states have.

SB 546 passed out of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee on March 28th, unanimously and bipartisan, and has been referred to the Joint Ways and Means Committee to address its fiscal impact.

Read more about Toxic Free Cosmetics.

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Photo courtesy of Tanaphong Toochinda

3) Toxic Free Kids Modernization Act (HB 3043)

Thousands of chemicals lurk in products our kids use every day, and children are far more vulnerable to toxic chemicals than adults. HB 3043 builds on the success of Oregon’s 2015 Toxic Free Kids Act by strengthening protections for children’s health and streamlining business reporting requirements.

A modernized Toxic Free Kids Act will:

  • Modernize Oregon Health Authority’s ability to regulate classes of chemicals instead of regulating them one-by-one.

  • Remove limits on designating high priority chemicals of concern for children's health.

  • Make it easier for consumers to avoid products containing toxics by adding brand name and model to reporting requirements.

  • Streamline manufacturer reporting requirements and reduce program costs by aligning reporting dates with Washington – a state we share a lab and enforcement capabilities with.

HB 3043 passed out of the House Committee on Climate and Energy on March 15th, also unanimously and bipartisan, and subsequently passed the full House 42-14 also on a bipartisan vote, on March 22nd. It heads to the Senate Energy and Environment Committee as its second chamber.

What Can you do?
In your day-to-day life, keep in mind ways that you can buy toxics-free or organic items to reduce your risk of chemical and pesticide exposure. When possible, consider reducing your use of cosmetics or products if you’re sensitive to chemicals. Be sure to wash hands and remove your shoes after playing on school fields.

In addition, contact legislators and urge them to act NOW to regulate toxic chemicals and protect public health for Oregonians. Let them know we are depending on them to help keep our families safe from harmful chemicals and pesticides at home and at school.

Authors:
Jamie Pang, Environmental Health Program Director, Oregon Environmental Council
Lisa Arkin, Executive Director, Beyond Toxics

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Advancing Environmental Justice in 2023

Our 2023 Legislative Priorities

I am thrilled to report that we are gearing up for another very exciting year of advocacy and activism! Each year Beyond Toxics creates a list of priorities for the Oregon legislative session, working with our members and community partners to support strong public and environmental health policies for the state.

Our advocacy campaigns are rooted in environmental justice, putting equity and inclusion in all sectors of Oregon policy-making at the center of our work. I believe that, in order to build a thriving and just Oregon, we need to urge local legislators to vote in favor of strong and equitable policies that demonstrate an ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship and the advancement of human rights and dignity.

We are leading three priority initiatives during the 2023 Oregon legislative session. The issues addressed reflect areas of concern for frontline communities bearing the brunt of climate change and environmental degradation. Our team remains a steadfast advocate for all Oregonians, especially those living in underserved communities across the state.

These are our three legislative priorities for the 2023 session:

  • Help Oregon achieve its strong climate goals

  • Strengthen and update pesticide policies on school grounds

  • Increase accountability for waste incinerators to protect Oregon’s air quality

Natural Climate Solutions (SB 530)

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Creating Natural Climate Solutions
We are working with a statewide coalition to put forward the Natural Climate Solutions bill, SB 530. This could be a game-changer for climate action in Oregon! SB 530 is a comprehensive bill that will help the state achieve its climate goals, support Oregon’s environmental justice communities and small landowners, improve equitable outcomes in the face of climate change, and protect our state’s vital natural resources. 

If passed, SB 530 will…

  • Create an ongoing source of state funding for voluntary actions to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and store it on natural and working lands, such as forest land, farm land and wetlands;

  • Position Oregon to leverage federal funding and private investments in natural climate solutions on natural and working lands;

  • Fund and direct state agencies to provide incentives and technical support to forest owners, farmers, ranchers, and environmental justice communities on natural and working lands to adopt climate smart practices; and

  • Invest in a comprehensive Oregon natural and working lands inventory and study opportunities for workforce development and training.

In addition to all these climate benefits, implementing this bill will result in significant and measurable environmental benefits of cleaner air, healthier soils and protected drinking water.

This ambitious piece of legislation prioritizes activities that protect or improve the ability of Oregon’s natural and working lands to sequester carbon. This is the necessary climate action our state needs and, if it is successful, it will put an amazing framework in place to address greenhouse gas reduction in our forests, agricultural lands, and rangelands.” ~ Teryn Yazdani, Staff Attorney and Climate Policy Manager

 

Read more about the Natural Climate Solutions bill

Toxic Free Schools (SB 426)

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Pesticide Reduction and Improved Management Practices For Schools
Our second legislative priority is The Toxic Free Schools bill, SB 426, which is part of a three bill suite of environmental health bills lined up to protect children's health from exposure to toxic chemicals. The goal of SB 426 is to improve transparency around pesticide use in Oregon schools and provide funding to support schools integrated pest management planning. When Oregon's School Integrated Pest Management law was enacted in 2009, it did not allocate funding to the Department of Education or school districts to implement the law. As a result, many hazardous and unlawful pesticide applications have occurred on Oregon’s school campuses in the last thirteen years.

If SB 426 is passed, a proactive approach to adopting the safest pest management methods will ensure school children are not exposed to pesticides that can cause cancer and other negative health impacts.

If passed, SB 426 bill will…

  • Improve transparency around pesticide use in schools by aligning School IPM law with the Healthy and Safe Schools Act;

  • Direct the Department of Education to convene a stakeholder advisory group to coordinate and problem-solve IPM implementation in Oregon schools;

  • Provide funding for three pilot projects to implement an electronic Pesticide Applicator Recordkeeping application developed by Oregon METRO government;

Ultimately, the Toxic Free Schools bill will provide resources to the Department of Education to support school districts in updating and implementing IPM plans and improve transparency under Healthy and Safe schools. The goal is to prevent children's exposure to pesticides on athletic fields, playgrounds, cafeterias and learning spaces.” ~ Jennifer Eisele, Pesticide Policy Manager

Read more about the Toxic Free Schools bill

Oregon's Medical Waste Incineration Act (SB 488)

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Covanta waste incinerator, Chester, PA. Image courtesy of Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living.

Air Quality Solutions
The third bill we are prioritizing is Oregon's Medical Waste Incineration Act, SB 488. This bill will close a regulatory loophole in Oregon’s air quality laws that allows a municipal waste (trash) incinerator to burn large amounts of medical and industrial waste, including waste trucked in from out-of-state. Each year, Oregon’s municipal waste incinerator burns more than 176,000 tons of municipal, medical and industrial waste. In recent years, this incinerator has steadily increased their tons of out-of-state hospital and medical waste every year! Burning medical waste, which is often plastics such as PVC, is known to emit more toxic pollutants than most municipal waste due to the complex nature of medical waste. As medical waste incineration increases, emissions of dioxin compounds and other dangerous chemicals also increase. Dioxin is a highly hazardous toxin linked to cancer and reproductive problems. Currently, the incinerator is regulated under the relatively lax rules despite burning a large percentage of out-of-state medical waste. Oregon can close loopholes in the law that will reduce emissions from waste incinerators. The large amounts of air toxics emitted from its stack has impacted human and environmental health around Marion county for over 30 years.

Now is the time to pass SB 488 to implement a much-needed update to Oregon clean air laws. Oregon must adopt stricter emission limits for incinerators burning large amounts of medical waste incineration. The result will be improved air quality for communities around waste incinerators now and into the future.

If passed, SB 488 will…

  • Give the DEQ the authority to accurately assess how many tons of medical waste is burned annually at a trash incinerator facility;

  • Apply the stricter emission limits required for medical waste incinerators under federal law;

  • Regulate a large polluter and ensure better environmental protection and public health outcomes for all Oregonians.

In essence, Covanta Marion is a medical waste incinerator masquerading as a municipal waste incinerator by taking advantage of this loophole. Covanta Marion essentially doubles its profits by importing medical waste from out of state. The fact that Covanta Marion can burn medical waste and pollute while taking advantage of weak environmental regulations makes Oregon a dumping ground for the toxic pollution that other states don’t allow.” ~ Lisa Arkin, Executive Director

Read more about Oregon's Medical Waste Incineration Act


What To Expect
The Beyond Toxics team will fight to pass all three bills during the 2023 legislative session. Our goal is to keep advancing stronger policies that implement meaningful change for Oregon’s environmental policies and prioritize human and environmental health.

However, we do not work alone! We rely on support from local communities and people that are concerned about environmental and public health issues. You can help us get these bills passed this session!

Here’s how you can get involved right now…

  • Plan for action! Start planning to submit written testimonies in favor of these bills once the hearings begin. The legislative session moves quickly so it’s a good idea to start thinking about your stance on these issues now.

  • Spread the word! Share your thoughts about these bills with your family and friends and encourage them to write their own testimonies in support of any of these three bills.

  • Check your socials! Follow @beyondtoxics on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter and keep an eye out for upcoming Action Alerts in your feeds.

Krystal Abrams, Communications Manager

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

Public Health Overlay Zones keep people safe

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A view of a Bethel area neighborhood across from the now-shuttered J.H. Baxter creosote factory.

The people of west Eugene’s Bethel neighborhood have endured decades of increased health risks from close proximity to toxic polluters. For years, state regulators and city officials have provided little to no oversight to address the industrial pollution directly within the west Eugene community. The city must act now to use its authority to end the ongoing harm to our communities and environment from industrial polluters.

At Beyond Toxics we are advocating for new land use codes the City can amend to step up its ability to protect the public from dangerous pollution. A Public Health Overlay Zone (PHOZ) is an innovative, new land use policy that would add an additional layer of public health protection to Eugene’s City Code. While overlay zones are not new, this PHOZ is the first of its kind to exclusively prioritize community health for industrial zoning in Oregon. If adopted by city leaders, it would limit toxic industries near west Eugene homes, schools, and parks to improve quality of life. The PHOZ would restrict certain harmful heavy industrial land uses with the highest likelihood of negative impacts on public health. It would also set up buffers and setbacks to reduce residents’ exposure to air emissions.

Several cities in the United States already implement overlay zones that make a meaningful difference in people’s lives and health. For example, in Thurston County Washington, the “Industrial District” overlay zone protects residential and other non-industrial areas from adverse impacts from industrial activities. This zoning allows for the manufacturing, repairing, or servicing of goods and products when the business has a minimal negative impact on the environment and the general community. It does not aim to ban industrial uses, as there are several permitted uses within the Industrial District; instead, it limits the harmful impacts of industrial businesses.

The City of Portland, Oregon, offers another example. There, the Environmental Protection Overlay Zone aims to provide the highest level of protection to natural resources, such as streams and wetlands. This overlay zone encourages developers to innovate toward the continued viability of protected resources. One of many benefits includes a buffer between noise, fumes, and lights associated with industrial and commercial uses and the nearby protected urban ecosystem. By implementing this overlay zone, Portland demonstrates support for a balanced ecosystem within the city.

Having criteria already in place to prevent toxic pollution next to where Eugene residents work, play, and live provides vital protection for communities within the overlay zone. A PHOZ would prevent housing and schools from being built directly next to industrial factories and put a buffer between toxic polluters and residents.

Had a PHOZ been in place, Eugene’s city code could have prevented the decades-long operation of the J.H. Baxter facility and the resulting harm. We feel this kind of overlay zone is an essential land use planning tool to ensure the community devastation from J.H. Baxter never happens again. Instead, a PHOZ would promote healthy and sustainable future developments in Eugene by restricting the worst polluters. A healthier and safer environment makes Eugene more livable, resilient, and vibrant--adopting a PHOZ helps us meet that goal.

Take Action

Neighborhoods in west Eugene have suffered from polluters like J.H. Baxter for far too long. The creation of a Public Health Overlay Zone would create additional public health protections to prevent bad actors like J.H. Baxter from locating in Eugene. If you agree this policy would be beneficial for our city, take action to sign the petition to Mayor Vinis and Eugene's City Council asking for a Public Health Overlay Zone and let Eugene’s leaders know a healthy city is the kind of city you want to live in.

~ Written by Teryn Yazdani, Beyond Toxics Staff Attorney and Climate Policy Manager and Cole Barron, Beyond Toxics 2022 Summer Legal Intern,

 

Pollute, Dispute and Scoot!

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Aerial view of JH Baxter creosote factory in West Eugene.

When J.H. Baxter shut down in January 2022, the community heralded a new era of cleaner air and more livable neighborhoods. This creosote chemical company polluted both nearby communities and its own workers for seven decades. The day after the plant ceased operations, nearby neighbors could suddenly take in a breath of air without coughing, getting a headache or feeling nauseous.

Dishonorably, like the black tar stain of creosote, J.H. Baxter continues to leave its sticky, foul mark on its Bethel neighbors. Shielding itself from the consequences of intentional toxic chemical trespass is the company’s signature legacy.

 

J.H. Baxter takes advantage of our community in three major ways

 
POLLUTE
First, J.H. Baxter for years exposed residents to air polluted with a sinister cocktail of naphthalene, ammonia, methanol, acetaldehyde, and a much longer list of nasty chemicals. At the same time its Bethel factory contaminated groundwater with pentachlorophenol (a carcinogen) and soil with dioxin (a carcinogen). Both provoked above-average health problems that afflict many long-suffering residents. 

DISPUTE
Secondly, J.H. Baxter violated environmental protection laws in full view of our federal and state agencies. Regulators knew that the company was a repeat, intentional polluter and declared it a Significant Non-Complier as far back as 2012. Sadly, nothing changed. As environmental violations mounted and grew in severity, J.H. Baxter employed the corporate tactic of dispute-and-delay to dissuade agencies from holding it to account and issuing appropriate civil penalties. The company is responsible for at least one Superfund site in California and hazardous chemicals spills in the Columbia River.  Like a white-collar crime thriller on the big screen, this corporate tycoon took advantage of its wealth and political ties to silence workers and manipulate the system. These deceits enabled J.H. Baxter to emerge unscathed, time after time.

SCOOT
Finally, when cornered by indisputable revelations of dioxin in the soil of nearby neighborhoods, J.H. Baxter forced regulatory agencies to go to court, buying time and spending  taxpayer dollars. J.H. Baxter employed this tactic again when it was fined $305,440 for egregious violations of hazardous waste and water quality laws from 2015 to this year. It used the courts to dispute evidence of violations and to protest civil fines. Beyond Toxics became a legal petitioner to represent community interests and make sure pollution victims’ experiences were considered. After dragging out the litigation for nearly a year, on July 14, J.H. Baxter signed a settlement agreement to pay the full $305,440 immediately. The agreement was used to resolve the enforcement actions by the DEQ. 

Here’s where J.H. Baxter performs the evasive “scoot” maneuver, continuing its historical pattern of violating the community’s trust, signing documents in bad faith and skirting Oregon laws: The company refuses to pay their $305,440 debt, and appears have no intention of paying the fine even though they signed the settlement agreement. 

Further, the company refuses to make any effort to pay for the dioxin cleanup of residential yards in Bethel neighborhoods that are now contaminated from years of negligent environmental violations. 

PROFITS, LIKE ITS POLLUTION, UP IN THE AIR
Although the company has not declared bankruptcy, Company CEO Georgia Baxter claims that years of corporate profits simply vanished. Thankfully, the Oregon Department of Justice and the Oregon DEQ are scrupulously investigating how the State can recoup the money owed in civil penalties and the millions of dollars being spent on cleaning up the dioxin mess, both on the polluter’s property and in the yards of nearby Bethel residents.

However, DEQ’s options are murky under Oregon law. For example, the agency has been unable to recover even a penny from all the equipment and chemicals J.H. Baxter has sold off since it closed.

 

J. H. Baxter has figured out it can pollute, dispute and scoot – with impunity.

WE CAN LEARN FROM THIS
Eugene should not allow a similar toxic fiasco to happen again! Now is the time to stand up and demand polluter accountability. Beyond Toxics is working with City Councilors Claire Syrett and Randy Groves to design policies with the teeth to protect our communities. We residents of Eugene must mandate strong requirements to end chronic polluter malfeasance. Our legislature must give our regulatory agencies more tools to rein in chronic polluters.

Help us pass meaningful policies that build public health criteria in our zoning codes. Contact us to find out more about upcoming hearings on the Public Health Overlay Zone. Read our J.H. Baxter FAQ sheet. Your City Councilor needs to hear directly from you that Eugene must adopt solutions that will get our community on a clear path to end the dodgy cycle of pollute, dispute and scoot.
 

~ Lisa Arkin, Executive Director


See also: "Opinion: Eugene can prevent toxic fiascoes like J.H. Baxter's from happening again"
Lisa Arkin, publshed in the Eugene Register-Guard, Sept. 25, 2022

Read Register-Guard's most recent reporting on the J.H. Baxter issue 

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