I wanted to share my story with you with the hope that it will inspire you to take action. I have lived in the Eugene area for over 15 years. My grandparents moved here in 1980 and bought a beautiful farm just outside of Cottage Grove. As an environmental justice organizer for Beyond Toxics I have great concerns about the air quality in our state and the effect it has on children.
This year’s Earth Week celebration offered a twist on the usual flower plantings and electric car demonstrations through a focus on community health and environmental justice.
The first Earth Day celebration in 1970 represented a turning point for environmental awareness and advocacy. That special day followed the passage of the National Environmental Protection Act on Jan. 1, 1970, under the Nixon administration. National leaders were deeply influenced by the heightened public concern about environmental pollution spurred by Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring.” Their first steps toward environmental advocacy included the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
I remember, and you might too, feeling virtuous when my family took part in the California grape boycott in the 1970s. I was only a teenager, but to me it meant that I was standing in solidarity with farm workers. I felt a bond, although I’d never met a farm worker as far as I knew.
My small action, combined with the similar ethical choices of millions of others, helped farm workers position themselves to win. And what did they win? What they asked for were basic human rights: safer working conditions, less pesticide exposure, habitable housing and better wages.
Oregon has over 300 registered farm worker housing camps and another 200 unregistered camps. Most of these camps are located within orchards and fields that are regularly sprayed with pesticides that are human carcinogens and neurotoxins. To protect farm workers, the federal law requires a minimum 100-ft. no-spray buffer around farm worker housing. You may be surprised and dismayed to learn that Oregon’s worker protection agency, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), wants to give Oregon farmers “a pass” on following the 100-ft pesticide buffer regulation.