Another step to minimize pesticide use
Posted March 8th, 2013 by Peter Wong, Salem Statesman-Journal

NOTE: Updated with figures supplied by Rep. Keny-Guyer on environmentally-related diseases.

A bill introduced in the Oregon Legislature would require state agencies to minimize their use of pesticides, coordinate their efforts and find alternatives for state-owned lands.

The chief sponsor of House Bill 3364 is Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, who said today she spends time on the House health care and human services committees dealing with problems stemming from after-effects of some chemical products.

“My interest has been looking upstream and how we make sure we can prevent the kind of things we are trying to integrate services for,” she said at a news conference. “A reduction in toxics is critical. There is so much evidence that shows harmful effects.”

She and other advocates say the bill would build on the work already done under a 2012 executive order by Gov. John Kitzhaber to reduce use of chemicals and encourage “green chemistry” practices by agencies.

“Government has a moral responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable to the effects of pollution ,” said Lisa Arkin, executive director of Beyond Toxics, a statewide environmental health organization based in Eugene “We are talking about our kids.”

The bill would set up an interagency council, staffed by the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University, and require agencies to develop and coordinate strategies for integrated pest management. The bill would apply only to state agency operations on state-owned lands. It was unclear whether the requirements would apply to other governments, such as counties, that obtain state funds to control weeds and pests and use herbicides and pesticides.

A 2010 spraying of herbicides by Klamath County – and the protest it drew from residents — was cited at the news conference by John Huddle of La Pine, a retired school psychologist who was the Democratic nominee last year against Rep. Mike McLane of Powell Butte, now the House Republican leader.

According to a draft report by Beyond Toxics, based on records obtained from three state agencies, 26 of Oregon’s 36 counties obtained state grants for weed control involving pesticides between 2008 and the present. Just under two-thirds of the 627 applications obtained by the group originated in four southern counties: Douglas, Josephine, Klamath and Lane.

Among the top herbicides reported in use were Picloram and 2, 4-D, both used as defoliants during the Vietnam War. An effort to ban 2, 4-D failed last year when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declined to restrict the popular weed killer.

“But I think there is a lot more awareness, and more data that have been done, to link the consequences of pesticides and harmful chemicals to cancers,” Keny-Guyer said.

After the news conference, Keny-Guyer furnished estimates that environmentally related diseases cost $1.3 billion annually in Oregon, and the bulk of that ($1 billion) affecting children. For adult and childhood cancers, the total was $131 million.

The figures were drawn from a 2010 study by Rene Hackenmiller-Paradis and Stephanie Bernell published in the journal Local Environment. The article is “The Price of Pollution: Costs and Estimates of Environmentally Related Disease in Oregon.”

Among the bill’s other requirements would be a 24-hour notice before use – compliance could be done through an agency website — and keeping records of usage, including materials safety data sheets describing the effects of chemicals.

Although there are similar programs operating elsewhere, including the Washington State Department of Transportation, pest-management specialist Deanna Simon said Oregon would be the first to require integrated pest management across all state agencies.

In 2009, Oregon lawmakers required such plans for schools and their surroundings.

A different bill on integrated pest management by state agencies was heard but not advanced by the House Energy, Environment and Water Committee in 2011, when the House was evenly split between the parties.

The current bill has been assigned to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which has not scheduled a hearing. Keny-Guyer said her understanding is that the bill is among several that the committee will hear related to pesticides, but believes there will be no bias in favor of agriculture or forestry.

Its four House co-sponsors and three Senate sponsors also are Democrats.

Advocates say the bill is not an effort to ban use of pesticides, and does not apply to private lands used for farming or forestry.

“We’re already paying millions of dollars in state money to control pests,” Arkin said. “The question is how we are going to control pests without poisoning ourselves and the environment.”

— Peter Wong

Beyond Toxics website: