(Beyond Pesticides, March 31, 2014) On March 24 the Oregon Department of Justice (ODJ) ordered the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to turn over records that are part of an investigation of an aerial herbicide spraying over timberland in southwestern Oregon. This public disclosure of records may allow residents to have a better understanding of the chemicals associated with ongoing exposure incidents. This recent spray event is just one in line of many that have led environmental groups and federal agencies to call into question the effectiveness of Oregon’s regulation of pesticide use on timberland.
ODA began its investigation in November of 2013 after complaints that herbicides sprayed from a helicopter on commercial timberlands near Gold Beach drifted on to residential areas. ODA is investigating five herbicide active ingredients: 2,4-D, triclopyr, glyphosate, imazapyr, and metsulfuron methyl. However, ODA has not released information about the specific products it believes were used or their potential toxicity. Fifteen residents filed complaints with the department after they experienced rashes, headaches, asthma, and stomach cramps directly after the application.
Recently, the Oregon Department of Justice ordered ODA to turn over records that are part of an investigation after the agency denied a request made in January by Beyond Toxics to make these records public. ODA may be able to redact some personal and confidential information from its investigation records before making them public. This disclosure is viewed as a victory by environmental groups who are concerned about the health effects of spray incidents.
Spray incidents such as these are not surprising as Oregon has more relaxed regulations on timber production than its neighboring states. In Oregon, there are no required buffer zones around residential land, similar to those along fish-bearing streams, and the state does not require notification of residents near timberland. Timberland owners do have to notify the Oregon Department of Forestry, and people can pay a fee to receive those notifications, but they do not specifically disclose that chemicals that will be used, or the day and time of the spraying. Aerial herbicide application is also only used on private land as public forest land is managed without these practices.
These lax state regulations have also resulted in problems for the state of Oregon with federal authorities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently found that the Oregon’s program to reduce nonpoint coastal pollution is inadequate. Both federal agencies state that Oregon’s program does not adequately protect streams that are habitat for Coho Salmon, an endangered species, and drinking water from herbicides that are aerially sprayed by lumber companies. This proposed disapproval action is part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Northwest Environmental Advocates in 2009, which charged Oregon has failed to meet the conditions of the Oregon Nonpoint Program’s approval.
Triangle Lake, another Oregon Community, has experienced similar pesticide exposures from the aerial application of herbicides to timberland. In 2011, atrazine and 2,4-D were found in the urine of residents around Triangle Lake. After these incidents, state and federal agencies launched the Highway 36 Corridor Public Health Exposure Investigation. The investigation resulted in the Oregon State Forester requiring pesticide applicators to turn over three years of forestry pesticide spray records from private and state timber operations. This incident was highlighted in a recent report by Beyond Toxics, “Oregon’s Industrial Forests and Herbicide Use: A Case Study of Risk to People, Drinking Water and Salmon.”
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All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.