(Beyond Pesticides, April 10, 2014) — The results of an on-going investigation into allegations of improper pesticide spraying on timberland near residential areas in Southern Oregon confirmed what residents of the small towns had known since the day they were unwillingly sprayed with dangerous pesticides””the applications were illegal.
Statements released on April 8, 2014, by Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) concerning its investigation into the allegations, indicated multiple violations by the pesticide operator and applicator responsible for the spraying had been found, as well as evidence of the presence of pesticides on properties in Cedar Valley, near Gold Beach, Oregon.
Specifically, ODA concluded that Pacific Air Research — a licensed commercial pesticide operator based in White City, Oregon— and its aerial applicator, allowed pesticide products to fall on properties other than the intended application site, applied one product at a rate above the maximum allowed by the label instructions, and provided multiple false records that misled ODA about the actual products used.
The confirmed pesticides at issue, 2,4-D and triclopyr, are a serious matter, exacerbated by spray applications in excess of pesticide label restrictions and other regulations. Under the Federal, Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the nation’s primary pesticide registration and control law, federal and state “acceptable” risk standards of pesticides are completely dependent on the applicator following the detailed use and warning labels that must accompany all registered pesticides.
While FIFRA’s standards are severely lacking and inadequate on several fronts, this incident highlights a key problem with the nation’s pesticide safety law ””even weak health and environmental protections can be further undermined by the applicator’s lack of compliance with the pesticide product label’s instructions. Ultimately, however, public protections are undermined by a lack of state enforcement of pesticide use disclosure requirements and the unwillingness of state lawmakers and regulators to establish more expansive environmental and health standards in situations like aerial forest applications, school and residential zones, and agriculture.
An Eye on Enforcement
In this instance, ODA acknowledges that serious violations have occurred that “may result in civil penalties to be determined,” and notes that, “ODA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) are collaborating on enforcement actions.” Despite the state’s seemingly promising stance on enforcement, residents across Oregon and environmental advocates alike question ODA’s commitment to enforcement in this case and overall when it comes to pesticide application violations and establishing meaningful protections.
As one local environmental group, Beyond Toxics, reminds the public, “The owner of the timber company who had hired the helicopter operator claimed that there was no way any helicopter was near the sickened residents. [ODA], the agency in charge of the investigation, went public claiming that only glyphosate (the active ingredient in Round Up) had been sprayed and laid seeds of doubts that the community had been exposed at all.” It took Beyond Toxics challenging ODA through a petition to the Oregon Attorney General, to get ODA to release information concerning the spraying and spur further investigation, resulting in this week’s findings.
Additionally, ODA’s statements on enforcement are viewed as tepid at best. Under both FIFRA and even the weak Oregon pesticide laws, civil penalties should not be the only option on the table. Civil penalties under FIFRA and Oregon State laws offer little deterrence value, even with a finding of gross negligence on the part of the applicator. Knowingly withholding information, lying to regulators, and violating both federal and state laws, warrants consideration of criminal violations. What is also needed is for Oregon lawmakers to establish stronger penalties, such as license revocations, and protective standards in the form of buffer zones.
Beyond Pesticides, along with other local Oregon environmental advocacy groups will be meeting in Portland, Oregon, April 11 through 12, to discuss solutions to these problems and more at our annual pesticide forum: Advancing Sustainable Communities: People, pollinators, and practices.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.