(Beyond Pesticides, August 15, 2014) Residents of Southern Oregon are tired of being told that farming and forest industry rights to pollute and spray toxic chemicals trump their rights to live healthy lives, so they are taking the matter to court, except not in the way most would assume. Because unlike many instances where citizens could allege nuisance and trespass for toxic or smelly invasions onto private property and into their lives, Oregon residents and many others across the country are prohibited by law from filing such claims against agricultural industries.
Known generally as Right-to-Farm Acts, Oregon’s Farm and Forest Practices Act prohibits local laws from making farming and forest practices a nuisance or trespass. The law also grants immunity from private actions, unless, of course, severe injury or death resulted. As one of the attorneys, Chris Winters of the Crag Law Center, representing the Oregon residents explained to reporters, “The law basically grants an immunity to people who spray pesticides from being held responsible.”
In filing the lawsuit, plaintiffs hope that a court will change all of this and invalidate the Farm and Forest Practices Act as unconstitutional, because of the state’s constitutional guarantee of remedy for injury to person, property, or reputation.
The environmental and public health saga that led up to the constitutional challenge began in October 2013, when residents of Curry County, Oregon filed a complaint with the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) concerning a series of aerial spraying of pesticides on adjacent forest industry land. The complaint alleged that surrounding residents noticed strange smells during fly-overs and reported accompanying symptoms such as skin rashes, nausea, and headaches.
After ODA’s initial investigation, no action was taken against the pesticide applicator or industry responsible. Unwilling to settle for ODA’s inaction and tepid investigation, affected residents supported by the environmental organization of Beyond Toxics, filed a petition with the Oregon Attorney General, requesting ODA to release information concerning the initial investigation. The petition worked and spurred ODA’s second investigation, in which the agency found multiple violations on the part of the pesticide applicator, as well as evidence of the presence of pesticides on the adjacent properties like 2,4-D and triclopyr.
This week, the state issued a $20,000 fine to Owen and Pacific Air Research, the applicator company responsible for the spraying, and revoked the company’s license for “gross negligence and willful misconduct” in regards to state pesticide law. While those are the maximum civil penalties provided for under Oregon’s pesticide laws, residents that have suffered from the impacts of the rogue pesticide application and the ordeal of making sure pesticide regulations were upheld feel violated and want more options to address such violations for not only themselves, but any future victims.
Beyond Pesticides supports the efforts of residents everywhere to stand up for public health and environmental rights and protect their communities and properties from chemical trespass. Visit our website to learn more about the negative impacts of pesticides on communities and what you can do to support those fighting for change!
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Oregon Public Broadcasting