Right now in Oregon’s state capital politicians are discussing the future safety of Oregon’s drinking water, schools and homes from the aerial spraying of toxic pesticides and herbicides.  Senator Chris Edwards of Eugene has convened a work group to assess the efficacy of various legislative proposals to address the significant gaps in Oregon law. On behalf of Beyond Toxics, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and Center for Biological Diversity the Crag Law Center’s staff is participating in this work group, with the goal of educating the legislature on the gaps in existing laws.

After poisoning scores of local citizens, Steve Owens continues to take contracts to spray pesticides from his helicopter. Photo courtesy of Dean Reynolds.

Landowners living on the coast range and in rural areas have suffered serious and permanent medical injury from the aerial application of toxic chemicals applied to growing forests and agricultural land.  There are real problems of drift, volatilization and pilot error. Forestry herbicide applications are tank mixes of multiple active ingredients, combined with adjuvants and carriers, some of which are more toxic than the herbicide itself.  There are no EPA labels that set human health standards for chemical mixtures.  Oregonians have called on the legislature to protect their constitutional rights to be safe and secure on their private property, to maintain access to clean drinking water and to ensure the safety of their children whether at home or at school.

The discussion in Salem is centering on proposed legislation that provides:

(1)       Advance notification to neighboring landowners and the public;

(2)       Public access to timely spray records;

(3)       Adequate buffers to protect homes, schools, drinking water, and salmon;

(4)       The role of the Oregon Health Authority in performing timely, impartial investigations of cases of pesticides drifting onto neighboring property.

As part of this process, the Oregon legislature is considering precedents set by other neighboring states.  Despite what the Oregon Forest Resources Institute might say, Oregon’s Forest Practices Act rules lag far behind Washington, Idaho, and California. Oregon is not the leader here.   Our neighbor states all have stronger standards in place for the protection of property and welfare during forestry spray operations.   The big question is whether the public will get adequate safeguards that allow them to protect kids, private property, farming operations and animals/livestock.

One proposal advanced by Salem’s Representative Clem focuses on what might happen after private property, people or animals gets sprayed or chemicals drift onto their property.  Clem has proposed increasing after-the-fact penalties for these impacts. However, our clients and their members are concerned that penalties alone are not a sufficient substitute for reasonable measures that will help prevent these incidents from happening in the first place.

Senator Dembrow and Representative Lininger have proposed another approach, to provide a process to set buffers to protect key sensitive areas from toxics – like homes, schools, drinking water, fish streams. The legislation clarifies that the Board of Forestry and the Oregon Department of Forestry have authority to ensure that they can take steps to protect human health and water quality.

The Oregon way is to be the leader in protecting the environment – and this can be done by providing reasonable science-based safeguards.  Buffers will provide a clear, even playing field, and industry will be free to apply chemicals on the ground.  The buffers must be based on the best available science and public participation.  Oregon needs to catch up with its neighbors. Our communities deserve advanced notification, a process for agency and public review of aerial spray plans, and no-spray buffer zones for all surface waters in order to protect private property and human health.