News Briefs: Toxic Chemicals in the River | Inert Ingredients Secrecy Challenged | Party Against Biomass Burning | Q Center to Close Its Local Office | Gardening Classes in January | Activist Alert | War Dead | Corrections/Clarifications
Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
TOXIC CHEMICALS IN THE RIVER
The 2008 Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Toxics Monitoring Annual Report found high levels of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in fish in the Willamette River near Eugene/Springfield. It isn’t clear where those chemicals are coming from.
|Northern Pikeminnow. image courtesy idaho dept. of fish and game.|
PCBs were banned in the 1970s. They have been shown to cause cancer, affect reproductive and immune systems, have neurological affects including impairment of visual recognition, short-term memory and learning, and to be endocrine disruptors, according the Environmental Protection Agency.
Though PCBs are banned, Jim Coyle of the DEQ calls them “legacy pollution” because they remain in the environment long after industries have stopped using them. An EPA database shows that several locations around Lane County either store PCBs or still utilize them in generators or older light ballasts at schools and other locations. Dan Duncan, regional PCB program coordinator for the EPA says “the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requires that PCBs be used in a ‘totally enclosed manner.’”
Karl Morgenstern, drinking water source protection coordinator water for EWEB, says that though Eugene’s drinking water doesn’t come from the Willamette, EWEB also saw the DEQ’s report and has questions and concerns about the data.
According to Morgenstern, “My understanding is that the northern pikeminnow tends to migrate over large areas — as opposed to staying in a more local geographic area of the river — so where they are being exposed to PCB contamination is hard to establish.”
PCBs were most commonly used as a cooling fluid for electrical transmission systems, Coyle says. They were used to release heat as electricity goes through a transformer and converts from a high line current to a residential level. But, he says, the chemicals were also used in paints, inks, dyes, caulking material and even newsprint.
The DEQ is implementing a statewide program looking at river basins around the state as part of its toxics monitoring program. The sampling of northern pikeminnow (formerly called northern squawfish) in the Willamette was part of this study. Coyle says, “The last time any kind of study was done on the Willamette was in the early ’90s.”
The DEQ also found the mood-stabilizer/anticonvulsant called carbamazepine, the anti-depressant Effexor, and sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic commonly used to treat urinary tract infections, at low concentrations at a quarter of the sample sites. Insecticides and herbicides also were found in the Willamette. The DEQ report says the most commonly used pesticide, glyphosate (aka Round-Up), was not tested for due to “analytical limitations.”
The Oregon Department of Human Services has a long-posted advisory letting people know that eating “resident fish” (as opposed to migratory fish such as salmon) in the mainstem of the Willamette should be limited due to PCBs and mercury. The state warns that kids under 6 shouldn’t eat more than one resident fish meal every six months.
Coyle says that northen pikeminnows were chosen for the study because they are piscivorous — fish that eat other fish, including salmon — and PCBs make their way up the food chain through fatty tissue, moving from tiny crustaceans like Daphnia, which he says “have lipids in their bodies,” to smaller fish, to species like the pikeminnow and small mouth bass.
Though native (and threatened) salmon were not studied because they range out into the ocean and thus have a much larger exposure history, that doesn’t mean those fish and other species are not affected by the toxic PCBs. Coyle says, “these chemicals could be distributed in other segments of fish populations.” — Camilla Mortensen
INERT INGREDIENTS SECRECY CHALLENGED
What’s actually in that big pink can of Raid (with a “country fresh” scent) you just unleashed on that roach on your floor? It’s something toxic enough to “kill bugs dead.” Bug sprays, like other pesticides from home to commercial use, list their toxic “active” ingredients on the labels, but they also list “inert” ingredients and aren't required by law to say what those are.
Anti-pesticide activists have questioned those inert ingredients and their safety, but pesticide manufacturers often claim such ingredients are confidential, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Federal confidentiality regulations require EPA to protect this information.
Inert ingredients are not necessarily nontoxic. Currently pesticide manufacturers disclose their inert ingredients only to EPA, and the agency evaluates the safety of all the ingredients in the product. An inert is “a substance (or group of similar substances) other than an active ingredient that is intentionally included in a pesticide product,” says EPA.
In August 2006 Eugene’s Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) petitioned EPA to change its rule and have all hazardous ingredients provided on labels. The attorneys general of 14 states plus the Virgin Islands also petitioned for this disclosure. Oregon’s then-AG was not one of the petitioners. According to EPA the petitions listed 350 inert pesticide ingredients as hazardous.
In response to the petitions, EPA is requesting public comment on the options for disclosing inert ingredients in pesticides and says the agency is “seeking ideas for greater disclosure of inert ingredient identities.” EPA has not yet decided what the new rules and "voluntary steps" will be.
Aria Seligmann, communications director for NCAP, calls this “a great step forward for EPA.”
She says, “It’s exciting to see the new administration recognizing its responsibility to protect people, animals and the environment from hazardous secret ingredients and to help consumers leave a legacy of a cleaner world for future generations.”
PARTY AGAINST BIOMASS BURNING
As Seneca’s biomass burning plant inexorably makes its way into being, local activists continue to agitate to try to mitigate the pollution and save Northwest forests. This weekend you can boogie about your feelings on biomass and logging at Cascadia’s Ecosystem Advocates’ fundraiser at 8 pm Sunday, Jan. 3, at Sam Bond’s, featuring music by Hot for Chocolate, The Soothesayers and Los Mex Pistols.
Samantha Chirillo of Eco-Advocates says the concern isn’t just air pollution; it’s a forest issue as well. “The best filters in the new monitors will not protect our forests from energy over-consumption and timber industry greed.”
Chirillo says, to her knowledge, “Eco-Advocates is the only organization in Oregon, aside from Cascadia Rising Tide, that has taken a formal position in opposition to forest biomass burning for electricity or liquid fuel on the basis of the devastating impact to our forests and is the only such group with a campaign.”
Locally, Oregon Toxics Alliance has spearheaded environmental justice efforts against the pollution Seneca will emit. Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild says his group does have a formal statement on biomass, but that it’s more nuanced than an outright “no biomass for energy” policy. Heiken says, “We feel that there is a significant need to restore our forests, and biomass utilization, if done very carefully, could be part of a sound forest restoration program. Of course, Seneca’s proposal is not an example of forest restoration.”
The state of Massachusetts has currently suspended biomass burning proposals pending a six-month study that will determine if such plants are actually a renewable and sustainable source of energy.
“We need to invest in real energy and climate solutions,” Chirillo says, “including conservation, efficiency and real renewables,” and not put tax money into burning forests.
The fundraiser starts at 8 pm and will feature a brief presentation on current local and federal burning forest biomass issues and what can be done to stop it. Cost is $3-20 sliding scale. For more information go to eco-advocates.org, for Oregon Wild’s biomass policy, check out http://wkly.ws/2o and for OTA’s stance click on www.oregontoxics.org — Camilla Mortensen
Q CENTER TO CLOSE ITS LOCAL OFFICE
Queer Eugene decided in early December to close its rented Q Center office on Lincoln Street as of Dec. 31. But the group remains dedicated to creating a larger, permanent community center, according to new president Julie Weismann.
The organization serves the LGBTQ community in Eugene and Springfield and says on its website: “As many of you are aware, the Q organization is in transition. The current board has been keeping the Q Center space open as well as we could, keeping hope alive as long as possible. Unfortunately, we do not currently have enough funds to keep the physical space open.”
The website continues, “We also want to form coalitions with other community organizations. The current space, as you know, is simply too small to accommodate more than one group at a time. We have decided that in order to make the vision of an adequate Q Center a reality, we need to be focusing our financial and organizational energy toward this goal.”
An annual meeting of the group is coming up Jan. 21 at EWEB’s meeting room. Look for more information and a list of other events at www.QueerEugene.com
GARDENING CLASSES IN JANUARY
The OSU Extension Service is offering a condensed version of its popular Master Gardener training beginning Jan. 7 in Eugene. The Community Gardener Certificate Series covers many of the subjects offered in the full Master Gardener training, but is offered in eight Thursday evening sessions to accommodate individuals who are not able to attend the daytime Master Gardener training.
Topics include: “Introduction to Sustainable Gardening,” Jan. 7; “Growing Your Own: Starting Plants from Seed and Growing Great Vegetables,” Jan. 21; “Composting at Home: Making Gardener’s Black Gold,” Feb. 4; “Secrets of Great Soil: Fertilizers and Amendments,” Feb. 18; “Integrated Pest Management: Beneficial Insects in the Garden,” March 4; “Diagnosing and Preventing Disease in the Garden,” March 18; “Container Gardening and Making Gardening a Life-Long Pleasure,” April 1; and “Growing Great Lawns,” April 15.
All classes meet 6:30 to 9 pm in the OSU Extension Service, Lane County auditorium, 950 West 13th Ave., Eugene. The full series costs $95 per person, and includes the Sustainable Gardening manual. Participants also may attend individual classes for $10 payable at the door.
• Mayor Kitty Piercy will deliver her 2010 State of the City address at 5:30 pm Tuesday, Jan. 5, in the lobby of the Hult Center. She will highlight key accomplishments of the city in 2009 and outline goals for the city for the coming year. Community awards will be presented, and city employees recognized. The event is free and open to the public, is wheelchair accessible, and will be interpreted for the hearing-impaired.
• A “Consumption and Waste” public forum sponsored by the city of Eugene is planned from 6 to 9 pm Wednesday, Jan. 6, at EWEB in Eugene. Issues to be discussed include greenhouse gas emission, fossil fuel use, preparing for climate change and adapting to the rising cost of fuel. The forum is related to the City Council’s request for a Community Climate and Energy Action Plan. A key aim of the plan will be to reduce total, current, communitywide fossil fuel consumption by 50 percent by 2030. More information can be found at http://wkly.ws/2h
• A free MindFreedom Roundtable is planned for 5:30 to 7 pm Wednesday, Jan. 6, at 454 Willamette, second floor. Speaker is Ron Unger, a full-time mental health counselor, who coordinates the Mind-Freedom Lane County Affiliate. His topic is “Changing Mental Health Care in Lane County in 2010.”
• The Oregon Board of Forestry meets at 8 am Jan. 6 in Salem, and at 8 am Jan. 7, the board will hold a workshop with a public advisory group to continue its review of an administrative rule that guides management of state forests. Both meetings will be in the Tillamook Room in Building C at ODF headquarters, 2600 State St. in Salem. More information can be found at www.oregon.gov/ODF/BOARD/
• Mayor Sid Leiken’s Springfield 2010 State of the City address
is scheduled for 11 am Jan. 6
at the Wildish Theater, 630 Main St. in downtown Springfield. The event is free and a reception will follow.
• Local business owners and community members interested in going beyond recycling are invited to attend a presentation on “Reducing Environmental Impacts of Packaging and Products.” The event is from 1:30 to 3 pm Jan. 6 at the Eugene Public Library, Bascom-Tykeson Room. Main speaker is David Allaway, a senior policy analyst for the DEQ. Sponsored by Lane County Waste Management, Master Recyclers and the city of Eugene Climate and Energy Program. “Materials efficiency provides some of the most cost-effective and money saving strategies for a healthy triple bottom line,” according to organizers.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,373 U.S. troops killed* (4,373)
• 31,606 U.S. troops injured** (31,603)
• 185 U.S. military suicides* (185)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 103,535 to 1.2 million civilians killed*** (103,410)
• $712.8 billion cost of war ($709.9 billion)
• $202.7 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($201.9 million)
• 934 U.S. troops killed* (931)
• 4,720 U.S. troops injured** (4,683)
• $235.0 billion cost of war ($234.2 billion)
• $66.8 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($66.6 million)
* through Dec. 28, 2009; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** sources: icasualties.org, defenselink.mil
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.2 million (Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)
We heard from Michael Williams, co-chair of the Board of Directors of Community Alliance of Lane County, that the headline in our news brief last week “CALC Group Condemns Neo-Nazi Talk” was incorrect. He says the Eugene Anti-Hate Task Force is not a program of CALC. AHTF has at times supported CALC efforts, he says, and “CALC has at times supported the AHTF and cooperated in certain events opposing many of the ideas presented at Pacifica Forum.” Williams is also a member of AHTF.
• Looking ahead to 2010, it’s time to get our political mojo moving again. Conservatives are cocky since Obama has not yet repaired all eight years of Bush and Cheney catastrophes. The economy is still scary, which leads people with short-term memory loss looking for someone new to blame.
A new Oregon governor will be elected for the first time in eight years. State schools Superintendent Susan Castillo is up for reelection. Half our state senators and all members of the Oregon House will be running, and the outcome is as unpredictable as who gets Tasered next in Eugene.
The new decade starts off with the Jan. 26 special election for state tax Measures 66 & 67. Ballots will be in the mail Jan. 8. The March 9 special election so far has only some Cottage Grove measures. May 18 is the big primary election for Lane County Commission East, West and Springfield positions, county assessor and at least four county measures. So far no one is challenging Faye Stewart for the East position (come on, people!). Bill Fleenor’s decision to not seek reelection to the West position puts that race up in the air with three candidates so far. Bill Dwyer’s retirement brings a four-way race for the Springfield seat. We are likely to see some run-offs in November.
On the May 18 ballot will be Eugene City Council seats held by Alan Zelenka, George Poling, Mike Clark and Jennifer Solomon. Let’s see some real competition this time around. It’s frustrating to watch conservative candidates run unopposed and unexamined. We end up with city leaders who believe the Earth is flat, early humans kept dinosaurs for pets, and cops can police themselves just fine. Poling and Clark have no opposition so far, but Solomon will face Rich Gaston and Rich Cunningham on the ballot.
Also on the May ballot will be EWEB commissioner slots held by John Brown and Ron Farmer.
Let’s make this next decade a whole lot better than the last. It starts here at home, organizing in our neighborhoods and around kitchen tables.
• 2009 has been a queasy ride for all of us in Lane County who navigate small boats on rough waters. We’re happy to report EW is still afloat, high and dry, and we are setting our sails for smoother sailing in 2010. We had to cinch our belts a bit in 2009, but we’re ending the year debt-free and holding steady with a record-high printing of about 40,000 papers each week and an audited readership of nearly 90,000 in print. Looking at the latest print circulation numbers for 80-some surviving Oregon papers, we are now the sixth most-read paper in the state.
• We also have some good news for our advertisers: We are not increasing ad rates in 2010. EW rates are already a bargain and highly cost effective, but we recognize that many businesses are operating at a loss or at very small profit margins, just trying to stay afloat until the economy improves. We want to help keep the wind in your sails. Thanks to all our loyal advertisers who have stuck with us this past year, and welcome to new advertisers who are trying us out as an alternative to other, more expensive, media in town.
More good news: We recently sent a check for $2,450 to White Bird Clinic from proceeds of our Best of Eugene Awards Show in October. Since we began doing BOE Awards Shows, we have raised more than $20,000 for local charities. We filled the McDonald Theatre this year for the first time.
• We are unhappy to hear about the shutting down of two community papers in Lane County. The Tri-County News and West Lane News stopped publication before Christmas, citing financial losses. Mike and Sandy Thoele sold the papers to Andrew Polin in 2008. Community papers are vital to the economic and social cohesion of small towns. And how can citizens make informed decisions if they don’t know what’s happening down at City Hall or in the schools?
This might not be the perfect time to leap into the newspaper business, but the economy is looking better, paper costs are down and journalism talent is abundantly available, even free. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of budding journalists earned valuable experience working for these two papers as unpaid interns. Local advertisers still need to get their products and services promoted, and small town papers don’t have much competition. And despite the intense labor and stress of publishing a newspaper each week, there are few careers as engaging, interactive and satisfying.