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Pesticides and Birthweight

A response to the Hwy. 36 exposure investigation

How would you like to live in the area of Oregon that has the smallest babies born in the entire state? 

According to Oregon Office of Rural Health and OHSU, if you live along scenic Hwy. 36 from Junction City all the way to Swisshome, your newborn will be the smallest in the state. In fact, this Triangle Lake area far exceeds the state average. The same study states that low birthweight children are significantly more likely to have mental retardation, cerebral palsy, visual and hearing defects, lung disease and learning disabilities.

There is no coincidence that the region with the lowest birthweight is also the same geographical area as the current ongoing Hwy. 36 exposure investigation — the same place where two pesticides were found in 100 percent of the people tested before forestry sprays stopped. 

Triangle Lake is an area that is 95 percent industrial timberland and is within the most heavily logged ecosystem in the world. And with all those clearcuts come the pesticides. Three or four times in the first two years after cutting, concoctions of cancerous pesticides are applied by helicopter. These unchecked tank-mixes are usually 10 times stronger than what is applied to our agricultural food crops, making Triangle Lake the most heavily sprayed area of Oregon. 

This is the place where the herbicide imazapyr was found in the school well after a neighboring clearcut was sprayed. The safest means of pesticide application was used (hack and squirt), yet the chemical still reached the children’s water supply. 

My family moved to this part of Oregon in 2005. Since then, I have witnessed each of my family members, including myself, suffer major health issues. My wife had pus-filled lumps, I had bloody stools and severe achy joints, and my children had coughing and vomiting for seven months. Three times my family’s urine was tested for atrazine and 2,4-D. All three times we had the chemicals in us. In fact my family and I had levels of pesticides in us equal to that of an average pesticide applicator from the Midwest. 

The Hwy. 36 investigation also found fluridone, an aquatic weed killer, in my neighbor’s well water. Both men that lived on that property just died this year. Ed died of Parkinson’s disease and cancer, while Carl died of bladder cancer. 

Lots of data link health problems such as low birthweight and cancers to pesticide exposures. Atrazine in particular is known to decrease birthweight. Combinations of pesticides like the ones found in the residents of Triangle Lake almost always have an additive or synergistic effect when mixed: The health risks of both chemicals are either added or multiplied together giving you a much more lethal mixture. 

The Hwy. 36 investigation failed to calculate this into the health-risk assessment for the residents tested. It also failed to calculate in the so-called inert ingredients of the pesticide formulas. All chemicals like atrazine are wrapped with other chemicals to make the formula work. Some of those “inert” ingredients are more lethal than the active chemical they are wrapped around.

Another limiting factor to the human health investigation is that only two pesticides were able to be tested for in urine at time of sampling. That means, out of 16 possible pesticides used on clearcuts, only two could be tested for. Yet we are still considered to be safe from adverse health effects. 

My youngest child was 4 years and 11 months old when the state investigation found pesticides in him. Since there was only data on 5-year-olds, he and another child were left out of the official stats, thus keeping the number of residents that tested positive for pesticides at 94 percent. Had their statistics been calculated in, we would have fallen into the statistically significant category (95 percentile) and more funding and testing would have occurred. 

A solution is simple. Use the same forestry laws that govern our federal forests on the private industrialized timberlands. That is, any company that owns over 5,000 acres cannot use pesticides on their industrialized forests. They are the ones using helicopters to spray their poisons by air. The loggers who actually live around here, the “mom and pop” tree farms, can do business as usual. In this way, jobs will be created, the small time loggers will not be impacted, and the health of the Hwy. 36 residents will improve, especially the unborn ones.