The impacts of aerial herbicide spraying in Lane County and across Oregon have come into sharper focus in recent years. In 2011, testing the urine of 41 Triangle Lake residents revealed traces of atrazine and 2,4-D, chemicals often included in the soups of toxic chemicals sprayed from helicopters over the state’s timberlands. In order to prevent incidents like this in the future, local environmental organization Beyond Toxics is spearheading a legislative bill to limit and inform on aerial sprays.
The bill will “call for changes that will bring Oregon into the 21st century,” says Lisa Arkin, executive director of Beyond Toxics, “in terms of Oregon stepping up to science that has been used in other states and establishing buffers that should be as much as five times wider than we currently have.”
According to Arkin, the bill will create buffer zones to limit aerial spraying around homes and schools, increase buffer zones around streams and drinking water sources, require timber owners and pesticide applicators to post notifications of upcoming sprays to a website run by the Oregon Department of Forestry and require state agencies to give information about spray chemicals to patients who may be affected by sprays and to their doctors.
She says that the status quo of the timber industry in Oregon — to increase profits at the expense of human health — makes this not just an environmental issue, but also a civil rights issue. “Oregon is restricting the civil rights of our residents — those who are living in rural communities that are exposed to this aerial spray constantly,” Arkin says. “This is the time to guarantee that everyone has the right to clean drinking water and the right to be safe on their own property.”
Arkin says that the need for this bill to become law is made clear by other state-mandated buffer zones in our region. In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency said that Oregon’s laws are the weakest in the Pacific Northwest.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene-area Democrat, says he agrees that the regional precedent is a compelling argument for increased buffer zones in Oregon. He tells EW that although this is only the beginning of the Legislature’s review process, he is supportive of the bill and believes that its provision concerning notification is particularly “appropriate.”
Both Prozanski and Sen. Chris Edwards of Eugene will have a hand in deciding on the bill, as both serve on the 2015 Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (ENR). Edwards is chair. Previous ENR chair Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) and Rep. Ann Lininger (D-Lake Oswego) have been working on the bill since the fall.