Oregon might be seen as a green and healthy state, but its laws protecting people, pets and lands from the chemicals drifting from aerial herbicide sprays are weaker than the laws in Idaho, Washington and California. Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics hopes a new bill introduced into the Oregon Legislature Feb. 10 could change that.
Senate Bill 613 was co-authored by Portland Democrats Rep. Ann Lininger and state Sen. Michael Dembrow. Lane County-area Democrats Paul Holvey, Phil Barnhart and Floyd Prozanski have signed on as co-sponsors. The Triangle Lake area of the county in Oregon’s Coast Range has long battled over pesticide drift (herbicides are a subset of pesticides), and residents and children there were the focus of a state and federal investigation into the issue after the herbicides 2,4-D and atrazine were found in their urine.
“People have the right to safety and health on their own property,” Arkin says. “The bill respects that.” She says the legislation would give “guidance and policies for timber companies to be better neighbors by informing when there will be a chemical application.”
Under current Oregon law, applicators list chemicals that might be sprayed in a spray notification, but not what is actually sprayed, and the window of when the spray occurs can be months-wide with no specific date given.
Arkin points by way of example to spray notices for the area near King Estate Winery in Lorane (see Spray Schedule this issue). One of the notices has a window from March 1 to July 31 and calls for spraying “atrazine, clopyralid, glyphosate, hexazinone and sulfometuron methyl” with the additives “Crosshair and Grounded and Foam Buster and Odor Mask and No Foam.” Another notice for the Lorane area lists approximately 20 chemicals that could be sprayed. The sprays are near streams and wetlands, according to the spray notices Arkin obtained from the Oregon Department of Forestry.
In a 2013 incident in Curry County, residents became sick, pets died and for months no one knew what chemicals were in the toxic soup that rained down over their homes. The bill, known as the Public Health and Water Resources Protection Act, would require pesticide applicators to provide advanced community notice about aerial spraying and controlled burning.
The SB 613 would also create buffers around homes and schools where pesticides could not be applied by helicopter, and it would expand buffers around fish-bearing streams and drinking-water sources. However, the bill does not say what the buffers should be and instead directs the state’s Department of Forestry board to establish them around homes, schools, drinking water sources and fish-bearing streams.
“It doesn’t solve everything, Arkin says of the bill,” but it attempts to hone in on the most egregious problem — that on your own property you don’t have the right to be notified by your neighbor of an upcoming danger.”