By Justin Workman
On March 8, 2012, my heart sank after hearing the Highway 36 Human Health Exposure Investigation had been suspended. That sadness turned to helplessness as I learned why.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) was in charge of taking pre/post urine samples from residents living in the investigation area and within a 1.5-mile radius of a clear-cut to analyze for pesticide drift.
The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), in conjunction with timber companies (Weyerhaeuser, Seneca Jones, Roseburg, etc.), was to coordinate with OHA to create a urine sampling plan with residents in the investigation area.
OHA states, however, “We had difficulty in obtaining info about the exact timing of planned pesticide applications,” and that “post-application sampling did not occur because of changes in spray locations and the logistical issues that could not be overcome.”
So, by simply not spraying, the timber companies succeeded in suspending the Human Health Exposure Investigation.
Still, there was a glimmer of hope. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was granted money through the investigation to create a new passive air sampler. Some 60 samplers were to be deployed strategically throughout the investigation area to discern whether pesticides were drifting and if so, at what concentrations.
Since the EPA has few labs of their own anymore, the agency contracted an independent lab to help create the samplers. Unfortunately, the company botched the lab tests. Regardless of the useless results, they still charged the EPA, and used up all the allotted grant money for the investigation.
In November 2017, Elizabeth Allen of EPA Region 10 informed me that two chemists in her agency deemed the project important enough that “they would finish creating the samplers, for free and on their own time.” She explains, “This is actually a redo of the work we paid a contractor a lot of money to do, with results that weren’t usable.”
Finally, in July 2019, the EPA did “resolve the analytical issues” with the samplers. Five years later, the air samplers were ready for deployment into the forests of Oregon.
The last step before placement was to secure funding for lab costs. Allen writes, “I applied for a grant to cover the analytical costs associated with such an effort, and wasn’t successful. For various reasons, I’m not inclined to submit any more grant applications.”
She goes on to list the various reasons for giving up on the project — all of which are Oregon agencies. “Neither OHA nor Oregon DEQ were willing to assist in the air sampling. I’m under the impression that ODA would also resist further sampling. Regardless of the status of air samplers, EPA is unlikely to conduct further sampling if the state of Oregon is not in support of doing so.”
Clearly this goes against OHA’s own recommendations spelled out in the Hwy 36 Final Report: “The EPA work with the Exposure Investigation (EI) team on developing a sampling and analysis plan designed to evaluate exposures to pesticides in air and to address gaps in the data needed to answer (EI) questions.”
The report also recommends, “State and federal agencies involved in the ongoing (EI) develop an implementation plan to address these recommendations, including the identification of resources to carry out activities appropriate for each agencies role in serving the communities of Oregon.”
Eight years, thousands of man-hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, the agencies in charge of protecting the children and communities of Oregon have failed.
Justin Workman and his family live on a small organic farm in the Triangle Lake area.