Triangle Lake, named in the 1900’s after its unusual three-sided shape, is located 25 miles west of Junction City on Route 36. A popular place for family recreation, it has become the focus of a drawn-out investigation due to public health concerns. Even more, local residents claim the investigation is being thwarted by timber companies.
The Oregon Health Authority reports that, dating back to the 1960’s, citizens who lived around the lake raised concerns about chemicals used in the aerial and manual application of herbicides on the coastal forest land. These concerns stemmed from a spike in the reported number of miscarriages and birth defects. In 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of the herbicides 2,4,5-T and silvex. These herbicides were being used to control weeds and underbrush. The dioxin suspected of causing the miscarriages is TCDD, a contaminant of the chemical compound Agent Orange, used throughout the Viet Nam war.
The EPA ban was based in part upon the Triangle Lake area presenting the first tangible proof of the toxicity of the chemical to humans. At that time, it was estimated that approximately 4 million Oregon residents were at risk from the exposure.
In the Spring of 2011, 34 residents from around the Triangle Lake area tested positive to having — among other chemicals — 2,4D in their urine. 2,4D, another weed control pesticide, has been debated as a hazard towards humans. This debate has occured to this day despite a link being found in a 1990 study of Nebraska farmers which found that exposure to 2,4D was linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Oregon Health Authority and the state’s Pesticide Analytical Response Center began investigations as to how Triangle Lake residents were exposed to the pesticide. In August 2011, public health workers collected urine samples from a number of residents around the lake in order to form a baseline assessment of health prior to the “pre-spray” season of herbicides. This was followed in September 2011 with soil samples, drinking water tests, and vegetable examination.
On March 2012, the investigation was suddenly halted during the middle of the peak spraying season around Triangle Lake. It was later revealed that the investigation team had made numerous errors in critically important investigations, jeopardizing the results.
It was also discovered that a number of Lane County timber companies had decided not use the suspect chemicals during the spraying season. By choosing not to spray, the timber companies decided to “opt out” of the investigation and, possibly, subsequent lawsuits.
Residents were enraged, accusing the forest landowners of sabotaging the test process. In a forum held on April 10, 2012, the Pesticide Analytical Response Center and two federal agencies advised residents that the spring sampling was halted and that a new base line sampling would begin in the final weekend of August 2012.
The Oregon Health Department reports that there have been no further advancement to the investigation. Residents continue to complain of health disorders.
Weyerhaeuser, one of several timber corporations operating in the area, had previously denied that it changed its 2011 Triangle Lake spraying strategy because of the investigation. Telephone inquiries to their Washington Head Office this week to inquire about the future spraying of chemicals at Triangle Lake were not returned.
The Oregon Health Department is continuing its investigations. It is requesting residents who have possession of environmental data such as air, water and soil analyses, to make contact with the OHA.