Several public advocacy groups held a rally today against pesticides at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza during the Saturday Market. Pitchfork Rebellion, an anti-pesticide group from the Triangle Lake area organized “Occupy This! Rally for Pesticide Justice and Jobs!” The event called for banning aerial spraying of pesticides near homes and schools, creating a buffer zone to protect people’s health.
The rally began with a performance by local reggae/jam band Sol Seed, followed by a spoken word protest performance calling for a “pure organic Oregon.”
Then “Day,” a resident of the Triangle Lake area, took to the stage. Day is one of several residents of Triangle Lake who has been documented to have the pesticides 2,4-D and atrazine in his urine. 2,4-D, or 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, is a major ingredient in Agent Orange, one of the chemicals used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War. A professional analysis of four public streams near Day’s and other residents’ homes found these pesticides in all of the streams.
“We’re just a bunch of hillbillies from Triangle Lake tired of getting hit by pesticides everyday.”
Studies by numerous organizations, from the EPA to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to public universities, have documented the effects of human consumption of pesticides. Pesticides can cause damage to the human nervous system, reproductive system and other organs, developmental and behavioral abnormalities, disruption of hormone function as well as immune dysfunction.
Day introduced Roy Key, a professional forester of over 40 years. Key said he was there to talk about the dangers of pesticide poisoning in Lane County.
“I’ve been in the forest business for 40 years. I’ve managed forests without herbicides or pesticides. You don’t need those substances to manage the forest.”
Key compared pesticide use to his experience in the Vietnam War.
“It’s just like Agent Orange all over again. But here in Lane County.”
Key called on attendees to tell Oregon governor John Kitzhaber to stop the use of pesticides in the state near homes and schools.
Oregon already has a buffer zone to protect waterways and salmon species. Streamside protection rules for non-federal forest land in Oregon were adopted in 1994. All private, state and local government forest landowners or operators conducting pesticide operations near streams, lakes or wetlands must comply with these rules. In November 2011, a federal judge upheld buffer zones for pesticide use near streams and rivers. Dow Chemical Company, a leader in specialty chemicals based in Michigan, filed a lawsuit seeking to undo the Oregon rules, saying that they were too restrictive. The restrictions ban the ground spraying of three agricultural insecticides within 500 feet of waterways with salmon. They also ban aerial spraying within 1000 feet of said waterways.
While Oregon has a buffer zone for pesticide use near water, it has not adopted a buffer zone near human activity. The Oregon Department of Forestry says,
“Currently, there are no regulations in Oregon requiring a buffer zone for aerial application of herbicides near specific structures or facilities, including schools.”
There are, nonetheless, safety requirements in how pesticides are used, both in residential and forested situations:
“While pesticide use in a residential setting must abide by pesticide label safety requirements, forestry applications must follow those requirements plus additional regulations spelled out in the Oregon Forest Practices Act.”
Pesticide companies, such as Dow Chemical, argue that their products abide by these safety requirements. Concerning 2,4-D, the substance found in Triangle Lake residents, Dow Chemical has said the following:
“2,4-D is available for use in U.S. crop production today because EPA has determined, after evaluating all human health and safety considerations – including the concerns expressed by activists – that current uses (including currently authorized uses on corn) pose ‘a reasonable certainty of no harm.’ This EPA conclusion was reached only after the Agency had considered all relevant data…This regulatory conclusion is supported by mainstream health and safety experts who have thoroughly evaluated the product.”
The application of pesticides has had a long and controversial history. Dr. Patricia Muir, Professor at Oregon State University’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, says that, following World War 2,
“Chemical pesticides have become the most important consciously-applied form of pest management.”
The Oregon Department of Forestry explains this popularity according to pesticides’ cost-effectiveness:
“Many landowners see herbicides as the most cost-effective means of achieving their reforestation goals following logging or fire, or for converting neglected brush land to forests.”
The first important pesticide was DDT (otherwise known as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). Muir says,
“DDT was discovered in 1939 by a Swiss chemist Paul Muller. In its early days, it was hailed as a miracle…It was inexpensive and easy to apply. It was so effective at killing pests and thus boosting crop yields and was so inexpensive to make that its use quickly spread over the globe. In 1948, Muller was awarded the Nobel Prize for its discovery.”
As years went by, however, DDT was labeled both directly and indirectly toxic to many organisms. Most disturbingly, as Muir explains, DDT
“showed up in human breast milk at remarkably high concentrations — so high that the milk couldn’t legally be sold through interstate commerce if it were cow’s milk! [DDT] is the most widespread contaminant in human milk around the world.”
While DDT was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972, other pesticides are commonly used in Oregon. The last year in which Oregon has data compiled for pesticide use is 2008. That year it was reported that 280,001 pounds of pesticides (chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion) were used in the state.
The groups that rallied today are hoping to change how those hundreds of thousands of pounds of pesticides are administered. They asked all attendees to fill out postcards to Governor Kitzhaber to ask for expanding pesticide buffer zones to include not just fish, but people.
Christina Hubbard, the Project Director of Forest Web, also spoke at the rally. Forest Web is a grassroots conservation organization based in Cottage Grove. Hubbard said,
“Forest Web stands in solidarity with these groups. I’ve personally been working with Day since 2007. A lot of these pople have had major clinical studies done on their urine and it is documented that they have pesticide poisoning.”
Hubbard says this rally’s message is not particularly radical.
“Really what this is about is creating a reasonable buffer zone for aerial spraying. This is common sense, to protect homes and schools.”
For more information about Oregon’s use of pesticides in agriculture, go to the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s website at http://oregon.gov/ODA/PEST/. For more information about Oregon’s use of them in forestry, go to the Oregon Department of Forestry’s website at http://www.oregon.gov/ODF/privateforests/pesticides.shtml. Websites for the groups involved in the rally are: Pitchfork Rebellion, http://pitchforkrebellion.com/; STOP, http://stop-oregon.org/; Forest Web, http://www.forestweb-cg.org/.