Update on Herbicide Trespass Incident

Posted in Blog

For those interested in this incident and issue, here is a quick update.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture completed their investigation and shared their report.  As we expected, they found no evidence of a violation of Oregon law.  OPB provided this coverage:  http://www.opb.org/news/article/investigators-find-no-evidence-of-chemical-drift/

The Department of Forestry is completing their own investigation of the incident.

We have assembled this response to the ODA report:

Hyla Woods Response to Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Report on Herbicide Spray Incident – July 28, 2016:

We are appreciative that the ODA staff completed the investigation in a timely way and apparently in accordance with current state law and agency protocols. We are also grateful that all of the parties involved were cooperative and ready to assist the investigation, including Dept. of Forestry staff, Stimson Lumber Company staff, other neighboring landowners.

We feel that the report falls short of what is required in the following four ways:

  1. Right Not to be Exposed – Given that four of us, in separate locations, independently and simultaneously smelled and/or tasted the chemical at the same time as the helicopter was actively spraying, it seems clear that we were exposed. Given that ODA’s analysis did not find residue of the spray on vegetation, it appears that our situation involved two levels of exposure – primary exposure, the area within which the chemical may be detected on the vegetation; and secondary exposure, the area within which the chemical may be sensed by average people. We feel that we have a right, on our own land, not to be exposed at either level. We feel that the investigation should acknowledge both levels of exposure, acknowledge both our rights and the sprayer’s responsibilities, and work to better understand the potential consequences of secondary exposure.
  2. Right to Know – Responsibility to Know – The investigation was based on an incomplete knowledge of the chemicals that were sprayed. Following current protocols, staff only collected information on the active chemicals involved and did not learn what inert chemicals were sprayed. Given that inert chemicals, such as those used in the surfactant, may be toxic when used alone, and may have synergistic impacts when used in combination with other chemicals, an adequate investigation must identify and consider all of the chemicals involved. In this case, the distinction between active and inert chemicals seems immaterial. The agencies have a responsibility to know what was sprayed and we have a right to know what we were exposed to.
  3. Responsibility to Adequately Regulate – While there is much that the agencies do that is right in their work to regulate the use of chemicals, this incident highlights one important weakness of the system. With the common practice of spraying a mixture of chemicals, we have a case where the circumstances of use are different from the circumstances under which the chemicals were individually tested, approved, and labeled. Based on the body of science that documents the unintended, synergistic consequences of mixing chemicals, we feel that the agencies have a responsibility to acknowledge and address this problem and align the conditions of testing and labeling with the specific conditions of use. The report fails to acknowledge this problem.
  4. Cooperation Between Agencies – Because we know that both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Forestry have jurisdiction over aerial spraying of herbicides, we were pleased to learn that staff from both departments would work together to investigate and report on this incident. We were surprised that ODA produced a report that appears to neither acknowledge or reflect work being done by ODF. If we are correct in understanding that both agencies are involved in investigating the incident, it seems that the public would be best served by integrating the work and findings of both agencies into a single report.

Walk in Our Shoes – We care about the need to modernize the state’s approaches to regulating the use of forest herbicides for several reasons.  One of the main reasons is reflected in the specific circumstances of this incident.  Roughly a week prior to the incident a group of forty second graders and their teachers spent the day doing scientific investigations in the area that was exposed.  A week following the incident 300 family members and friends gathered in the same place for a wedding celebration.  Mindful that the exposure could easily have happened while one of these groups was there – smelling and tasting the chemicals, we consider how we would have answered their questions: “What is that smell and taste?  Might breathing the chemicals be bad for us?  Should we stay or leave?” .

The expectation that they and we have a right not to be exposed and that government has a responsibility to protect that right has not yet been acknowledged by the agencies. Based on the report, if the spraying had been done during class visit or the wedding, we’d have to respond “We don’t fully know what was sprayed and the state won’t help us learn.  We don’t know what the level of risk is to us, you, and the land, and the state agencies don’t appear to care”.

These do not feel like acceptable answers. We can and should do better.