Frustration and anger were the prevailing emotions at a briefing in Gold Beach Tuesday where state officials outlined to residents the details of an aerial spraying incident that left about 40 of them sick last fall.
Oregon Department of Agriculture investigators said their tests revealed aerial sprayer Pacific Air Research of White City contaminated their home lands with pesticides — and probably residents and some animals — during chemical operations in Cedar Valley, north of Gold Beach, last October.
Affected residents sought medical help, they told county commissioners at the meeting, but their physicians couldn’t do much without knowing what chemicals they’d been exposed to — and the aerial sprayer would not divulge that information.
The state departments of agriculture and forestry plan now to pursue “enforcement” procedures — most likely in the form of fines.
But residents said that wasn’t enough.
“No, not at all,” said Barbara Burns, who suffers from a hacking cough and itching eyes five months after her exposure to the spray. “Change the law, that’s what we want. That’s my purpose now: change the law.
“I’m not into stopping spraying,” she added. “That’s not going to happen. But make the laws the same as California, Idaho, Washington — what’s so hard about that?”
Laws in those states require wider buffer zones around homes and waterways and are more strict in regards to when chemicals can be sprayed.
That was an issue with Cedar Valley resident Susan Golay, also affected by the pesticide contamination, who said spraying operations could likely never be in compliance with state laws, given the ever-changing climate on the southwestern coast.
“Look at the weather at the Flynn Prairie weather station that day,” she said, of spraying operations that affected others south of Gold Beach in that same time period. “There is so much shifting, so much turbulence. The temperature, humidity — there’s no way any helicopter pilot can guarantee compliance for any spray event. The laws can’t be enforced.”
Chemicals can infiltrate the water, or be usurped in fog and re-deposited along the coast where people live, she said.
“The Flynn Weather Station is 2 miles from a grade school, in 10 mile-an-hour winds that day,” she said. “You can’t guarantee our entire grade school wasn’t doused in chemicals. You have an obligation to ensure the safety of the community.”
All the state officials offered was recommendations to seek medical help from their physicians and review pamphlets on various websites regarding health and water testing. The departments of agriculture and forestry do not conduct water testing on wells, and any testing that could have been done on tributaries at the time of the spraying would have been ineffective because water flushes the chemicals away.
Others complained that the delay in responding to complaints likely led to bad test results, as well.
“It’s obvious the system is broken,” said Jim Sweeney, whose property south of Gold Beach was sprayed. “I’d like to ban aerial spraying. If the people want it, it’ll happen. But it will take a group effort. This needs to be fixed.”