Cedar Valley residents asked the board of Curry County commissioners Wednesday for help in changing state law regarding aerial timber spraying to better protect their health and that of downstream salmon.
The 15 or so residents present during the work session are fighting state agencies in their attempts to get information about the chemicals they allege were sprayed on them and their property during timber land operations last October. Cedar Valley is located northeast of Gold Beach.
According to resident Katheryn Rickard, 43 people and at least three animals in her neighborhood have fallen sick after they were sprayed by herbicides, and efforts to get information about the chemicals has not been forthcoming by the landowner, the spraying company or the state agencies that came out to collect and test samples.
“We are not here to vilify the timber industry,” said Rickard, who hails from a third-generation logging family and was one of about 15 citizens in attendance Wednesday to present the issue to county commissioners. “We’re not out to conduct a witch hunt.”
Wednesday, they asked the board to draft legislation to change the state Forestry Practices and Right to Farm Timber acts to reflect current spraying laws and better protect citizens.
Water, woods and law
Rickard outlined to commissioners extensive research she’s done into how waters are classified in Oregon, how chemicals migrate in wind and water, spraying laws and what’s happening on the ground near Gold Beach.
She protested how old laws allow aerial spraying up to within 60 feet of any salmon-bearing stream, and up to 10 feet, if the area is sprayed by hand.
“In Oregon, someone can also spray directly into a stream if it is not designated for fish by the state,” Rickard said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the headwaters for salmon, upstream from someone’s well, spring or in-stream drinking water collection system. The rules make it possible for the aerial and ground spraying to go right over the top of many bodies of water. Our water must be protected.”
Laws allow timberland owners and their horticulturists to select from a number of approved chemicals each season to address their needs, based on the type of tree being sprayed and its life-cycle status. And while the landowner must notify the state as to when they will be spraying, the applicator — the helicopter company — is under no obligation to tell anyone what is being sprayed.
Only the state forester can ask for spray records. Residents can pay $25, however, to be notified when sprayings will take place, but that occurs irregularly, according to Jim Sweeney, a resident there. The notification he received March 19 indicated spraying would take place on 99 acres near him between March 1 and May 31.
“These laws are outdated,” Rickard said. “Things need to be changed.”
When residents asked the county for assistance last fall, Commissioner David Itzen told them the board cannot get involved after the state has. Rickard disagreed with his interpretation of the law.
“What I got out of that statute was, ‘The commissioners cannot … investigate a violation after the state is involved,’” Rickard said. “But it has nothing to do with requesting assistance from the ODA. It further states that commissioners can enforce and legislate anything regarding pesticides or herbicides on county public lands. That does not mean you cannot actively assist in finding answers from the state.”
She noted that the federal government has had in place for 20 years laws banning aerial spraying on public timberlands.
“If they can sustain logging on their lands, then so can our community,” she said. “Aerial spraying is the lazy man’s way of doing it.”
Some timber companies hand-spray their trees, but the method is time consuming and expensive. Rickard suggested the county use inmate labor to do that and save timber companies money.
“We are behind our neighboring states on the protection of our water resources,” she added. “California, Washington and Idaho have far stricter laws protecting their water. We are drinking this water, eating the fish in this water, watering our gardens with this water, rinsing our fruits and vegetables, and taking showers in this water. No water should be sprayed.”
Some of the chemicals being sprayed contain 2,4-D — the active ingredient in Agent Orange used to kill foliage in the Vietnam War and that resulted in the deaths of soldiers civilians in the ensuing decades.
“And these chemicals are mixed with other chemicals; what do we know about these (interactions)?” Rickard asked. “The government says they are safe, but with all this information, how can they say this is true? Our own government doesn’t know what’s in these chemicals.”
The outbreak of illnesses struck residents in Cedar Valley last fall after a helicopter spraying herbicides on privately held timberlands allegedly “oversprayed” onto neighboring property. Residents immediately started complaining about feeling ill — and later, their doctors expressed frustration in not being able to treat them. One physician’s six children are all sick.
“Forty-three people in my community are very ill,” Rickard said. “Take your worst flu ever and then be mad as hell,” she said. “You want to be out of your skin. It’s an unreal feeling.”
In addition to the more general maladies, Rickard said her husband’s eyesight is failing, several students were sent home from school for being “irritable” the week of the spraying, a horse has lost almost 500 pounds, a colt has gone blind and her dog has lost half its weight and will likely have to be euthanized in a couple of weeks.
“The minute that tail goes down, the minute he quits smiling at me and quits begging for a cookie, I’ve got to put him down,” she said. “My health is just as important as their little trees. My dog’s health is just as important as their little trees.”
The residents believe the spraying is done by Crook Timberlands of Coos County, but others own and spray land in the area, as well.
In addition to updating state law, Rickard said, the residents want the test results of samples taken in November.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) took samples from the neighbors’ properties about two weeks after the spraying, Rickard said, then proclaimed the samples were “bad” and took more. She said they’ve waited months for the results — Rickard believes state officials have had them since December — and received no response.
Bruce Pokarney, director of communications for the state Department of Agriculture, which works with the ODA on the investigation, said they are “in the process of providing the records.” Phone calls to the ODF were not returned.
Officials with the state say they have to test for numerous chemicals, and they want to ensure no step is overlooked, so it is a long process. Lisa Arkin, with the nonprofit Beyond Toxics, has since involved the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control; the Oregon State Attorney General this week just ruled that the state agencies must release the test results — but that has been to no avail either, Rickard said.
“We’re five months out, and the state will still not release the poisons,” she said. “We don’t know what kind of toxic bomb we’re getting blasted with.”
The spring spraying season got underway earlier this month.
Rickard also said the statutes that allow the lack of disclosure trample the Constitution.
“The rights of the people entitle all of us to the highest standard of health, personal security and safety on our own property,” she said.