The Deleterious Effects of the Pesticides-Government-Industrial Complex in Oregon
Clearcut forest, Highway 36 Corridor, Lane County, Oregon. (Photo: Eron King)
It was with heavy heart I started reading a recent report of Oregon Health Authority, an agency of the state of Oregon. This report finalized a state and federal investigation into the 2011 poisoning of Oregonians by timber companies.
The poisoned victims live near private forests in the Highway 36 corridor in western Lane County. Ninety-five percent or 173,152 acres of the land in the scene of the crime is forest, almost equally divided between federal and private owners.
I suspected the Oregon report would not be revealing the truth. I read hundreds of such reports during my 25-year tenure at the US Environmental Protection Agency. My suspicion had nothing to do with my personal revulsion to the crime of poisoning. Rather, I followed the link to pesticides and their toxic history.
Chemical companies, large users of pesticides like timber companies and large farmers and state and federal agencies consider pesticides essential for industrialized farming and forestry. They have created a model of deception for the protection of pesticides that easily compares to the corruption, secrecy and security of the agencies protecting nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons.
Clearcut, McMullen Creek Road, Selma, Oregon. (Photo: Steve Kirkland.)
Clearcut, Highway 36 Corridor, western Lane County, Oregon. (Photo: Evaggelos Vallianatos)
No citizen or ethical scientist can easily take a look and understand the historical, bureaucratic and corporate black hole protecting pesticides.
Pesticides kill more than pests. They are biocides by design. Chemical industry lobbyists rather than lawgivers drafted the pesticide law. The legal text of this "law" is technical and exceedingly ambiguous - facilitating the cause of polluters.
Each major pesticide earns 10 to 20 million dollars per year for around 20 years.
Clearcut forest, Highway 36 Corridor, Lane County, Oregon. (Photo: Eron King)One of the first anchors of pesticide protection came from the fraudulent testing of these lucrative chemicals. Fraudulent tests allowed the US Department of Agriculture and, since December 1970, the EPA to approve or register pesticides for use in farming, forestry, lawns and other uses.
The EPA has been facing fraudulent pesticide labs for most of its life. The pressure on EPA (from the industry, the White House, and Congress) not to discover more fraudulent labs has been such that EPA outsourced its responsibility for examining pesticide "safety" data.
As if fraudulent testing of pesticides was not a serious enough crime, the pesticide law added another giant loophole for even more crimes. The tested pesticide is never used alone. It is always mixed with several other toxic chemicals, which the EPA calls "inerts." These inerts, of course, are anything but inerts. They include carcinogenic petroleum distillates and other hazardous substances.
EPA's perverse definition of inerts conveniently covers-up science and enables the farmer or the timber company to spray a mixture of chemicals that, together, are many times more deleterious than the "tested" "active" ingredient (pesticide). In addition, this sophisticated, nay criminal, use of pesticides blurs the toxicity of the key pesticide, making it next to impossible to pinpoint its effects.
It's this criminality, carefully blended with ambiguous science and government regulation, which explain the survival of farm and timber biocides for so many decades. After all, organic farming makes them entirely unnecessary for producing food. We see the effects of their poisoning all over the natural world and in rapidly increasing human disease and death.
Destruction of forest around a rural school, Highway 36 Corridor, Lane County, Oregon. (Photo: Eron King)
The defenders of pesticides, a cabal of private and government agencies, bamboozle anyone daring to challenge the safety of pesticides.
The Oregon poisoning incident illustrates this process of bad science and corruption. Oregonians living in the midst or borders of private forests have been ceaselessly sprayed with powerful weed killers. Most of the time, the victims get sick and move away from Oregon or get sick and possibly die silently in Oregon.
In the spring of 2011, however, a small group of the timber company victims decided to fight back. They collected urine samples and had them tested in a laboratory in Georgia. The lab found 2,4-D and atrazine in the urine. These are toxic herbicides or weed killers.
In fact, 2,4-D is also a chemical warfare agent. The US military used 2,4-D and its sibling, 2,4,5-T, in the form of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War.
We don't know whether the present-day 2,4-D is also contaminated by dioxin. But even without dioxin, 2,4-D is a potent killer.
Once the sprayed Oregonians presented the results of their tested urine samples to Oregon authorities, the government of Oregon sought the assistance of two federal agencies: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency. Three years later, the government of Oregon concluded the sprayed Oregonians had nothing to fear. The sprays (2,4-D and atrazine and other toxins) hit them at levels that could not hurt them.
The official 130-page report (Public Health Assessment: Highway 36 Corridor Exposure Investigation, October 2014) is full of acronyms and repetitive assertions. The dense text is full of questionable conclusions.
But the real purpose of the report is to protect both pesticides and their owners. In the toxic strategy of protecting pesticides, the report is the second phase of using bad science to cover-up the truth of the deleterious effects of pesticides.
The mighty government consortium, speaking with the presumed authority of science, is telling fearful victims not to worry, promising more research on their behalf.
One of the victims of timber spraying, Audrey Moore, reached her own conclusion about the Oregon report. She told me she loathed the "investigation." She attended town hall meetings and listened to what she described as "politically correct BS." Moore dismissed the report of an "investigation that never was."
Moore is paying the ultimate price. She has cancer. She is wise enough to direct her anger not only at the companies that spray pesticides but at the "void" and the "silence"… "from those who know." This means you and me. She asks: Why are we not up in arms protesting and resisting poisoned sprays and the undermining of life on Earth?
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Evaggelos Vallianatos is the author of several books, including Poison Spring, published in April 2014 by Bloomsbury Press.