Pesticide Industry Squashes Local Rights

aerial spraying of pesticides

Story at-a-glance -

  • The Lincoln County, Oregon, aerial spray ban was passed in May 2017, restricting timber companies from aerial pesticide sprayings in the county
  • The ban was a major success of Lincoln County Community Rights, a small group of volunteer Oregon locals who took on pesticide giants in a fight for what they believed to be the inalienable right to live in a county without pesticides harming their health
  • Pesticide trade group CropLife America, which had revenue of more than $16 million in 2015 and whose dues-paying members include Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and DuPont, stepped in to try to stop the ban
  • CropLife America teamed up with PR firm Paradigm Communications and created an opposition group called Protect Family Farms and Forests to paint the local residents as eco-terrorists
  • A lawsuit has already been filed to make the pesticide ban invalid on the grounds that it is pre-empted by Oregon state law
  • Forty-three states have pesticide pre-emption laws that may restrict local governments from allowing pesticide restrictions that go beyond those required at a federal level, and the industry is trying to push for pre-emption at the federal level

By Dr. Mercola

Oregon is considered by many to be among the most environmentally friendly states in the U.S. But as many residents found out upon moving to the seemingly untouched forests of Lincoln County, aerial pesticide spraying is a major problem. It’s illegal to spray pesticides by air in national forests (and has been since 1984).

Private landowners, however, can still do so, and many timber companies in the area do just that, using airplanes to blast herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals into areas of clearcut forest. Clearcutting is a common method of logging on private and state forest lands in Oregon.

It involves cutting down all the trees from a designated area, replanting trees in the area, then repeating the process, usually in 40- to 60-year increments. There are a number of problems with clearcutting, not the least of which is “converting healthy, functioning, and diverse forests into monoculture tree plantations,” as conservation group Oregon Wild put it.1

Another major problem is that timber companies commonly use aerial pesticide spraying on the clearcut land. It keeps plants from competing with the newly planted trees and is a less expensive method of application than applying pesticides from land or pulling them manually.

However, it’s also environmentally destructive, as the chemicals may drift to neighboring land and water, polluting water and putting public health at risk.

A battle of sorts has ensued to stop the destructive spraying, and the pesticide industry has come out in full force to tamp down residents’ rights to clean air, water and land. “It’s definitely a David and Goliath situation,” Michelle Holman, antipesticide activist and board member at Oregon’s Beyond Toxics, told The Intercept. “But sometimes David wins.”2

Pesticide Industry Tries to Take Down Local Activist Group

The Lincoln County aerial spray ban was passed in May 2017, restricting timber companies from aerial sprayings in the county. It’s a measure that goes beyond the limits set by federal law, and it’s in good company: throughout the U.S., there are 155 such measures in place to restrict pesticides on a local level.

The ban was a major success of Lincoln County Community Rights, a small group of volunteer Oregon locals who took on pesticide giants in a fight for what they believed to be the inalienable right to live in a county without pesticides harming their health.

It wasn’t a fair fight, as pesticide trade group CropLife America, which had revenue of more than $16 million in 2015 and whose dues-paying members include Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and DuPont, stepped in to try to stop the ban.

“CropLife America … ranked state and local issues as the top of its list of ‘tier 1 concerns’ for both 2017 and 2018, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept that pinpointed Oregon as ground zero for the fight,” The Intercept reported.3

CropLife America teamed up with PR firm Paradigm Communications and created an opposition group called Protect Family Farms and Forests. Because the proposed ordinance included a direct-action provision, which meant citizens had the right to enforce the ban (this provision was ultimately not passed), CropLife tried to paint the local activists as eco-terrorists. According to The Intercept:4

“ … [M]uch of the opposition to the ban focused on its direct action provision, arguing that it showed that people who wanted to limit pesticides were dangerous radicals. The opposition group … produced videos warning that the ordinance would allow ‘anyone to take the law into their own hands with no legal consequences.’

On Facebook, the group warned about the possibility of ‘trespassing, vandalism, destruction of property, and even bodily harm,’ should the law take effect.

… ‘They were trolling us pretty hard. Any time we had a radio interview, they would come out with a press release two hours later bashing us,’ said [Rio] Davidson [a member of Lincoln County Community Rights]. ‘Every single website you go to would have their ads running. They paid for advertising everywhere. Radio, TV, internet.’

And while both sides had dueling Facebook pages, opponents of the ban also bought ads on the site. ‘Even when you were on our page, you’d see ads for theirs,’ said Davidson. Protect Family Farms and Forests also mailed fliers about the dangers of the ordinance to everyone in the county … ”

Local Activist Group Succeeds in Lincoln County Aerial Spray Ban

Lincoln County Community Rights ultimately succeeded, with the ordinance passing by 61 votes. They focused, in part, on the stories of residents who had experienced health effects due to pesticide exposure. One woman was sprayed by aerial pesticides while she was in her 20s. She developed respiratory problems and died from cancer at the age of 44.

Other residents spoke of neighbors dying of brain cancer, which they believed to be connected to the aerial spraying. Residents in nearby Lane County, Oregon, meanwhile, spoke of miscarriages, stillbirths and infant death that they also believed were triggered by the pesticides. An amendment to ban aerial spraying of pesticides in Lane County was introduced three years ago but has yet to move forward to a vote.

The opposition, in turn, painted the ordinance as an “assault on family farmers” and used farmers and business owners to claim that a ban on aerial spraying would increase expenses and make it nearly impossible for farmers to prevent the spread of invasive species.5

CropLife Didn’t Report Their Campaign Contributions, a Possible Felony

Companies are supposed to report campaign contributions so voters are aware of who’s behind the lobbying messages. But CropLife failed to do so. Lincoln County Community Rights’ lobby group, Citizens for a Healthy County, received just $21,600 in contributions.

In contrast, CropLife’s lobby group, Coalition to Defeat 21-177, received nearly $500,000 in contributions from farm bureaus and industry groups.

“But the total amount of contributions to the Coalition to Defeat 21-177, which represents 22 times the contributions to the ban’s proponents and about $34 spent for every voter, doesn’t reflect any expenditures or services provided by CropLife America,” according to The Intercept, which was likely illegal. The Intercept continued:6

“Dan Meek, a public interest attorney based in Portland, Oregon, agreed that CropLife America’s failure to report its spending to fight the ordinance was a violation of state law. ‘Every contribution has to be reported,’ he said after being told of the spending.

Meek, who began representing Community Rights Lane County … [in September], said that ‘everything the national group did is an illegal contribution’ — whether the group was acting in conjunction with the organized attempt to defeat the ban or independently.

Meek added that if CropLife America was found to have deliberately misreported its campaign contributions the group could face charges of perjury, a felony under Oregon law.”

What Types of Pesticides Are Sprayed Aerially in Oregon?

Chemicals being sprayed from the air by the timber industry in Oregon include some of the most pernicious pesticides on the market. Among them:

2,4-D — 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) is one of the ingredients in Agent Orange, which was used to defoliate battlefields in the jungles of Vietnam, with horrendous consequences to the health of those exposed.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), ruled 2,4-D a possible human carcinogen in 2015, and there is concern it may increase the risk of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and soft-tissue cancer known as sarcoma.

Further, it’s an endocrine-disrupting chemical that may negatively affect thyroid hormones and brain development. It may also be associated with birth defects, reduced fertility and neurological problems.

Glyphosate — Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, was determined to be a "probable carcinogen" by IARC in 2015. Thousands of people across the U.S. have now filed lawsuits alleging that glyphosate caused them to develop cancer.

AtrazineAtrazine causes hermaphroditism in frogs (turning males into egg-laying females) by inducing an enzyme called aromatase,7 which causes overproduction of estrogen. For this reason, atrazine is also suspected of contributing to breast cancer and is a potent endocrine disrupter.

Because these pesticides are sprayed by air, their reach is far greater than the same chemical applied on land.

According to recent research, children living in areas exposed to annual aerial spraying of pyrethroids (such as Duet and Anvil) have a 25 percent higher risk of autism compared to areas where mosquito control is done primarily through pellets distributed on the ground.8 This suggests the method of application can make a big difference when it comes to human health

Pesticide Industry Is Attempting to Implement Pesticide Pre-Emption Laws

It’s too soon to say whether Lincoln County’s spray ban will be permanent, as a lawsuit has already been filed to make it invalid on the grounds that it is pre-empted by Oregon state law. Forty-three states have pesticide pre-emption laws that may restrict local governments from allowing pesticide restrictions that go beyond those required at a federal level.9

Even in states without them, industry groups are working to implement them in order to pre-empt local authority. Section 9101 of the federal Farm Bill, which is currently being considered, is among those that would take away the right of local governments to restrict toxic pesticides. In Maine, Ethan Strimling, Portland mayor, and Linda Cohen, South Portland mayor, recently spoke out against the measure:10

“During the past two years, our neighboring cities passed landmark legislation to restrict pesticides, require organic land care and protect public health. We believe federal preemption of our authority is undemocratic and contrary to our country’s founding principles.

Our legislation was passed after extensive public hearings and in-depth research into the adverse effects of pesticides and the availability of nontoxic alternatives.”

Small Groups Can Move Mountains

There’s no doubt that excessive use of pesticides is poisoning the planet’s air, water and soil, with those living in agricultural and logging districts receiving the brunt of the burden. Oregon Wild has started a petition to modernize Oregon’s logging laws to protect its people and the environment from dangerous aerial spraying and other pitfalls of clearcuts.11

You can also help protect the welfare of humans, animals, insects and the environment every time you shop organic and grass fed, as you are “voting” for less pesticides and herbicides with every organic and pastured food and consumer product you buy.

Perhaps most importantly, the victory achieved by Lincoln County Community Rights serves as a reminder that when small groups of motivated residents join together they can move veritable mountains and achieve victories that will benefit their communities for generations to come.

As The Intercept noted, “In Lincoln County, where the spray ban is now in effect, the fight over the ordinance can also be seen as an illustration … that a small, committed band of people can restrict the use of pesticides even when their resources are dwarfed by those of their opponents.”12