Each year, helicopters spray weed killers on more than 165 square miles of Oregon timberland, an area larger than the city of Portland. This spraying occurs under the most industry-friendly standards in the Pacific Northwest.
A strong coalition of Oregon legislators, working on behalf of rural residents and public environmental health interests, pursued legislation in the 2015 legislative session to increase public transparency and accountability around uses of aerial pesticide and herbicide spraying, and to better protect public and environmental health by establishing no-spray buffers around homes, schools and streams.
The “Public Health and Water Resources Protection Act” – SB 613 – would have:
- Established a more timely, public and robust online notification system about spraying and controlled burns for nearby residents
- Created no-spray buffers around residential dwellings and schools, as well as enhanced the current buffers to protect drinking water systems and fish bearing streams.
- Ensured that the Oregon Health Authority has the ability to investigate and penalize cases of human exposure. Granted OHA the resources to develop a program to educate health care practitioners how to respond and treat cases of herbicide poisoning.
Currently Oregon law does not require state agencies to investigate any complaints about forest practices, the only advance notice residents get is the sound of the helicopter approaching and the only buffer is 60-feet, around fish-bearing streams and drinking water sources, leaving homes and schools unprotected.
Unfortunately SB 613 was shunted to a closed-door working group in the Senate Environment & Natural Resources Committee where it languished. A separate working group in the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee produced a watered-down bill, backed by the timber industry. This new law requires more transparency about toxic sprays after the fact, but it does not go nearly far enough to protect rural residents and drinking water.
For a state that claims to be at the forefront of sustainability, health, and safety Oregon is clearly lacking proper protection against forest practices like aerial spraying. Efforts to reform such dangerous and damaging practices are ongoing. Learn how you can help!
To learn more about SB 613, visit the following articles: