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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Greg Miller Comments,
LOE Response on Clearcut Chemicals

Published: August 11, 2012


By Ingrid Lobet

Dear Greg:

We welcome your input and appreciate your comments regarding the radio version of this story. As you know, we asked you and others from your company for interviews multiple times in the course of reporting, and were declined until deadline, when we were able to get some of your comments in email. Nevertheless, we are happy to address the issues you raised here in this email and post this on our website. We have listed your comments and our responses below.

1. Weyerhaeuser takes issue with this statement in the story:

A helicopter equipped with spray tanks and nozzles doused the mountain with herbicide.

Weyerhaeuser: The inference is that forest herbicides are applied without precaution or regard to the specific site.

LOE replies: We disagree. It is hard to imagine how such an inference could be drawn by someone who listened to the entire piece: We say twice in the story that industry believes that with proper licensing, training, onboard maps and GPS, spraying is accurate.


Weyerhaeuser: Application of herbicides are strictly regulated. Weyerhaeuser's vegetation control programs follow all state and federal laws, including stringent chemical label use law approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Moreover, Oregon Forest Practices Act law requires buffer protection of all domestic water sources, fish streams, significant wetlands, ponds and lakes.

LOE replies: This is directly addressed in the story. Both the industry representative Terry Witt and the narrator, quoting you, note that herbicide spray practices follow the law. The fact is that EPA labels are fiercely negotiated documents. In some cases, independent scientists consider labels to provide inadequate protection.


Weyerhaeuser: Herbicide applications are expensive; therefore, landowners limit their use. In a long cycle of growing trees that may last from 50 to 70 years or longer, herbicides are generally used only at the beginning of the growth cycle and then not again except to control weeds along roads.

LOE replies: We're not sure what you are suggesting here. The “beginning of the growth cycle" is a period of several years. The hill adjacent to Gisa Hertler’s home has been sprayed three times since January 2010.


2. Weyerhaeuser takes issue with the statement in the story:

Oregon law is favorable toward an industry that generates 12.6 billion dollars a year. It doesn’t require companies to inform residents when they are going to spray. So during the spring and fall sprays seasons, King and her partner Justin wait for the rotor sound, so they can call the kids inside.

Weyerhaeuser: By law, we are required to file a 15-day notification of operation with the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) for all forest activities including forest herbicide use. We have to indicate approximate date of application (weather dependent) and list all possible chemicals that may be used for the application (site and vegetation specific). The notifications are a public record. And, anyone from the public can subscribe to the notification list through ODF.

LOE replies: Yes, and our story is completely correct as stated. There is no requirement to inform residents. Notifications are posted only with the state. Residents who wish to be informed about spray operations near their property must, on their own initiative, determine which notices affect them and sign up for these, as well as pay a fee. If they do not sign up, they will receive no notice. If they do sign up for such notices, they will see that many indicate a multi-month or even year long window during which application may occur. As such, they are of little value in letting residents know when a spray will occur. Similarly, the list of "all possible chemicals" you cite appears to be just that: The notices often list several potential chemicals a landowner may use. A list of compounds that could be sprayed is next to useless from a scientific or medical perspective.


Weyerhaeuser: As a matter of practice, we contact adjacent neighbors that share a common property line to let them know about our operations. We also alert adjacent neighbors that may use our property for recreation to not attempt to enter into spray units after applications are complete and before the requisite time period for safe re-entry (EPA approved pesticide labels have time period restrictions for safety).

LOE replies: This is not what our investigation showed: a few people did state to us or testified in public meetings that they were notified by their company-neighbor of an imminent spray. But this was not common. Most people said they were not notified. In an earlier note to us Weyerhaeuser said it notifies neighbors within a quarter mile of its properties. If this occurs, it would still leave many neighbors without notification since they live more than a quarter mile away.


Weyerhaeuser: The reference to the "spring and fall spray seasons" gives the false impression that forestland owners are spraying twice a year everywhere. In the Coast Range, herbicides may be used two or three times during a forest’s growing cycle because of conditions that favor aggressive brush. A spring or fall application may occur depending on the site specific vegetative conditions. In the Cascade Range, herbicides may be used once or twice or perhaps not at all. Slower-growing forest stands in eastern Oregon often receive no treatment. Herbicide applications are expensive; therefore, landowners limit their use. In a long cycle of growing trees that may last from 45 to 70 years or longer, herbicides are generally used only at the beginning of the growth cycle and then not again except to control invasive or exotic weeds along roads.

LOE replies: The reference to a spray season does not imply that every landowner sprays every season. The phrase is used commonly in western Oregon. We heard it from residents and state and federal officials. Spraying typically happens in the spring or fall. When the state planned to do urine testing, it was to happen before or during the spring and fall. When EPA was planning its air monitoring, it talked to residents about whether it would have its methodology ready by the spring or by the fall. In both of these cases officials hoped to capture the data during the relevant seasons.


3. Weyerhaeuser takes issue with the statement in the story:

About 1.1 million pounds of herbicide were sprayed on Oregon’s forests in 2008, the last time the state kept records. This is on land owned by Weyerhaeuser, Roseburg Resources, Stimson Lumber. Representatives of these companies and others declined to be interviewed. Some referred questions to Terry Witt, who represented the industry for 25 years. He says aerial spraying is efficient.

Weyerhaeuser: The number is inflated. According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Use Reporting System 2008 Annual Report, June 2009, Forestry used 820,541 lbs, or 4.2% of all herbicides. The annual report also identified that 1,210,355 lbs of herbicides were used on agricultural crops for Nursery and Christmas tree operations. That use should not be confused with commercial forestry use.

LOE replies: The numbers in our story are accurate and in fact, were provided by an industry representative. We did not confuse the nursery/Christmas tree numbers with the commercial forestry use numbers. The 1.1 million-pound number was cited by the former executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, Terry Witt, as the best number to use. He did attribute the number to 2007, not 2008, and we have corrected the year in the transcript. When we interviewed him on 2/3/12, he said, "The year that most people believe is the most representative is the year 2007. Data from that year shows that in the total state there were about 40 million pounds of pesticides applied and of that only 1.1 million pounds were used in forestry." Mr. Witt made several subsequent references to the 1.1 million pounds. It is important to note for the layperson that that figure represents only the pounds of "active ingredient," that is, the portion of the herbicide container recognized as being biologically active. It does not include so called inert ingredients, such as those used to penetrate leaf cuticle. It does not include "crop oil," a petroleum based additive routinely mixed with some herbicides. If actual amount of spray mixture were counted, it would be in the millions of pounds. But the practice among regulators and the regulated is to count active ingredient only.


Weyerhaeuser: The next sentence infers that the entire 1.1 million pounds of herbicides were applied only by three companies mentioned in the story. As pointed out, the number is inflated and more importantly, the total pounds reported are for all use in Oregon.

LOE replies: Again the person to whom you referred us when you declined to be interviewed, Terry Witt, says that number is not inflated. He cites it as the most accurate number. There is no implication in this story that the three companies cited as examples are the only ones who own forestland or apply herbicide. To infer this would be to ignore the entire thrust of the story. The story makes clear this is an industry-wide practice: It is a norm. These three companies are listed as examples. It is appropriate to list these three companies because they were among those that posted the greatest number of notifications to spray with the state in recent years. Since you find the language ambiguous, however, we will address your concern in the transcript of the radio story and the audio online by adding the words “and others” after the three examples.


4. Weyerhaeuser takes issue with the statement in the story:

Oregon residents don’t even have the right to find out what was sprayed. Physicians who want to know what their patients were exposed to often can’t get records. Even the health department has trouble getting spray records. The Oregon Health Authority asked for data so it could find out what was sprayed when Triangle Lake residents tested positive. Eight months later, the agency still doesn’t have the records.

Weyerhaeuser: Inaccurate. As explained before, state law requires a notification of operation which must list all pesticides that may be used for the vegetation control.

LOE replies: There is no inaccuracy. Oregon law does not give residents any right to know what has been sprayed. That is indisputable. Residents who ask what was sprayed can get, at most, a list of what may have been sprayed. Sometimes the list includes ten possible compounds. "Shouldn't people have the right to know what was applied?" Ingrid Lobet asked the chief of the pesticide section of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Dale Mitchell on 3/21/12. "That would require a change in the law," he said. Mitchell also said that part of the "problem" with the PURS database, now defunded and inoperative, was that it falsely provided the public with the impression that there is a right to know.


Weyerhaeuser: The Oregon Forest Practices Act requires that daily records be kept for all broadcast pesticide application which includes legal description of area treated; acres of area treated; brand name or EPA registration number of chemical used, carrier used, and application rate; date and time of application; air temperature, relative humidity and wind velocity and direction – measured within the operation area and recorded hourly for aerial applications and at the beginning and end of the day for ground applications; name of person making application; name of contractor and pilot for aerial applications; and, name of contractor and employee for ground-based applications.

LOE replies: This is a wholly irrelevant fact for residents and the general public: These are private records and cannot be obtained by the public. It took eight months for the Oregon Health Authority to obtain them from ODA. As of 5/10/12, according to OHA, the agency still had not received the portion of the records held by ODF.


Weyerhaeuser: These records must be kept for three years from the date of the application by the operator and available at the request of Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF). In April of this year, ODF and ODA requested spray records for all landowners in the Triangle Lake/Hwy 36 area, and we have turned over those spray records to ODF for its use.

LOE replies: The story is correct. It discusses the length of time it took for the Oregon Health Authority to receive records that are material to its investigation from other state agencies. On 5/10/12 the Oregon Health Authority stated that it still had still received records from the Department of Forestry.


5. Weyerhaeuser takes issue with the statement in the story:

Others, like Eron King, said it was the local school that was the last straw. Forest around the school was cut and sprayed, then the herbicide Imazapyr turned up in school drinking water.

Weyerhaeuser: On May 26, 2011 the Blachly School District Superintendent wrote to parents, guardians, students and community members about this issue. Nowhere in this story did the reporter quote the letter, or the Superintendent about the issue from the District’s perspective.

LOE replies: The USDA Pesticide Data Program found imazapyr in the school well water. This is the relevant fact.


Weyerhaeuser: The District wrote that its drinking water was safe despite rumors. The District noted that members of the Pitchfork Rebellion (Erin King is a member) brought a single unidentified page of a 4 page water report to a public board meeting and said that an analysis showed imazapyr in the District’s well water at 48 ppt. (parts per trillion). The Pitchfork Rebellion accused the District of poisoning and killing children.

LOE replies: We never repeated these claims you say were made by the Pitchfork Rebellion. We merely cited the USDA testing.


Weyerhaeuser: The District noted that there was no identification of the lab, no date or location of the sample and no assurance that a chain of custody of the water sample had been maintained nor that testing protocol had been followed by a reputable lab. The District’s August 30, 2010 water test which followed government standards showed no detectable amounts of any substances that were of concern in water quality and safety. The District checked with authorities to determine if it had an issue due to detection of imazapyr. Unofficially the District was told it was well below the safety concern level at 48 ppt. The District also noted in its letter to its parents, students and community members the following three points: 1.) Imazapyr, detected at 48 ppt., was the only pesticide detected out of 500 pesticides tested for, and by way of comparison, food products in the U.S. are allowed to contain the following levels of imazapyr: Meats, fats, dairy products – 50,000 ppt.; Edible shellfish meat – 100,000 ppt.; Edible finfish meat – 1,000,000 ppt.; 2) The U.S. does not have a drinking water standard for imazapyr. Australia has a drinking water standard which is 9 parts per million (PPM) that is equivalent to 9,000,000 ppt.; 3) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada have agreed that a child weighing 22 pounds could safely drink 136,000 gallons per day of water with the levels of imazapyr that were found in the school’s water. Just to restate, there wasn’t any aspect of the school district’s perspective on this aspect of the story.

LOE replies: The story states that the well tested positive for the herbicide imazapyr. That is a fact. Imazapyr has been studied very little with respect to critical windows or hormonally relevant exposures according to experts with whom we spoke. Since Oregon State University was unable to recommend a toxicologist with this area of specialty it is unlikely that the Blachly school district has the expertise to be cited on this issue.

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