Probably the most callous response to the problem occurred in Ashford, Washington, where the toxic effects of 2,4-D allegedly contributed to the fact that only one child out of 12 pregnancies is alive and healthy today. (Of the group, nine women miscarried, one baby was stillborn, and one died of a heart defect after 16 days.) There, a timber company chemist told an assembly of concerned women that "babies are replaceable," and that they should "plan their pregnancies around the spray schedule.
Faced with that kind of corporate/government attitude, there would seem to be little that one individual can do. Yet Bonnie Hill—a high school English teacher and the mother of one son and three daughters—found the time, energy, and courage to change the herbicide habits of our entire country! As a direct result of her concern over miscarriages in Oregon, the Environmental Protection Agency—on March 1, 1979—declared a temporary suspension of 2,4,5-T and Silvex spraying, an order which is still in effect.
HILL: I think there are a number of pretty obvious avenues of exposure. First, the geography of this area has to be a real contributing factor. The Coast Range is made up of hills with very, very steep slopes and has about 80 inches of rain each year. Most of that precipitation occurs in the fall, winter, and—particularly—spring months, when spraying is done. And because of this heavy rainfall, the whole region is absolutely interlaced with streams, which range from tiny rivulets just a few inches wide to full-fledged rivers. You can barely walk 50 yards without having to cross at least a couple of waterways.
Interestingly enough, the warning labels on 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D point out that the substances mustn't be sprayed into water. Herbicide users are supposed to be held legally responsible for observing label precautions, but apparently little attention is paid to that regulation since it'd be virtually impossible to spray herbicides aerially in this region and not be over water! And that's very sad, because many people in the Coast Range draw their drinking water directly from springs and streams, and—until recently—these have been very pure, clear, clean sources.
PLOWBOY: Has the local water been tested for dioxins?
HILL: It has, and several examples of contamination have been discovered. When the EPA announced the suspension, it released a document that detailed some of its reasons for stopping the use of the banned substances, and in that report the agency maintained that sprayed 2,4,5-T has been known to drift as far as 22 miles. That's a long way! [EDITOR'S NOTE: In Washington state, airborne 2,4,5-D blown from as far away as 200 miles has actually caused damage to grape, crops.]