Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bonnie Hill: Oregon Environmental Activist - Nature Community - MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Bonnie Hill: Oregon Environmental Activist - Nature Community - MOTHER EARTH NEWS:

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.

PLOWBOY: This certainly seems to be an all but perfect setting for a homestead lifestyle. When did you begin to suspect that something very terrible was going on here?
HILL: Back in the summer of 1977. I was then taking classes at the University of Oregon, and I came across some studies on the research conducted by James Allen of the University of Wisconsin on the effects of TCDD, one of the dioxins found in many herbicides. Allen discovered that a significant number of rhesus monkeys, when exposed to evenminute quantities of the substance, suffered spontaneous abortions, or—in common terminology—miscarriages. Now I knew that various herbicides were sprayed on the forests in our immediate area, and I knew also that those substances—particularly 2,4,5-T and Silvex—contained small amounts of TCDD.
PLOWBOY: Isn't it the official position that such quantities are too small to do any harm?
HILL: Well, the Food and Drug Administration has released information indicating that one drop of pure TCDD can kill 1,200 people, and according to many scientists—as well as the EPA itself—there is no safe level of the substance. Virtually every amount that's ever been administered in tests has caused some kind of adverse health effect.
Still, though, in the case of 2,4,5-T and Silvex, we're talking about parts per trillion, and that sounds like such a small quantity that a lot of folks assume, understandably, that we needn't be worried. It's difficult to believe that such an infinitesimal amount could be dangerous, and yet it is. Most scientists are in agreement that TCDD is the most toxic substance that's ever been manufactured.
And 2,4,5-T, by the way, is almost an exact replica of an auxin, a growth hormone that occurs naturally in plants and humans. When 2,4,5-T is applied to plants, their cells multiply so rapidly that the shrubs, weeds, and so forth literally grow themselves to death. The biological makeup of plant auxin is very close to that of human auxin!
PLOWBOY: What led you to believe that the herbicides were doing more than causing unwanted plants to grow themselves to death?
PLOWBOY: Assuming there are plenty of reasons to at least suspect a cause/effect relationship, what are your personal suspicions as to how dioxins might enter people's systems?

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.] 

PLOWBOY: Is there any evidence of an increase in birth defects in the sprayed areas?
HILL: I haven't gathered data about that ... and, of course, it's a pretty sensitive topic, because the feelings of the parents have to be considered. I might mention, though, that in Lincoln County—which was part of the EPA study area—the local medical society sponsored an initiative to restrict the use of phenoxy herbicides (and this was after the suspension, so they were mostly addressing 2,4-D) because they had found an unusually high number of neural tube defects among the babies in that forested area. The action appears all the more significant when you consider how rare it is for doctors to take this kind of position at all. They just don't dosuch things very often.
Then, of course, there's the problem of TCDD buildup in the soil. And finally, unanswered questions concerning the effect of burning sprayed areas.
PLOWBOY: Aren't a lot of the people who are attacking you supposedly paid by the herbicide industry?
HILL: Oh, yes! I don't think there's much doubt about that. A group of Oregon women traveled back to Washington, D.C. after the cancellation hearings to lobby, to visit senators and congressmen and women, and to present the pro-herbicide point of view. I asked one of them how they were funded, and she said they'd received money from the industry.
PLOWBOY: While you're just a bunch of ordinary people ....
HILL: Yes, we are, and we're operating under incredible financial strain. A lot of the money has come out of our own pockets. By way of contrast, the members of the main pro-herbicide/pro-pesticide organization in Oregon right now (they call themselves "Oregonians for Food and Shelter") have, I believe, a budget of $300,000 a year and employ a full-time attorney. At this time, they're sponsoring an extensive series of paid radio advertisements. One of their main thrusts is to emphasize how dependent the nation is on the use of artificial chemicals: They claim that, without such substances, we wouldn't be able to feed the world or even to take care of ourselves, and our economy would backslide even further than it's doing right now ... points which raise some very touchy and emotional issues around here.
PLOWBOY: That being so, what have you learned from this whole experience that could help other people in similar circumstances?
HILL: To answer your question, I feel I need to back up to the point at which someone first suspects that he or she is being exposed to a potentially harmful substance. Men and women don't often connect an event that happens in their environment to something that's going on in their bodies. The symptoms of herbicide poisoning, of course, will vary, but some of the common, immediate effects are dizziness, nausea, rashes of various kinds, and flu-like symptoms. There are also possible long-term effects—including cancer—which remain to be proved.
You have to remember, though, that it's extremely difficult to establish a connection between health problems and exposure to an environmentally applied toxic substance. I hate to be pessimistic—after all, I don't want to discourage people from checking such problems out, because that's the only way we're ever going to prove anything—but there are only four laboratories in the country, for example, that can test for low levels of CODD, and it costs anywhere from $1,300 to $1,500 to get samples analyzed! And by the time an individual decided to spend that sort of money, it's possible that the substance would no longer be found in his or her body.
Also, it's likely that 99.5% of the doctors in this country couldn't identify the symptoms of exposure to toxic substances. So when people go in with problems that may be connected with pesticide poisoning—especially since the patients themselves often don't have any idea that they've been exposed—doctors are rarely going to question environmental factors. And even when people havebeen able to show the presence of these substances in the bloodstream, the chemical companies haven't accepted that evidence as proof of their responsibility.
There's an example of a woman who lived in Allegheny, Oregon, whose water supply came from a reservoir that people saw being sprayed with Silvex. The chemical was found in her daughter's blood, and the girl later came down with a rare blood disease. The experience has been traumatic for the family and has cost them enormous amounts of money. The mother is in litigation right now, but the chemical company claims there's no proof that its product caused the illness.
Of course, legally, the manufacturers of these substances are supposed to be responsible for proving their safe use. But the situation has gotten twisted around to the point where we're required to prove definitively that we've suffered adverse health effects as a direct result of the herbicides, which is almost impossible. And whenever somebody comes close to winning a court case, the chemical firms settle out of court with a stipulation that the victim isn't supposed to talk about it or reveal the amount of money he or she has received. Thus, the company involved can continue to say that there's been no proven ill-health effect from the chemicals.

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