Launch of a Pesticide Right to Know Effort in Oregon

Neva Hassanein

Reprinted from Journal of Pesticide Reform, Summer, 1998, p. 10, published by Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, P.O. Box 1393, Eugene, Oregon 97440,,, (541) 344-5044, Fax: (541) 344-6923.
Citing the need to protect children's health, water quality, and endangered salmon, three of Oregon's leading public interest and environmental groups officially kicked off a major effort to establish a statewide system for tracking Oregon's pesticide use.

At simultaneous press conferences in Portland, Eugene, and Medford, members of the Oregon Environmental Council (OEC), NCAP, and the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) announced the creation of the Oregon Pesticide Education Network (OPEN). We then kicked off an ambitious statewide campaign to mobilize support for a comprehensive pesticide right-to-know policy in Oregon.

"Millions of pounds of pesticides are used each year in both rural and urban settings across Oregon," said NCAP member Maye Thompson, R.N., Ph.D., who represented NCAP at the Portland news event. "Pesticides linked to cancer, reproductive disorders, and other health problems are turning up in our food, our water, and our air. Yet we literally have no useful information about what pesticides are used where, when, and in what amounts."

It's a simple question of accountability," said Randy Tucker of OSPIRG. "We need to know how and where pesticides are used so we can protect our children's health, our water quality, and our wild fish populations. Without information on actual pesticide use, we are stumbling in the dark."

Laura Weiss of OEC outlined the elements of OPEN's proposed tracking system, which would require professional pesticide users to report their use to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. That information would then be made available to public officials, researchers, and the general public.

"Many pesticide applicators are already required by the state to keep track of their pesticide use, and many others collect this information for management purposes," Weiss said. "Right now, these records just sit on a shelf collecting dust, when they could be helping us to protect our water and our kids."

Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations, another endorser of the campaign, noted that knowledge about pesticide use is a critical element of efforts to save endangered salmon and steelhead runs. "Without an effective pesticide right to know law, fish restoration efforts can be futile because we'll never know what's in the waters or how it affects fish--much less where to go to clean it up," Spain said. "Ignorance is always more expensive than knowledge."

OPEN members released the results of a poll conducted by the Mellman Group of Washington, D.C., which revealed overwhelming support for the right to know about pesticide use from citizens across Oregon. After hearing arguments for and against the establishment ofa pesticide use reporting system, 69% of respondents supported the proposal while only 16% opposed it.

"Pesticide use reporting is a commonsense idea that Oregonians support," said Tucker. "Men and women, young old, Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural residents--everyone agrees that we should have the right to know. Even agricultural households support this proposal by more than a two-to-one margin."

In order to mobilize this public support, OPEN is sponsoring public meetings in communities around the state. So far, we have held successful meetings in Ashland, Corvallis, and Salem. A meeting is scheduled for Bend June 18. Let us know if you want us to come to your town.

The coalition already consists of over twenty organizations, including the American Lung Association of Oregon, the Oregon PTA, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Headwaters, and the Oregon AFL-CIO.

OPEN members also released a new 18-minute video, Pesticides and Our Right to Know, which describes the need for pesticide use reporting. The video, which will be shown in community meetings and distributed statewide, features interviews with health professionals, the head of the Oregon Health Division's drinking water program, and other Oregonians concerned about the impacts of pesticide use. Theo Colborn of World Wildlife Fund and co-author of Our Stolen Future, also appears in the video. (Copies of the video are available from NCAP.)

Of the coalition effort, Laura Weiss said, "We expect this proposal to receive broad-based support. It's good science, it's good public policy--it's just a good idea."