JOINT LANE COUNTY

BOARD OF HEALTH/COMMISSIONERS'

WORK SESSION

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

9:00 a.m.

Commissioners' Conference Room

APPROVED 5/6/2009

 

Commissioner Faye Stewart presided with Commissioners Bill Dwyer, Bill Fleenor Bobby Green, Sr.,  and Peter Sorenson present.  County Administrator Bill Van Vactor, County Counsel Teresa Wilson and Recording Secretary Melissa Zimmer were also present.

 

1. ADJUSTMENTS TO THE AGENDA

 

None.

 

2. PUBLIC HEARINGS

 

a. PUBLIC HEARING/Petition to Environmental Quality Commission Regarding a Ban on Field Burning.

 

Stewart explained that Lane County has been asked to file a petition with the Environmental Quality Commission to the state of Oregon to ask them to declare an emergency and place a hold on field burning for this year and asking them to consider rule changes to ban field burning in the future.

 

Wilson noted the statute under which the EQC can exercise, is one where they call a cessation for field burning based on extreme danger.  She added that it is an emergency type of situation where the EQC must make a finding that it is an extreme danger.

 

Dwyer recalled that Green asked to have a public hearing before they send a letter. He wanted everyone who was affected by field burning to have an opportunity to comment.  Dwyer received e-mails from people who couldnít come to testify.  He added that they received letters in support of the cessation.  He didnít receive any letters stating that field burning was a good idea.  He also didnít receive any letters from any affected farmers.  He indicated that most of the testimony to the  legislature was in favor of ending it.  He said there was little evidence in the record that supported field burning as an option.   He commented that this was the time to move ahead with this matter.

 

Green thought this had a rushed feeling to it.  He wanted input from the public.  He didnít want to give the perception to the public that this was a deal being pushed through without any public input.

 

Fleenor thought it was in the best interest of the citizens to discuss this in public so there is an opportunity for the Board to listen, learn and lead.  He agreed with the draft letter.

 

Commissioner Stewart opened the Public Hearing.

 

Holly Higgins, Harrisburg, said she lives in Linn County.  She commented that  the way the smoke management program is run, it is to avoid the smoke going to the more populated areas.  She said it comes to where she lives and other rural Oregonians.  She said few of  her neighbors have been speaking up because of the medical research.  She said the American Lung Association concluded that even short duration exposure to the fine particulate of field burning smoke was harmful to peopleís health.  She said they are breathing this smoke three to four times per week for six to eight hours at a time. She stated that it was an emergency because she has to leave her home, as it is toxic smoke.

 

Cork Higgins, Harrisburg, commented that when there is a west wind smoke management  program, a lot of the farmers burn their fields and the smoke  comes to them.  He said they are considered a throw away zone.  He said he is 68 years old and has lived in the area all his life.  He was stunned to find out from the medical research how toxic the smoke is.  He said he is not sick yet but he is in a vulnerable group.  He asked the Board to do whatever they could do ban the field burning practice.

 

Carol Higgins, Harrisburg, stated that she has lived in the area since she was seven.  She said field burning was a nuisance until her daughter gave her the information on the health issue.  She added that this smoke gets to Corvallis.  She stated that this is an emergency.  She noted the governor was signing a bill today regarding second hand smoke.

 

Dana Higgins, Harrisburg, indicated that she has been living in the area her entire life.  She said she suffers bad allergies.  She said she might have to leave during field burning.  She thinks it is an emergency and their health is being severely impacted and the smoke is being directed toward a smaller group of people.  She stated that children need clean air to breathe.  She wanted to come together with the farmers so they could continue to do their business.

 

Larry Dunlap, Eugene, stated that he represented the medical community.  He said he spent 26 years in the Emergency Department at Sacred Heart.  He said without question, field burning impacts their health in this County. He doesnít think this is an emergency today but he thought the legislature should have passed this.  He thinks field burning is obsolete and there are better ways to do things. 

 

Dave Woods, spoke about the issue of the youth and people who canít speak for themselves.  He commented that youth are highly susceptible to chemicals.  He said it has been proven scientifically that children are more susceptible to genetic cell modification, the breeding ground for cancer.  He said he has worked for 35 years studying chemicals and their affects.  He commented that most things point to chemical poisoning of some type and breathing of the chemicals when they are being burned.  He asked what they are willing to allow as collateral damage.  He stated that no child is worth anyoneís financial success.  He thought there were ways to deal with the fields organically.  He thought they could grow other crops besides grass.

 

Lynne Bernhardt, Eugene, stated that she is a retired nurse.  She worked in the emergency room.  She indicated that it was common knowledge that when field burning happens they are more likely to be inundated with chronic lung problems.  She stated that she has asthma, but she didnít have it before she moved to the Willamette Valley.  She fears for her granddaughter who also has asthma.  She commented that her life might be shortened because of field burning.  She asked to Board to do something about field burning.  She indicated that there was no compensation for the days of discomfort of struggling to breathe.

 

Jeff Wyman, Eugene, said he and his family have health problems impacted by field burning.  He said they canít go out during the months of August and September and he has to put on the air conditioning.  He added that it also affects animals.  He stated that he is a middle school teacher in Eugene and every year they get a list of kids with different ailments.  He added that every year the number of asthmatic children seems to increase.  He said that it is obvious that field burning will exacerbate the situation and impact the children.  He commented that they canít let economic concerns trump public health and the community.

 

Robert Moore, Eugene, commented that some days in Coburg during grass seed burning it looks more like Gary, Indiana than Oregon and it is more difficult to breathe.  He said he has been a professional wind player all his life and there is a difference in what it is like to play a wind instrument or sing when field burning is taking place.  He thought this was the time to do something about field burning.

 

Ruth Duemler, Eugene, commented that her relatives are suffering from allergies from the grass seed industry. She said they could stop field burning.  She stated the air in Eugene is not much different from the air in Los Angeles when they have field burning.  She was concerned about next yearís track meet.  She thought they no longer could be a track city if they have a high particulate count that is harmful to the community.  She said because of economics and the suffering the kids and elderly have in the community, they need to stop field burning now.

 

Lisa Arkin, Eugene, Oregon Toxics Alliance, thanked the Board for holding a Public Hearing.  She agreed to create an opportunity for the people who are most impacted by field burning.  She stated that Oregon Toxics Alliance comes to represent the voices of the people.  She said they are responding because people are coming to them asking for them to get involved.  She said in the process of preparing documentation for the legislative hearings, Oregon Toxics Alliance interviewed two researchers with Oregon State University and they learned from the professors that it is much better to chop up the straw and use it as a mulch because it puts nitrates back in the soil, preventing the need to add artificial nitrates that could cause groundwater contamination.  She added that field burning could create benefits for the soil, but so does the mulch.  She noted that whether farmers burn or not, they apply herbicides to their fields.  She added that gets burned and it creates toxins.

 

Zachary Vishinoff, Eugene, said this issue is vulnerable to over simplification.  He thought an emergency  for this was a good thing.  He thought they should have more hearings about who is adding what to their burn and why.  He thought some Lotto dollars could go to farmers who will not be allowed to burn.  He said if they are going to come after the farmers, they have to raise the level of industrial conduct for the other people in town.  He didnít want to go after one particular group.

 

Charlie Tibbet, Eugene, said he helped draft the petition that is before the Board.  He said last summer he took time off work and three out of four Fridays he got hit with rolling clouds of smoke. He said the field burning was from north of Monroe in Benton County.  He noted that a lot of people donít complain to LRAPA because nothing ever happens.  He added that there is an underreporting of the complaints and problems from field burning smoke.  He indicated that there have been discussions about alternatives.  He said in 1992 when the legislation was passed it was to phase out field burning.  He added that it has taken 15 years to find the solution.  He said the status quo has been maintained.  He noted the industry claims that there are others contributing to the problem.  He said this problem was easily identifiable and easily fixable.  He said it is their obligation to try to stop the problem from occurring.  He indicated that Washington State has stopped the practice and they have continued to grow their grass food industry and Oregon could do the same.  He commented that tens of thousands are being impacted for the benefit of a few.

 

Green asked Tibbet to clarify that the state of Oregon does need to do a study for this.

 

Tibbet said studies have been done and some have been cited in the request.  He indicated the studies showed what had been done about particulate matter to pulmonary functions.  He said they know what the problem is and they donít have to study it further.

 

Dwyer thanked the 1250 farmers that used to burn grass seed that donít burn it anymore.  He added there are only 150 who still burn grass.  He commented that the practice is not readily acceptable.  He thought the time has come to show the EQC that they are serious about this.  He said if they donít address the health concerns of the people, there might be other recourses they could take.  He thought that was the message they have to send.  He wanted to put in the letter ďthose without air conditioning,Ē those lacking the means or ability to flee and those who lack the understanding of the serious health affects that this practice has on them if allowed to continue.  He wanted to add that the Board urges to take prompt decisive action.

 

There being no further business, Commissioner Stewart closed the Public Hearing.

 

Rob Rockstroh, Health and Human Services, reported that they donít have the data on cumulative effects to smoke.  He didnít know until today that they kill weeds before they burn grass. He had copy of testimony that explained smoke from a scientific standpoint.  He said there is a study in the Boardís packet from 2006 (copy in file) that talks about particulate matter at 2.5 micrometers and that is what is dangerous at low levels and what makes it more of an emergency now.  He had not seen any documentation on the combination of the combustion of stubble combined with the chemicals they put into it.

 

Dr. Sarah Hendrickson, Health and Human Services, said there are cumulative effects when they look at field burning aligned with other sources of small particulate toxic materials.  She added that there are other sources that are as important or more so in Lane County but they are harder to get at: the diesel exhaust and automobile exhaust, wood smoke, yard burning and barbeques.  She said there are many issues of toxic smoke in the air that are not spoken to by the field burning.  She said field burning is better than it used to be, but it doesnít mean that they donít still have a dangerous and significant level of pollution.  She said they should be looking  at what is objective evidence of harm from todayís pollution.

 

Dwyer said it is up to them as the Board of Public Health to try to keep this in the forefront from a health perspective.  He wanted to try to encourage looking at other ways to do things because business as usual is not acceptable anymore.

 

Stewart believed it is a health issues.  He asked if they should be worried about this by changing the practices of farming.  He asked if dust was more harmful than smoke.

 

Dr. Hendrickson said she reviewed dust. The impression she had is that dust tends to be larger particulates than .2 microns produced by combustion and combustion and burning tends to produce more of the tiny particles and those get into the lungs.  She added that dust tends to be a mixture of larger particles.  She thinks those are the ones that get filtered out by the respiratory defenses. 

 

Stewart had been told that more farmers would use more nitrates to break down stalks in the grass.  He found they could time it so there wouldnít be a negative affect on the groundwater.  He asked how nitrates were health wise.

 

Dr.  Hendrickson responded that nitrates in water are as significant a health hazard as the other carcinogens in the air.  She added that nitrates are a natural organic compound as well as a synthetic fertilizer compound.

 

MOTION: to send the letter to the Environmental Quality Commission.  To take out ďdraftĒ and insert todayís date.  On page 5, footnote 37, Mrs. Love first name is Rhoda.

 

Sorenson MOVED, Dwyer SECONDED.

 

Dwyer wanted to amend the motion for page 6, on behalf of the public health of residents within and around the Willamette Valley particularly those whose present medical condition and highly vulnerable to injuries that result from inhalation of fine particulates and chemicals from field burning smoke including those without air conditioning, those lacking the means or ability to flee and those who lack the understanding of the serious health affect that this practice has on them if allowed to continue.  He wanted to add:  therefore, we urge you to take prompt decisive action.

 

Sorenson amended his motion.  Dwyer amended his second.

 

Green supported the motion as amended to reflect the comments and corrections.  He commented that while supporting this motion to move this request forward, it doesnít bind him to any further process that might bind him to future legal action.  He thought this was something they should do on behalf of the citizens but he didnít want to go too far financially.

 

Stewart concurred with Green.  He supports the letter.  He spoke with farmers who used to burn who are still in the farming business. He received e-mails from farmers who are able to practice without burning and he received comments from citizens in his district who get the smoke.  He was concerned about the process and where it might lead financially.

 

Sorenson said they expect the EQC to do its job. He said they are bringing this to their attention in a forceful way.  He said they have the responsibility to protect public health.  He hoped the state officials will take the information and come to the right decision.

 

Dwyer concurred with Sorenson.  He said as the Board of Health, not as a County Commissioner, they have the responsibility to protect the publicís health in Lane County and that is the guise in which they need to move forward. 

 

VOTE: 5-0

 

3. EXECUTIVE SESSION as per ORS 192.660

 

Per ORS.192.660(2)(h) for the purpose of consulting with counsel on litigation.

 

4. COMMISSIONERS' ANNOUNCEMENTS

 

None.

 

5. COMMISSIONERS' BUSINESS

 

None.

 

6. EMERGENCY BUSINESS

 

There being no further business, Commissioner Stewart adjourned the meeting at 11:20 a.m.

 

Melissa Zimmer

Recording Secretary