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The pesticide and junk food industries continue to cause harm, even deaths, while destroying our rights and indemnifying themselves from liability.

That's the take-home message from the September 8 article in The Progressive,1 which recounts the travails of residents in Cedar Valley, Oregon. It's also the take-home message of other related news. And yet there's hope...

"A group of residents of the Cedar Valley area near Gold Beach in Curry County, Oregon say their properties were doused with pesticides by a helicopter aiming for privately-owned timberlands last October," the featured article states.

In what has been called a 'severe sanction,' the pesticide applicator and the aerial spray company he owns have been fined $10,000 each by the state and had their pesticide licenses suspended for a year for providing false information that misled investigators.

But at least one of those affected says this basically amounts to a big traffic ticket, when instead he believes the incident should be considered an act of 'criminal trespass' linked to 45 illness reports."

'Right to Farm' Laws Protect Big Ag from Legal Action

At present, the "Farm and Forest Practices Act" prevents the residents from suing for damages. But 17 of those affected by the pesticide dousing are now challenging the constitutionality of that law.

While originally intended to protect small farmers from frivolous nuisance lawsuits by suburban neighbors, today, many of these laws do little more than shield large corporations from being held accountable for large-scale environmental and human harm.

Small farms have been replaced with gigantic warehouse-style factory farms that produce toxic waste on a scale that is simply incomparable to a regular family-run farm.

Yet you still cannot sue them for damages as long as they're following "generally accepted" farming or foresting practices-including aerial pesticide applications, even though in this case people were doused in their own backyards!

Moreover, Oregon's Right to Farm law contains a provision stating that if you sue and lose the case, then you are responsible for paying the defendant's legal fees. This is another effective dissuasion strategy that coddles big industry while leaving regular folk to suffer without effective recourse.

Residents Exposed to Toxic Agent Orange Ingredient

Two residents reporting health problems in this case include John Burns, who is the assistant chief of the local volunteer fire department, and his neighbor, James Welsh.

According to Burns, a total of 45 people have suffered health effects from the exposure. While Burns began feeling progressively worse as the day wore on, Welsh was immediately struck will nausea and breathing problems when the chemicals rained down on him.

Welsh, who had a preexisting heart condition, rapidly deteriorated after the exposure, and died in April. That exposure, it turned out, was a mix of 2,4-D-which was a major ingredient in Agent Orange-and triclopyr, plus an adjuvant.

One of the ingredients was applied "at a rate above the maximum allowed by the label instructions," according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.2 As reported in the featured article:

"The pesticide spray over Cedar Valley is certainly not the first residential exposure due to aerial pesticide application. Residents of the Triangle Lake area in Lane County say they have been exposed to aerial pesticide drift multiple times in recent years, especially in 2011, as CMD has reported.

Urine tests performed by scientists at Emory University in spring 2011 confirmed 2,4-D in 100 percent of their urine samples and the weedkiller atrazine in most."

Cedar Valley Residents Challenge 'Right-to-Farm' Law

The law firm Craig Law Center has taken on Cedar Valley's case, challenging the "Right to Farm" law. According to the featured article:

"Crag attorney Chris Winter said he was interested in the case because he became 'concerned that people weren't able to defend their property rights against toxic chemicals.'

The lawsuit challenges 'right-to-farm' under the under the clause of the state constitution that guarantees that every individual will have a legal remedy for the violation of any fundamental legal right...

Winter said, 'Because toxic chemicals and aerial application are so risky, courts have said there's a higher standard of care, more than just being reasonably prudent, but being careful that nothing gets on neighbors' property.'

But because of the 'right-to-farm' law, citizens still can't sue. That means courts have 'tipped in favor of chemical companies and applicators.'

Winter says that the plaintiffs hope to change the 'Right to Farm and Forest Law,' but that additional changes are needed to address structural problems in the state's regulatory system, like 'basic standards and guidelines for how pesticides are applied.'"