Copper sulfate was legally applied to Oswego Lake between the 1950s and 2001 under a federal law aimed to protect farmers. Today, new state-level controls are curbing the use of such products, even while consumer demand for them remains high.
Copper sulfate can still be applied to land and water under the federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, commonly called FIFRA, which regulates a number of general use pesticides by label.
Unlike other discharges to water, such as flows from factories and sewage treatment plants, FIFRA chemicals are not regulated by the Clean Water Act and require no permits to use. Federal officials don't consider pesticides to be 'waste products,' which the Clean Water Act controls. Those who use FIFRA pesticides can do so without permits and are required by law only to follow the instructions on their label.
In Oregon, efforts to track the use of these and other, more tightly regulated pesticides have made steady advances in the last decade. Those advances stem from a federal survey showing 90 percent of the nation's rivers were contaminated with pesticides in the 1990s. The Willamette Basin, in that survey, contained more than 50 pesticides.
A Pesticide Use Reporting System for Oregon was adopted by the Legislature in 1999, yet funding was stalled for six years by lobbyists and the economic downturn following Sept. 11, 2001.
'There were a lot of programs being cut or restricted,' said Chris Kirby, administrator of the pesticide division of the Department of Agriculture, which stewards the PURS program. 'Also the program was very controversial.'
Opposition to pesticide tracking stemmed mostly from concerns about confidentiality, Kirby said.
In a funding package finally approved in 2005, one that begins pesticide reporting in Oregon in January 2007, areas of the PURS were scaled back. The funded version of the program allows corporate and industrial pesticide users to report anonymously to the program and with limited details on their location. Under the PURS, they are required to identify only the watershed in which they use pesticides or their zip code, if located in an urban area.
Critics say Oregon's long rivers will make it tough to pinpoint pesticide impacts on health and drinking water using the system.
'One reason that's been identified (for the change) is environmental terrorism,' Kirby said, citing concern from pesticide users about becoming targets for ecoterrorist groups, which could damage crops and other assets.
But Jeremiah Baumann, an environmental advocate for OSPIRG, said timber, agriculture and pesticide lobbyists simply have more clout in Salem than those who want tighter controls on pesticides.
'The same companies that don't want to draw attention to pesticides are major lobbyists who can be there for years and years,' he said.
Most, he added, are also big campaign donors.
'They, year after year, kept it from being funded. In this last 2005, (the Department of Agriculture) got it funded but unfortunately they kind of made a deal with the devil where they essentially watered the program down to the point where it would just be doubtful if it's effective anymore.'
The original legislation would have required pesticide applicators like the Lake Corp to publicly report when they use pesticides, and to report how much pesticide they use in a specific location.
The funded system has merit, Baumann said, but won't answer questions about the effect of pesticides on public health.
'I think it would give researchers and agency staff a slightly improved picture of overall trends in pesticide use but I don't think it will be very effective in protecting public health because if you can't track where pesticide is being used, you can't tell whether its affecting health in a certain area or not,' he said.
Rep. Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego, said while the new program doesn't do all that its authors first hoped, it's a firm first step in the direction of pesticide control.
'I don't think there are villains in this situation, there's natural resistance to change,' Macpherson said.
Pointing to numerous impacts to watershed health by human activity, he said the fight against water pollution lies mostly in public education.
'People are accustomed to getting a clean lawn and a bug-free field and clean yard when they haven't had to deal with the consequences downstream,' he said.
Macpherson said those perceptions must change to push legislation toward environmental health.
The Internet-based PURS will go live in 2007 and reports of pesticides usage will be available in January 2008.
Businesses that use pesticides on site, such as farms, foresters, restaurants, motels and the Lake Corp will be required to report under the law. Businesses that apply pesticides on private property are also required to report to the system. Homeowners are not required to report but the Department of Agriculture plans a statewide household survey on pesticide use.
Kirby said the department is expected to return to the Legislature with ideas about how to improve the program in 2009, when it's targeted to sunset.
- By Lee van der Voo