An Ounce of Action...

Celebrating Michelle in Oregon, Helping Expose Toxic Waste In Her Neighborhood

In the 1700’s Benjamin Franklin put out the idea that an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Well, I’m updating it thanks to this letter from Michelle Cheney in Oregon to highlight how small actions really do add up for communities dealing with pollution. It doesn’t take much to get curious, get involved, and make a difference.

With permission, I’m sharing her story with you today in the hopes of inspiring you to take an ounce of action in your backyard.

Dear Erin,

I am enjoying your book, your leadership, and your passion for clean water. I wanted to share something that went right today.

JH Baxter is a wood processing treatment plant located a stone’s throw from my house.

After receiving a “Dear Resident” letter from Beyond Toxics, an Oregon nonprofit helping residents of West Eugene become aware of the JH Baxter’s toxic practices, I sent an email to the Department of Environmental Quality. Page after page, I asked questions about information that was public record about the pentachloraphenol plume under my house and about the private meeting between the DEQ and JH Baxter in 2019.

The DEQ answered me right away. It was a short paragraph answering none of my questions and encouraging me to get involved with Beyond Toxics. Then, something wonderful happened. Please see below.

Our zip code receives 99 percent of all the air pollution in our county, much of it generated by JH Baxter. Yes, JH can still appeal, and yes, their fine is small, but, as you say in your book, the actions of concerned citizens do draw attention. In this case, also a fine for my notorious neighbor. It is a good start.

Thanks so much for being the advocate that you are and the call to action that we hear.

Best wishes,

Michelle Cheney

Here’s what happened:

From the State of Oregon Newsroom

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued a $223,440 penalty Wednesday to J.H. Baxter & Co. for hazardous waste and water quality violations at its wood preserving facility in Eugene.

The majority of the penalty, $178,905, is for the unpermitted treatment of hazardous waste. Baxter improperly treated about 1.7 million gallons of hazardous waste without a DEQ permit over a five-year period, according to the notice of civil penalty assessment and order. DEQ found that Baxter illegally used its retorts to boil off, or evaporate, liquid process waste containing mixtures of water, oil, and the wood-preserving chemicals. Retorts are large chambers where the company pressure treats wood. Baxter is no longer using retorts to evaporate liquid process waste.

DEQ is also fining Baxter $14,735 for allowing untreated stormwater and water removed from boilers to overflow into a storm ditch leading to Amazon Creek during two weather events in spring of 2019, exceeding permitted limits for copper in treated stormwater discharge, as well as fining Baxter or citing the company without fine for other hazardous waste and water quality violations.

The violations posed risks to the environment and public health. Along with the civil penalties, DEQ is ordering Baxter to create three plans for investigation and sampling to better understand and mitigate impacts of the violations to the environment, and to prevent potential future violations. The plans would assess the potential impacts associated with the release of hazardous waste and improve stormwater management at the facility.

View the full enforcement documents here:

Michelle followed up with another small win:

Here’s another bit of good news. When I wrote to the contact person at the DEQ to thank her for her good work regarding JH Baxter, she wrote me back almost instantly and mentioned two Baxter work groups, one through the DEQ and one through my community. I raised my hand to get involved with both. It was easier than I knew it could be to join the movement.

Thank you so much for ringing the bell of advocacy, awareness, and involvement, and inspiring us to do the same. The work you do is changing lives!

Thank you, Michelle. YOU inspire me. This is how you do it! Write a letter, pick up the phone, call a neighbor, volunteer to join a group, etc. Little by little we can make a difference.

Do you have something to celebrate? Let me know in the comments below.