The daughter of Arjorie Arberry-Baribeault, who lives in West Eugene, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma at the end of 2018. Her close friend’s son, who also lived in West Eugene, was diagnosed with the same disease shortly afterwards. With no history of cancer in her family, Arberry-Baribeault became suspicious.
âWhen I was looking at what was going on in West Eugene, I hadn’t gone to environmental justice school. I’m just a mom who cares, âsaid Arberry-Baribeault, a community organizer at Beyond Toxics. âWhen I was raising my children in West Eugene, I was naive about the smells and smoke. I never really thought about it. After my daughter and boyfriend’s son got sick, I started posting all over my social media to get the attention I wanted.
Beyond Toxics is at the forefront of the fight against air pollution. According to Arberry-Baribeault, the organization has worked for the past 20 years to improve state and local air quality policies and to work with various communities on environmental campaigns. One of the biggest campaigns is the Air Quality Campaign, which was launched to raise awareness and work for cleaner air in West Eugene.
According to Eugene Toxics’ Right-to-Know program, 96% of all toxic air emissions in 2019 were released in West Eugene. That equates to 684,159 pounds of toxic chemicals, roughly the size of the cargo ship that blocked the Suez Canal in March. This is not a surprising statistic for a good portion of the West Eugene parish. Local residents are familiar with the thick smoke that rises from the surrounding industrial facilities and the foul smells that permeate the air.
The West Eugene community, home to an industrial corridor with 35 manufacturing companies, is disproportionately exposed to air pollution and has a higher proportion of low-income and minority residents. There are also higher rates of illness – like asthma or cancer – than any other area of ââEugene. According to the Toxics Report for the City of Eugene, a West Eugene parishioner is exposed to an average of over 3,000 pounds of harmful toxins every day of the year. Other areas of Eugene are exposed to only two pounds of airborne toxins a day.
Toxic air emissions in West Eugene can be “overwhelming and frustrating for community members who have observed the negative effects for years,” said Arberry-Baribeault. “However, there is a positive change taking place.”
In 2019, Lane County Cleaner took Air Oregon, an initiative by Oregon Governor Kate Brown, to enforce higher standards for industrial toxic emissions in Oregon. Cleaner Air Oregon studies the number of toxic emissions from industrial facilities, the concentration of those emissions and the health risks for people who live, work and play near the industry. It regulates facilities based on potential health risks to community members.
“One of the things that Cleaner Air Oregon highlights is the involvement of community members in the aircraft approval process,” said Travis Knudsen, public affairs manager for the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency. “It is a good way forward to addressing community concerns about the health effects of toxic air pollution.”
Arberry-Baribeault sees Cleaner Air Oregon as “a boost to low-income communities across Oregon.” The program has built trust between the West Eugene community and government agencies like LRAPA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Arberry-Baribeault said.
“My hope and ambition is that the entire industrial corridor in West Eugene will be held accountable for the lives they destroy,” said Arberry-Baribeault. âIt’s not just about the sick or the deceased. It’s about the whole church. Those who are unable to go outside or eat the food in their garden because the air is filled with toxins. “
The responsibility of West Eugene facilities for the harmful pollution they cause requires community involvement, Knudsen and Arberry-Baribeault said.
Knudsen said community complaints are an effective way LRAPA guides its investigations into facilities. Community complaints received by LRAPA have helped investigate and monitor fence lines, and also help LRAPA identify where emissions are and how people might be exposed to them.
“We encourage the community to attend our community meetings to ask questions and raise concerns about the air quality in their neighborhood,” said Knudsen. “If we have a community meeting and we don’t have a lot of information, that limits how we can involve the community in our process when we give approvals.”
LRAPA hosts meetings to discuss issues with community members who are concerned about air quality in their neighborhood. Meetings are held through Zoom with LRAPA and are focused on specific industrial facilities in West Eugene. This allows community members who have specific complaints to raise those concerns with LRAPA. Community members can use the LRAPA Notify Me website to stay informed of upcoming meetings and facilities in their area.
Along with community complaints and meetings through LRAPA, affected residents can submit complaints to DEQ, share their stories with Beyond Toxics, and write letters to members of Congress.
“There will always be restrictions on things, but I believe that community participation is limitless,” said Arberry-Baribeault. âA person who says something can cause a small ripple in the water, but when a whole community does something and says something, it ripples. Because a room full of mums causes problems and gives rise to solutions. “