Curry County residents who were sickened by improper aerial herbicide spraying last fall want Oregon lawmakers to tighten rules around both spraying and public health investigations.

On Oct. 16, Pacific Air Research sprayed herbicides on residential areas near Gold Beach, exceeded the amount of herbicide allowed and lied about the products it used, a state investigation recently found.

Forty-five residents, including 13 children, still experience symptoms, resident John Burns told a legislative committee Wednesday. One has died of sudden, unexplained heart problems.

Animals, too, are sick and dying, Burns said.

Worse, the residents told lawmakers, they got no help from state public health, forestry or agriculture officials.

"We knew we had poisons dropped on us, and we wanted to know what they were," Burns said. "We didn't get the answer to what the poisons were until April 8. That is a crime."

Lisa Hanson, deputy director of the state Department of Agriculture, admitted that the department could have done a better job of communicating with residents.

"ODA limited the information we were providing to the residents. We were more focused on building our pesticide case," Hanson said. "We could have done a better job with coordination among state agencies as well,"

Lawmakers questioned why the Oregon Health Authority didn't mount a public health response, testing the soil or drinking water, or testing residents for exposures.

State Epidemiologist Katrina Hedberg said that's not the role of the agency.

"We rely on physicians to make a diagnosis and laboratories to get the test results. Our public health lab doesn't do testing on humans for pesticide exposure," Hedburg said. "It's really up to clinicians to be working with patients to make sure they get the treatment they need."

The chemicals were meant for nearby forestland that recently had been logged. The investigation did not unearth why they were sprayed on homes and a nearby golf course.

The state Department of Justice is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine penalties in the case, Hanson said.

Both California and Washington have stricter rules for spraying than Oregon.

"I'm here today to ask you people to take into consideration changing the law in Oregon for human health," resident James Aldrich said. "I am so sick, my wife helps me get dressed in the morning. Change the law in Oregon, at least to what Washington has."

The Senate Interim Environment and Natural Resources Committee will continue to monitor the issue, its chairman, Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland said.

tloew@statesmanjournal.com, (503) 399-6779 or follow at Twitter.com/SJWatchdog

Learn more

Read a summary of investigation results here.

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