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Study: Weed-killing chemical found in Umpqua Oats product

A new study suggests Umpqua Oats, a locally-founded company known for its oatmeal cups, had an unsafe amount of “the Roundup chemical” in its maple pecan flavored oatmeal.

The study, which was performed by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental organization, said it found levels of glyphosate that would be unsafe for children. The study focused on 29 popular oat-based products like cereal, granola and oatmeal.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, the most commonly used herbicide in the U.S. It is also shrouded in controversy. The World Health Organization said glyphosate is probably a human carcinogenic, but the Environmental Protection Agency said in December the ingredient was not harmful to humans “when the product is used according to the herbicide label.”

Douglas Public Health Network Director Bob Dannenhoffer said there have been a number of studies done on the chemical and nothing definitive has been found one way or the other, but he said, the best data indicated the chemical should be watched.

“It’s easy to prove something is harmful,” Dannenhoffer said. “A more difficult study is to show something that is used is safe. It is one of many, many things that are out there that could be risky, but it’s hard to know about absolute safety in many of these areas. There are always risks in life, so you have to consider the risks and benefits. For everything, we need to better understand the risks and the benefits and absolutely minimize the risks. We are never going to find anything that is risk-free, but we have to have the very best data out there to make these risk-benefit analyses.”

Umpqua Oats was founded in Roseburg as a healthy snack alternative for kids by soccer moms Sheri Price and Mandy Holborow, but moved to Nevada in July of 2016. The two released a statement to their customers that said none of their products have been recalled and they are well within federal safety standards.

“At Umpqua Oats we take issues of food safety and quality very seriously. We are committed to offering you the highest quality hot cereal products in the industry. As the industry discussion regarding herbicides continues, we will support our customers’ commitment to the reduction of chemical use in agriculture,” Price and Holborow said in the statement.

Price and Holborow declined to comment further.

The EPA allows up to 30 parts per million, but the study measured in parts per billion. Six of the foods were found to contain safe amounts of glyphosate and the remaining five showed no trace of the ingredient.

The statement from Umpqua Oats is below:

To All Umpqua Oats Customers:

As you may be aware, there has recently been considerable discussion regarding trace levels of the herbicide glyphosate in a wide range of food products. As the discussion involves a number of parties with varying perceptions and objectives, it is difficult to ascertain truth from fiction.

The simple facts are as follows:

- Without question, Umpqua Oats products are safe to eat and well within compliance of the safety standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

- No recalls have been issued for any Umpqua Oats product by any government agency.

- The oats used in our products are tested at harvest and tested again at the mill for glyphosate content, and all of our products are in compliance with safety and regulatory requirements.

At Umpqua Oats we take issues of food safety and quality very seriously. We are committed to offering you the highest quality hot cereal products in the industry. As the industry discussion regarding herbicides continues, we will support our customers’ commitment to the reduction of chemical use in agriculture.

Sheri Price & Mandy Holborow Founders, Umpqua Foods, LLC

Fire crews work around the clock to protect the world's tallest sugar pine tree

TILLER — While many firefighters are digging hand lines, dragging hose to mop up hot spots and patrolling the more-than-46,000-acre Miles Fire, one small engine crew is working to protect the world’s tallest sugar pine.

Posted next to the official U.S. Forest Service sign that lists the tree’s height and diameter — 265 feet and 7-and-a-half feet, respectively — is a smaller cardboard sign, which reads: “Photos $1, Pinecones $5. Put money in the wishing well.”

The wishing well is the nickname firefighters have given to the square, red water storage container that holds more than 1,000 gallons of water. Resting at the bottom of the tank is a collection of coins, a poker chips and even a dollar bill.

Every day, the massive tree gets 2,000 gallons of water doused on and around it. Hoses snake through the neighboring forest, keeping the forest floor damp.

Jaime Pickering, a tall firefighter with a bushy beard and bright blue eyes, was looking through an infrared reader on Wednesday, pointing to a tree in the distance.

With the naked eye, the tree doesn’t look like much, but looking through the scope, the heat becomes visible at the tree’s top.

Pickering and his fellow firefighters are waiting for the tree to fall so they can extinguish the flames before they spread.

Every afternoon around 1 p.m., the crew tromps through the woods looking for any snags that might pose a hazard to all the work it’s been doing.

“Every time we hear a tree fall we drop down over the hill and we check,” Pickering said.

The crew —comprised of Pickering, Loretta Lynn and Rick Stell Jr. — work for a company called Franco Reforestation Inc. based out of Salem. The group started its post on Aug. 1 and plan to stay until Aug. 28. If fire protection is still necessary, a new crew will move in at that time.

When they’re not fighting fires, the crew does various contracts like tree replanting.

While the fire has been pretty quiet by the sugar pine, the trio had an adrenaline rush when working on the Snowshoe Fire in July.

Pickering pulled out his phone, displaying a picture of a wall of fire that was coming toward their engine last month.

Despite the size of the flames licking towards them, Pickering said they were able to hold the line.

But it was Lynn’s first fire and at the time, she said her first thought was “run.”

But Pickering calmed her down, telling her to drop back, not run back.

“It was exciting and scary at the same time,” Lynn said.

Standing next to the Sugar Pine, Pickering holds a combi tool — a hybrid between a pick and a shovel — with dates etched into the side. It starts with 1988, the first year he started firefighting, and goes all the way up to 2018.

“I’ve forgotten more fires than I can remember,” Pickering said.

The later years look less carved-in than they are scratched, a decision Pickering made because he’ll soon run out of room on the handle.

“I started writing my numbers smaller because I don’t want to retire,” he joked.

The quietest of the crew, Stell, is a military veteran with a stocky build and a big, salt and pepper beard.

“I was in the Marine Corps, Desert Storm, Somalia,” Stell said.

He said fighting fire is simpler than military combat because “it’s easier to do this when you can see your enemy at all times.”

Stell has been with the reforestation company since 2010. It was a return to the firefighting work he was doing before he joined the military.

Stell said he’s proud to be a wildland firefighter, protecting entire towns and cities.

In August, the crew’s work will be confined to protecting the lone tree, which survived a chainsaw after someone attempted to bring it down in 2000. The tree still bears a cut at the base.

Pickering said, “Our whole purpose here is to make sure the world’s tallest sugar pine stays standing after we leave.”

Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority to smoke-test sewers next week

Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority crews will be conducting smoke tests to check for breaks and defects in the sewer system starting in a section of Roseburg on Monday and continuing through Friday.

The testing will be done in the area south of West Harvard Avenue from Fremont Middle School to Harrison Street to the east.

RUSA Engineer Tech Ryon Kershner said residents may see smoke coming from vent stacks on buildings during the testing.

“And that’s perfectly normal,” Kershner said. “But if it’s not as it should be, and we suspect it’s not, the smoke actually seeps up out of the ground.”

Kershner said the smoke is probably the most effective way to test a large area in a short amount of time.

But don’t be alarmed if you see smoke, he said. It has no odor, it’s nontoxic, nonstaining, does not create a fire hazard and will dissipate in a few minutes, according to Kershner.

If smoke enters a building, it probably means that there are defects in the plumbing that could allow dangerous sewer gas to escape, RUSA officials said.

If you notice smoke in your building, note the location of the smoke and call RUSA at 541-672-1551.