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Community Conversation Podcast: Environmental Pollution on Your Doorstep

In this episode, we speak with two local changemakers Arjoire Arberry-Baribeault with Beyond Toxics and Kelly Ferguson, science teacher with Kalapuya High School about environmental pollution and the impact on the community of West Eugene. We will hear how Beyond Toxics partnered with Kalapuya High School to take positive actions towards sharing out information and processing trauma through the power of ART! Trigger Warning: Childhood Cancer will be discussed in this episode. 

About Guests: 

Arjorie Arberry-Baribeault is a former hair stylist turned environmental activist. Arjorie lived and raised her children in the industrial corridor of west Eugene. She attributes this to the reason for her daughter being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 13. Arjorie now works in the environmental justice field to help educate folks on the dangers of living close to industrial facilities. 

Kelly Ferguson is a passionate and dedicated science teacher. Her journey into the world of science began with a fascination for rocks and minerals, which were always close by in her hometown of Tuolumne, California. This curiosity led her to pursue a Master’s degree in Geology. During her master’s years, Kelly developed a keen interest in education while serving as a teacher for intro geology courses. Now with her Master’s in Education in hand, she is deeply committed to guiding students towards critical thinking, collaboration, and the ability to perceive patterns in the world through a creative lens. She believes in challenging pedagogical norms to empower students from all backgrounds and cultures, equipping them with the essential skills to thrive as future scientists and changemakers. 

About Beyond Toxics: We envision a society where everyone has equitable access to healthy food and clean air and water, and underserved communities are included in decision making processes that affect them. Together, we move beyond the damaging environmental practices of the past and collectively work to support and maintain ecological resilience and balance.   

Learn More:  

“Why We Do the Work” Podcast  

“Project One: Data Graffiti” by Kalapuya High School Students             

Episode Notes: 

Date Correction: JH Baxter Closed January 2022, not 2020

Cara: Hello and welcome listeners. My name is Cara Bryton and I serve as the education and community engagement coordinator at the Hult Center. Our intention with this community conversation podcast series is to go a little deeper by interviewing community members on subjects related to select performances. This episode, we have the honor of speaking with two local changemakers. We will begin our conversation with Arjorie Arberry-Baribeault, West Eugene community organizer for the local nonprofit Beyond Toxics, which strives to provide leadership to build a community -driven environmental justice movement for a thriving and just Oregon. In addition, we’ll be speaking with Kelly Ferguson, science teacher at Kalapuya High School in Bethel School District. Kelly embarked on a very meaningful art project earlier this year with her students impacted by environmental pollution in West Eugene. Before I begin, I want to give a trigger warning that we will be discussing childhood cancer in this episode. So, Arjorie, welcome. Hi, I’ve been listening to your podcast, you co -host, Why Do We Do The Work? And it’s been truly heartbreaking to listen to. Yeah, I’m just so sorry for all that you have been through and as a parent, it is unimaginable. So for those of you who haven’t heard the podcast, would you be open to sharing more about your experience? 

Arjorie: Sure, yeah, definitely. Thanks for having us today here. Make sure that I’m saying your name right. Is it Cara? Okay, so thank you very much for having both of us here and for listening to the show. That’s really awesome that you had a chance to give it a listen. Like I said, I’m a little nervous because I’m only on the other side. So thank you for bearing with me while I blush a little bit. 

Cara: Cara, yeah. 

Arjorie: So my work, my work is completely different than where I started in my career. I was a hairstylist living and raising my kids in West Eugene. All my kids went to the Bethel School District. We always lived in West Eugene. It was affordable. That’s where we could live and we liked living there. So we really loved living in West Eugene. As I’ve shared before, we never thought about being surrounded by industrial facilities, they were there. We went there, we lived there, they were there and they were around us in our lives and we just went about our lives. Not really all that concerned about the facilities. We were playing in open spaces, we were playing in the water in our yard, swimming in the neighborhood pool, just living. You know, we were just living our lives and allowing our children to play and be kids. Then one day everything changed.  

We were told after my daughter Zion went for a sports physical, that her blood work was abnormal and to go back to the emergency room right away, which was extraordinarily scary. You don’t ever wanna hear, come back to the emergency room right away. You don’t wanna hear that. And as a mom, you think, okay, wait a minute, what’s going on? What do you mean? And so you can imagine the shock. And so that night on September 21st, 2018, I will never forget that date because that’s the day that my life completely changed. It’s also coincidentally the, I don’t know if you all know the song, September by Earth, Wind and Fire. There is the very first line of that is says, do you remember the 21st of September? And that is a song I’m gonna age myself a little bit here, but that’s a song that I used to roller skate to when I was a little kid. It was always my favorite song. 

And I am in the mindset that things happen for a reason. And I think that the song maybe in its own little way was a little foreshadowing for me. So, you know, I was like the 21st of September. Wow, that’s crazy. So she started treatment right away. We got the word cancer and we got a name for that cancer, which was Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So she started treatment right away. And this was supposed to take five months. It was supposed to only be five months. The protocol for that was. 

 In and out five months, she gets these treatments and then she’s all good. Well, that didn’t happen. It took nearly three years of chemo, radiation, and finally a stem cell transplant to save her life. And so what they told us without telling us is that if she didn’t have the stem cell transplant, we were probably going to lose her. So we went with modern medicine and we allowed the stem cell transplant to happen. 

And during that nightmare, during everything that was going on with my family and what we were going through, my best friend, whose name is Lori, and her son, Simon, Simon was also diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And the connection there is that he also lived in West Eugene. We both raised our children in West Eugene. So you can really imagine the shock that our families felt, both of us, and… 

Laurie, who after you have listened to the podcast, she is the person who was on the first three episodes of the show. Absolutely no blood relation. Been friends since we were 19, since 1986. And kids are not blood related. So to have them have the same cancer was very strange. It was like, wait a minute, that’s, that’s weird. And so I jumped into action mode. I wanted to know what happened, why it happened. 

Could it have been something that we were exposed to? And what about my other kids? Are they gonna get sick? I’m concerned about that too. Not just then, but now. Stuff can live in your body for a long time. I even myself have thoughts of, oh gosh, I have this little thing on my neck or I have a little bump on my shoulder. Is it gonna be cancer? That is something that is something that I think about. So. 

into action mode, that’s when I found out about J .H. Baxter. And for the listeners, J .H. Baxter is a wood treatment plant that is located in West Eugene and it is no longer in operation. So that’s when I found out, yes. Oh, you’re doing raising the hands, woo -woo. Yeah, so they’re no longer in operation. And you know, 

Cara: Oh, I was just going, yeah, woo, yeah, yeah. 

Arjorie: I was really curious about this place and so I’m not a scientist. So a lot of the things that I was finding on the internet was science talk and I had to Google a lot of what I was reading. I wanted to learn what they could have been exposed to and why our kids could possibly have been sick. I wanted to know how to pronounce those words. I wanted to know what the equipment was that they used to process their products. And then I began to post on social media.  

I wanted to know exactly what was going on, was really happening because I felt like I could possibly be making something up. So I started to reach out on social media and post on Facebook and just have all these emojis that said, poison, this place is poison and look what they did. And I put all this stuff on Facebook and that’s what caught the attention of Beyond Toxics, that caught the attention of Lisa and they were like, well, who’s this lady? What is she talking about? How does she know about J .H. Baxter and what they’re doing? So they reached out to me and here I am. You know, fast forward three years later, I’m an environmental justice activist and my role and my passion is to help other families not know the realities of childhood cancer. Both kids are cancer free. Make sure I want to say that both kids are cancer free. They were able to beat it. 

Zion is a freshman at OSU studying engineering. Her major is mechanical engineering and her minor is aerospace engineering. So this little gal is taking her second chance and she’s running with it and I’m so proud of her and she’s been through so much and she’s just thriving. So I really appreciate you asking me how I started in this and why we have, why we do the work because that’s really where it started and where it stemmed from was helping folks out there that could be impacted the same way that our family was. 

Cara: Wow, thank you so much for sharing all of that. And for those who want to learn more, I really, yeah, listen to the podcast. It’ll be linked in our show notes. So, Arjorie, can you speak to what is happening in West Eugene now? Are there, like, repairs being made? And, yeah, I guess I’ll just start with those questions. 

Arjorie: Yeah, well there’s a lot going on in West Eugene. Aside from what’s going on with the DEQ and the EPA and other agencies that are working on J.H. Baxter, there is a lot of angst and fear and worry and concern not only about themselves but about their other members of their family, their pets, students. You know, big part of what’s going on is the students now know what’s going on and they’re scared and so you know that’s a lot what’s going on in West Eugene is education education education so that folks can know what they’re being exposed to what they’re surrounded by and to know exactly What they can do as a community to help kind of stop what’s going on there in the like technical terms of what’s going on in West Eugene dioxins Dioxins are what’s happening in West Eugene and dioxins are highly carcinogenic and after some on -site testing at the facility at J .H. Baxter, the DEQ required that J .H. Baxter do some testing in 2020 to perform off -site testing. And this was to determine how many homes were impacted by the soil contamination. And like I said, they’re highly carcinogenic and depending on the level of exposure, dioxins can increase the risk of and the risk of other health effects. Initially, during all this, there were seven homes that were tested and out of those seven homes, only one showed levels of concern for dioxin contamination. That’s wild, right? Out of seven homes, only one had no like cars for cause for alarm, it’s still cause for alarm. Okay. Any dioxin in your soil is alarming. Um, but to have tested only seven in the beginning and have almost all of them have those levels of concerning dioxins is really like eye-opening. Two of those homes had levels high enough that they needed immediate cleanup. Like we need to get the soil out of here now. And one of those homes had. So you can imagine the trauma of trying to explain why your trees are being ripped up out of your yard, why they’re digging the soil up out of your yard to your children. Why do I have to leave my house for a week and a half while they do this? Is it dangerous? What about my playhouse in the backyard? Can I have that back? You can imagine how traumatizing it is to explain to your children while you’re traumatized yourself what’s going on in their house. So. The other one of those homes that needed immediate cleanup has also had its soil cleaned up and remediated. I don’t know exactly where they are in the process of that. I apologize that I didn’t get that answer for you before I got on the show. If it’s something that you’re curious about, I can definitely make sure that you know after the show we can talk offline. So they closed the factory. There were, there’s a skeleton crew working there right now. They closed on January 31st of 2020.*  


And here’s a kicker. Here’s a mic drop. January 31st is Zion’s birthday. So they closed down on Zion’s 16th birthday. Can you imagine what a present that was for our whole family? What a victory that was for West Eugene. You know, it was, it’s, it’s one of those, I think people are in the right place at the right time things. And you’re going to be where you’re supposed to be when it’s supposed to happen. And because something has impacted our lives in this incredible way, it’s made me want to help other families. So, and as your question for if there repairs being made, yes, those two homes are in the process of having everything happen, you know, all that trauma that’s going on with the digging up of their yards. They had to have trees and things taken out of their yard, all of their landscape, like just, you know, I’m going to tell you when I, when this very first started, we never imagined that it was going to be as big as it is. We were thinking, okay, these seven properties, We’re going to get it done and we’re going to be done with this. Well, that’s not what happened. And so fast forward to when they closed January 31st, 2020*, this company has been fined over $300 ,000 in violations for the damage that they caused not only on their site, but in the properties of homes right directly across the street from this facility. And they still have not paid those fines and they’re claiming that they don’t have the resources to pay for them. And that’s really frustrating because what ends up happening there is that we pay for the cleanup. The people that have been hurt and impacted by this in West Eugene, they pay for the cleanup. That’s not fair and that’s not okay. So that’s why we’re working so hard to make sure that this company pays. It’s the polluter’s responsibility to pay for the damage that they caused. So soil cleanup has begun, the residential soil cleanup has been done on the property since it began. Its excavation started on the 22nd of January and the cleanup for the second prioritized under the, I’m sorry, I’m gonna rewind. The cleanup for the second priority prioritization under the emergency response. Bonds stated started in January. I’m not sure where they are in this process. Like I said, all of these things happen in January. It’s March. Um, I will be reaching out to the community members and see what what’s happening, what’s happening in this process. Because during all of this, you don’t want to overwhelm people that are already overwhelmed. So, you know, I want to give them some time to settle into their, um, their new yard settle into what’s going on in their home and then I’m going to pick back up and say, hey, what happened? So the work on the other five properties identified for cleanup is aimed to start in the fall of 2024. And they hope to know more this spring, a general timeline about the remaining soil cleanups for those five properties. Since the initial testing, there have been 52 homes tested with many of them needing soil cleanup. And at this point, the contamination has spread about a mile and a half away from the facility and there’s no known end to where the contamination stops. So what happens in that instance is you continue to step out in the neighborhood. And so we’ve done probably five step outs so far because we had those seven homes and then we had to step out further, step out further, and we will continue to step out further away from the facility until we find the edge of that contamination. 

Cara: All right, thank you. And a follow -up question is, so, and you kind of touched on this, but what needs to happen on a local level for environmental pollution like this to decrease? I mean, not exist, I guess, but more realistically, like decrease in specifically West Eugene. 

Arjorie: Yeah. There’s a lot of things that could happen on the local level, but something that is really super exciting that has happened and has come to pass because of the West Eugene community is something called the Public Health Overlay Zone. And what this does, it adds a quarter mile buffer between people, whether that’s parks, schools, any sort of open spaces, it’s a quarter mile buffer there to keep people away from industry. So any new facility that would come into West Eugene would have to follow these guidelines as far as taking public health into consideration. So in October, the city council, Eugene city council, voted unanimously to instruct city staff to draft an ordinance to take public health into consideration when they’re doing the land use codes. So that is something that’s super exciting that happened. It took a couple of years and it took a lot of testimony. It took a lot of community, not only community testimony, but organ is other partner organizations testimonies, presentations by beyond toxics meetings with elected officials, the city and city council said everybody’s hands raised and said, Hey, yes, we want to have this. Initially, we wanted this ordinance to be in West Eugene because that’s where most of the industrial facilities are, you know, besides J .H. Baxter, there’s 30 some other facilities out in West Eugene. And I remember you saying you, you know, you lived out that way. So, you know, you’re surrounded, you know, you’re in, you’re in the heart of it. So there’s a lot of facilities around there that are impacting the community. So this is a brand new policy and it could potentially be statewide or Citywide I’m jumping the gun because for me I’ve been talking about this public health overlay zone for probably as long as I’ve worked at Beyond Toxics and I Don’t want it to just be citywide. I want it statewide. I want it. I want it Nationwide I want it worldwide because this isn’t just a Local problem. This is a world problem. And as I’m working in this this field, you know, I’m researching other places that have been impacted by this and they’re so many people that are right up against industry. And, you know, back in the good old days, nobody really knew that that was hurting you. So they weren’t like, oh, I don’t believe that there was malice, you know, intended back in the good old days. But now we know what’s going on. Now we know that it’s not okay and we shouldn’t be having people so close to industry like that. So for this ordinance to come into play is beginning in its beginning phases, but it’s a monumental win for folks and not just in West Eugene, but for everybody in Eugene living in their industrial facilities. 

Cara: Amazing. Yeah, I kind of heard about that, but yeah, I didn’t know. That’s amazing. Thank you for all your work on that. Yeah. That is awesome to hear. Okay, so I want to make sure we get to Kelly, but one last little follow -up question was, are there actions as like community members that we can take? Like, today to help with this cause.  

Arjorie: Yes, and I will make it fast because I’m a chit -chat chatter. I have a podcast, so that’s why, you know, I’m talking so much and I’ll stop. I’ll scale it back. But what sort of actions a community can take is stay connected with your community and what’s going on and happening in the area where you live. Partner with local organizations or schools to build relationships within an environmental justice community. 

Cara: You’re doing great. You’re doing great. 

Arjorie: Know who your elected officials are and reach out to them with any concerns that you might have of the health of your family or neighborhood. Attend city council meetings to hear what’s happening locally and give testimony about the concerns you have. It’s important to know what’s going on in your community so that you don’t feel alone when you realize and understand what’s happening and what you’re impacted by. You want to find people that also are in the same fight with you and or want to help you find answers. So that’s one of the main things. Stay connected with your community and know what’s going on. 

Cara: Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing and all of the work you do, Arjorie. Your work and dedication to this cause is so important, not just for West Eugene Bethel residents, but beyond the Eugene community as the air, the water, the land is all something we share. 

Arjorie: Yeah, of course. Thank you. 

Cara: I would now like to open the conversation up to speaking with our other changemaker, Kelly Ferguson. So already you’re a teacher, so you fall under the change maker category. So when I was researching about Beyond Toxics, I came across the Youth Corner part of the website and I was just really inspired by a project called “Project One Data Graffiti.” And yeah, so welcome, Kelly. 

Kelly: Thank you. Thanks for having me.  

Cara: And I would just love to know if you could please speak to the inspiration for this project, the process of this project. And I know you were also present at the Art Walk exhibit back in January. So yeah, just a general, like, I’d love to hear anything that you would like to share about your project.  

Kelly: Yeah. Well, it all started with a collaboration between Beyond Toxics and a coalition of science and social studies teachers, most of us from Eugene. And we were tasked with taking these mountains of data that Beyond Toxics has amassed over years around industrial pollutants in West Eugene and to turn them into lesson plans that could fit into science and social studies classes, ideally in a cross -curricular way. And by some fortunate series of events, I was asked to be a collaborator in creating that curriculum. So we science teachers involved with this project were really focused on making integrative science very place -based. So within this industrial pollution problem that West Eugene faces, what is the science behind how toxins get into the air, get into the ground and waterways, into our bodies? What is dioxin? Why does it never leave the soil? So there’s so much fodder there to have this integrative science approach. But really the heartbeat of the project was and is around environmental justice, as well as the public’s right to know about what’s happening in our community. Because like Arju was saying, there’s so much science jargon and as someone who’s just within the community, how do you interpret all these big words? So part of our task was also to make it more digestible by the layman and by our students and via our students into the community. So, yeah, environmental justice is really the heart of it. So, you know, in which our society’s environmental policies may negatively impact certain demographics of our population disproportionately. This is certainly the case in West Eugene where my students live. So, and attend school. So that was really the inspiration. And I became the first teacher to pilot the unit in my class. And teaching about industrial pollutants is tricky. We really always want to be very careful that we’re balancing what can be really tough information for the students to process. You know, the planet’s burning up, ice caps are melting. Oh, and your neighborhood is in a toxic zone because of this J. Baxter plant that you had nothing to do with. Right? That’s a lot. That’s heavy. So we need to balance that with a strong social emotional piece for the students. So I’m always looking for ways that my students can have artistic and creative outlets and to get involved with their community in a way that empowers them and to create connections for the betterment of something bigger than themselves. I really want them to have that sense of like, what can we do about it as an anecdote to the feeling like we don’t have control. So anyway, I had been teaching this unit for about a year and I came across this lesson and this lesson was created as a collaboration between Oregon State’s SMILE program and an artist and environmental activist named Alisa Singer. And what these people did was to first have students engage in abstract art. So which piece stands out to you and why? Like how are you drawn into the art? And this was all Alisa Singer’s her abstract art. And then the students turn over the artwork to reveal the data that the artwork is based on. And the data is hidden in the artwork in some way. And then the students are like, oh, now I see it. I see like this thing that I really thought was cool about this piece of artwork like. Now the science makes it even more meaningful, even though originally I was engaging in it in a way that didn’t have anything to do with science. I just thought it was pretty or whatever. So the lesson and most of Elisa’s work is around climate change. But the minute I saw it, a light bulb went off and I thought, oh my gosh, the students could do this. They could make the artwork, but with data from West Eugene and environmental pollutants. And that’s what they did.  

And the students felt really strongly that this was how they were going to get the word out about what was happening to them in their community. And they also wanted it to be an opportunity to show what they see as the logical solution after the shutdown of the J .H. Baxter plant. You know, what’s a positive thing we can do for our community. And they feel really strongly that it should be something like a solar farm or something that would benefit the community. So, some of their artwork takes on that tack as well. So yeah, and then I set out to find a place or places for their artwork to be seen and heard. I was really just doing their bidding at that point. 

Cara: Amazing. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that journey. And I love the idea of a solar, yeah, solar farm out there. And yeah, I just want to share with the listeners that we are really excited to help get these young changemakers word out by exhibiting their show. Sorry, exhibiting their art during our Passport to Adventure, tabling events, which happened before the Changemaker series. So that, I’ll be sharing more about that in a little while. But yeah, the art is beautiful, and like you said, it’s just so meaningful as well. And Kelly, if you could speak on behalf of your students, what do our listeners need to know or understand? And I know that’s a big ask, but yeah, putting it out there. 

Kelly: No, I think there’s a really clear answer to that. I mean, having taught this unit to many students by now, I’m always astonished by how many of them, some of whom live directly across the street from J .H. Baxter or other polluting industries, didn’t know about the problem at all. And I bear witness to how shocked and betrayed they feel every time. Many of my students have been very ill as a result of toxins. Some have unfortunately endured the horrifying experience of childhood cancer, same as arteries, daughter and friends. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is among my student population. And so people need to know about this problem. My students would want you to know that this is affecting them now, today. And I would also implore the community to step up to support West Eugene and our youth. 

That means making our voices heard, voting, keeping up on policies happening in your local communities. Subscribe to organizations like Beyond Toxics and you’ll be well informed. 

Cara: Thank you. And thank you both so much for taking the time to speak to me today and for your continued work in our community to make a change. So before we end, I just want to bring it back to Arjorie. Is there anything else you’d like to share on behalf of Beyond Toxics? 

Arjorie: I shared a little bit about getting involved with environmental justice organizations like Beyond Toxics. I think that that’s where it starts because a lot of folks don’t know what’s going on and so the information that they could be looking for is a little bit not so science -based, like they can talk to us and if we don’t understand it, we can find the answer. So I think the main thing that I would like to say about Beyond Toxics is just get involved. We have a program going on right now called Rises Leaders. It will be starting in April. Some of Kelly’s students actually participate in that program and it is led by one of my co -workers named Olivia. And you can find out where to register for Rise as Leaders at And if you go to the get involved spot, you can find Kelly’s kids work there. You can find Rise’s leaders. You can find all sorts of ways to get involved with our organization. And just stay informed. Just stay informed. Just know what’s going on in your community. And if you don’t know, you can ask us. 

Cara: Beautiful. Thanks again. Our next changemaker speaker. I’m gonna start again. Our next changemaker speaker in the series will be Kobi Boykins presenting The Quest for Life on an Icy Moon. It’ll be on Friday, March 29 at 7pm. Join the pre-show event Passport to Adventures for an opportunity to speak more with Beyond Toxics, Kalapuya High School students and many other inspiring local changemakers. Tickets for Hult Presents Changemaker Speakers are available at Thanks again for listening.