Oregon Center for Environmental Health  [Printer-friendly version]
May 11, 2006


Portland Oregon and Multnomah County Adopt Precautionary Approach
"Better Safe Than Sorry" Approach to be Used to Reduce Toxics in Local
Government Operations

[Rachel's introduction: Portland, Oregon and Multnomah County have
adopted a precaution-based purchasing policy intended to reduce
governmental use of toxic materials.]

Today [May 11, 2006] Portland and Multnomah County became one of the
first cities and counties in the nation to jointly adopt a
comprehensive plan for management and reduction in the use of toxic
chemicals. The city council and county board voted unanimously to
adopt a Toxics Reduction Strategy -- a plan for minimizing use of
toxic substances of concern in government operations by using the
Precautionary Principle.

"The Portland City Council and Multnomah County Commissioners deserve
to be commended for leading by example and choosing to use government
operations as a starting point for reducing toxics in our community ",
said Jane Harris, Executive Director of the Oregon Center for
Environmental Health.

Mounting evidence shows toxic pollution accumulates in our bodies and
threatens our health. There are hundreds of contaminants present
within each of us, contaminants that have built up over time through
exposure to everyday items such as cleaning products, plastics, fuels,
pesticides, and building materials. Childhood cancers, asthma, birth
defects, developmental disabilities, autism, infertility, and
Parkinson's disease are increasing at alarming rates and there is a
growing body of scientific evidence linking these serious health
problems to the chemicals we are exposed to in our air, water, food,
homes, schools and workplaces.

The Toxics Reduction Strategy is the product of a resolution proposed
by the Oregon Center for Environmental Health and the Sustainable
Development Commission of Portland and Multnomah County and was
adopted by both local governments in the fall of 2004. In early 2005,
a Toxics Reduction Workgroup was formed, comprised of representatives
from the community, environmental advocacy groups, local government,
business, academia, and City and County staff. The strategy was
prepared by the Oregon Center for Environmental Health, Multnomah
County Sustainability Initiative and the City of Portland's Office of
Sustainable Development with feedback from the workgroup and other

"The Precautionary Principle takes a "better safe than sorry" approach
by choosing the least toxic alternative and shifting the burden of
proof from the public to manufacturers and users of toxic chemicals to
prove a chemical's safety before it is released into the marketplace"
says Workgroup co-chair and Oregon Center for Environmental Health
program director, Neha Patel.

The Toxics Reduction Strategy uses the Precautionary Principle to
identify cost-effective alternatives to practices in city and county
operations that pose a threat to human health and/or the environment
Short-term actions that have been identified in the strategy include
increasing the use of alternative fuels such as biodiesel in fleet
vehicles and off-road equipment, installing plumbing devices in county
dental clinics that trap mercury amalgam for proper recycling, and
choosing non-toxic cleaning chemicals .

"The strategy aims to reduce toxics in government operations and
protect public health and the environment by using the common-sense
idea that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", said
Strategy Workgroup member and PSU [Portland State University] School
of Community Health professor, Stephanie Farquhar. "Rather than
asking, how much harm is allowable, the Precautionary Principle is a
tool that allows us to consider how little harm is possible."

To read the strategy visit www.oregon-health.org

The Oregon Center for Environmental Health is dedicated to
protecting public health and the environment through community action
to eliminate toxic pollutants.