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In The News Portland: Local Governments Adopt Toxics Reduction Strategy using the Precautionary Principle
May 11, 2006

Victory Celebrated as Portland City Council and Multnomah County Board Adopt Toxics Reduction Strategy: “Better Safe Than Sorry” Approach to be Used to Reduce Toxics in Local Government Operations.

Today 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 stakeholders.

“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 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

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

Neha Patel, Oregon Center for Environmental Health 503-233-1510
Jane Harris, Oregon Center for Environmental Health, 503-241-3762 x102
Stephanie Farquhar, PSU School of Community Health 503.725.5167

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