One of DEQ’s top priorities is protecting Oregonians from toxic pollutants. That’s a significant challenge, as toxics exist in many forms and can be released into our air, water and land. They are found in the walls and roofs of old buildings, in household cleaning and retail products, and in a wide range of electronics equipment.
We encounter toxics daily, in the furniture we buy, the batteries we use, the toys we buy our children and the personal hygiene products we apply to our skin.
With toxics so common in everyday life, DEQ wanted a more comprehensive plan to target the very chemicals posing the greatest risk to the environment and to human health. The strategy is primarily focused on 51 chemicals or groups of chemicals.
We first created a Toxics Reduction Strategy, aimed at preventing pollutants from entering the environment in the first place. That means stopping toxics at their source, rather than trying to control them after they’ve already threatened our air, our water, our land and our health.
We thought of 25 new ways to reduce toxics in Oregon. We then prioritized the top five near-term actions and got to work. Our Toxics Reduction program takes us outside of the normal regulatory process to promote voluntary environmental stewardship. That meant finding new partners who shared our goals and priorities.
A good example is the Pesticide Stewardship Partnership. We found that farmers and other pesticide users would be interested in working with us to monitor local streams and to take actions that reduce the levels of pesticides getting into waters.
We partnered with Oregon State University and local experts to provide tools and information to improve pest management strategies in the field, like using biological solutions to control insects. We thought such an approach would show a reduction in pesticides in water contamination. It did. And now we have the data to prove it.
DEQ is also playing a key role in Oregon’s “Green Chemistry” initiative, which is part of an executive order addressing toxics signed last year by Gov. John Kitzhaber. The philosophy behind Green Chemistry is straightforward: encourage the design, manufacturing and use of products that generate the least amount of toxic chemicals. But how exactly to do we do that?
One way is to leverage state purchasing power. By revising state purchasing practices to include products with fewer toxics, Oregon can have a significant impact on the general marketplace for these products.
In other words, if state agencies agree to buy cleaner janitorial products, for example, those less-toxic products will become more available and less expensive for everyone. The state is a big enough buyer that it can affect the price and availability of everyday products like cleaning supplies, electronics, office furniture and more.
Consider this. Oregon and Washington jointly represent approximately $20 million in purchasing power for janitorial supplies alone. That kind of buying power is enough to shift the market toward less toxic cleaning supplies.
It’s true that DEQ’s Toxics Reduction program has led to several new initiatives, including the expanded Pesticide Stewardship Program and the Green Chemistry initiative. But the larger strategy focuses on working within DEQ’s existing air, land and water quality programs to identify cost effective ways to reduce toxic chemicals and pollutants.
This means looking at everything we do and asking yet another question: How can we better target toxic chemicals within the environmental programs that already exist?
Clearly, reducing toxics in our environment involves more than just DEQ. It involves small businesses and industry, specialized interest groups, efforts aimed at both the public and private sectors, inter-agency cooperation and you. Yes, you. Click here to learn how you can join the effort in reducing toxics.
Our approach and our partnerships are working. In addition to the work with the private and public sectors in Oregon, we are working with other states to make a difference on a national level. For example, DEQ actively participates in an Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse to pursue common priorities among states and common approaches for looking at safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.
We will continue to seek out new partners who share our larger goal of reducing toxic chemicals in Oregon’s environment.
For more information about DEQ's agency-wide toxics reduction strategy, contact Kevin Masterson at 541-633-2005.