Report: Prevention best way to keep waters clean

The state of Oregon has decided that the best way to keep a long list of toxic and long-lasting pollutants out of waterways, and ultimately away from people, is to stop them at the source, according to a state report released Wednesday.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality report suggests phasing out some household and industrial chemicals and pesticides in favor of safer alternatives, banning others, and developing incentives and regulations to control stormwater runoff and erosion that carries them into rivers and bays.

"This issue affects all Oregonians in some way, and we can all — individual consumers as well as industries and municipalities — play important roles to help reduce the presence of these harmful pollutants in our environment so we can have a more livable Oregon," department Director Dick Pedersen said in a statement.

Jennifer Wigal, department manager for water quality standards and assessments, said it was cheaper and more effective to stop pollutants from getting loose than it was to try to clean them up, especially once they get into rivers and bays.

Under legislation adopted by the 2007 Legislature, Oregon is the first state in the nation developing a comprehensive plan to control 118 different flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, metals, and household and industrial chemicals that take a long time to break down in the environment.

Aimee Code, of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, said the ambitious undertaking should have been done at the federal level.

"I am really pleased with how DEQ took this on," she said. "They are focusing on solving the problem, not cleaning up the effects of the problem."

Teresa Huntsinger, of the Oregon Environmental Council, said the DEQ alone cannot solve the problem, and that the departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Transportation will have to control their uses of pesticides for the goal to be reached.

The next step is for Oregon's 52 largest municipal wastewater treatment systems to send water samples to the department for testing, to see just how much of the different pollutants are in the state's waters. Those communities have until July 1, 2011, to develop plans for dealing with them.

The report also suggests more restrictions on open burning in forests, farm fields and even homes. It calls for teaching people not to contribute to the problem, and creating more community events to collect pollutants.

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