When developing product specifications or RFP’s, buyers should take the necessary precautions to purchase goods with limited-to-no toxic chemicals. This will reduce hazardous waste disposal, future liability concerns, and the risk to human health and the environment. 

As of January 2009, all new products thought to contain hazardous chemicals must go through the New Chemical Review Administrative Procedure RSK-21. Once staff has tried and chosen a particular product for departmental or County use, they must follow the procedure outlined in RSK-21 before introducing the product into general County use.  

Ask vendors to provide clear evidence that any criteria you have specified have been met. 


Things to look for:      

  • Third-party certifications (Green Seal, Ecologo, FSC)
  • BPA free plastics
  • Lead free products
  • Low or no VOCs
  • Alternative fuels such as bio-based or low sulphur

For more information:

The following is a list of commonly found chemicals and related information that will make the procurement process for products that possibly contain these chemicals a little easier to follow:



Bisphenol A (BPA)is a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.  Polycarbonate plastics have many applications including use in some food and drink packaging such as water and infant bottles, compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment, and medical devices. 

Epoxy resins are used as lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes. Some dental sealants and composites may also contribute to BPA exposure.  (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 2009)

The 2003-2004 survey Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of 2517 urine samples from people six years and older.  (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)

The National Institute of Health’s National Toxicology Program has identified a level of concern from the low point to the mid point (on a five point scale from low to high) of the risk to the reproductive glands of infants and children exposed to BPA. (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)

  • Polycarbonate containers that contain BPA usually have a #7 on the bottom.  For more information see http://www.recyclenow.org/r_plastics.html
  • When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids.
  • When choosing plastic products, choose BPA free.

Lead: is a toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes.  Lead can also be emitted into the air from motor vehicles and industrial sources; it can enter drinking water from plumbing materials.  Lead may cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death.  Children six years old and under are most at risk. 

Most common sources of lead poisoning:

  • Deteriorating lead-based paint
  • Lead contaminated dust
  • Lead contaminated residential soil

Mercury: exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages.  It has been demonstrated that high levels of methyl mercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn.

Mercury is found in many rocks including coal.  When coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment. Coal-burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions to the air in the United States, accounting for over 40 percent of all domestic human-caused mercury emissions.

Purchasing renewable energy, from sources such as solar and wind, can help the County reduce our impact related to coal based energy production.

Mercury is also found in some of the products that we purchase such as batteries, dental amalgam, fluorescent lighting, and thermometers. 

While mercury is being phased out of many products, it may not be feasible to purchase something without mercury.  In that case, it would be best to try to find an alternative with the least amount possible, or consider trying to find a different way to meet the need.

The Multnomah County Health Department’s (MCHD) Green Book of Administrative Procedures has published guidelines related to the prohibition of mercury (HAZ.01.08) as well as the procedure for clean-up of a mercury spill (HAZ.01.05).

PVC and chlorine bleach: Multnomah County encourages the reduction or elimination of the use of products that contribute to the formation of chemicals commonly called dioxins and furans.  This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Purchasing paper products that are unbleached and processed without chlorine or chlorine derivatives.  Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) is preferred.
  • Limit the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or “vinyl”.

The term dioxin is commonly used to refer to a family of toxic chemicals that all share a similar chemical structure and a common mechanism.  Dioxins have been characterized by EPA as likely human carcinogens and are believed to increase the risk of cancer at background levels of exposure. Roughly speaking furans belong to the family of chemicals that includes dioxins.

Fuels: When replacing vehicles, consider the fuel efficiency of the vehicle and the possible use of diesel alternatives such as compressed natural gas, bio-based fuels, hybrids, electric batteries, and fuel cells as available.  These fuel alternatives produce fewer pollutants.  Encourage vendors and contractors to retrofit their large diesel vehicles with emissions reduction devices.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): are any organic (hydrocarbon) compound that evaporates at normal room temperature.  VOCs can cause the formation of ground-level ozone and photochemical smog, which have harmful effects on human health. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.  According to the EPA, VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products including:

  • Building materials and furnishings
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Paint products such as paints, lacquers, and paint strippers
  • Pesticides
  • Office equipment such as copiers and printers,
  • Office supplies such as correction fluids and carbonless copy paper
  • Graphics and craft materials including glues, adhesives, and permanent markers
  • Photographic solutions

Whenever feasible, encourage the use of products with a low or no VOC content.

The MCHD has three administrative procedures related to VOCs:

  • HAZ.01.09 for Gluteraldehyde
  • HAZ.01.12 for Ethyl Chloride
  • HAZ.01.14 for Ortho Phenyl Phenol