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Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard Raises Unfounded AIDS Scare in “Tinklegate”

Tinklegate” is probably the stupidest name for a water-purity issue. It arose when an irresponsible young man urinated into one of Portland’s open reservoirs, resulting in the need for “The Big Flush” — a $36,000 emptying of eight million gallons of water from a Mt Tabor reservoir. Because, in the words of the Water Department administrator, David Shaff: “Do you want to drink pee?

No, not really. But some citizens questioned the need. They e-mailed their City Commissioners with their complaints about what they saw as an overreaction to six to eight ounces of human urine in eight million gallons of water.

Since the outcry began last week, Shaff and his boss, Water Commissioner Randy Leonard, have been on the defensive, replying to scores of critics worried the city had wasted water and cash after overreacting to a few ounces of likely sterile urine. Now, it seems, much of the outrage could have been avoided if officials had provided better information from the start.

But then Randy Leonard, the elected City Commissioner charged with overseeing Portland’s Water Department, raised a spurious issue in an e-mail to a citizen who complained about the decision to spend that money to flush the reservoir. Leonard wrote, and was quoted on TV station KOIN:

“Even those individual (sic) with AIDS do not discharge enough AIDS in their urine to infect another person…. unless their urine has blood in it.”

Health officials, including the CDC, dismiss these fears.

Today, the North American Affiliate of the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the Cascade AIDS Project, have asked Commissioner Leonard to clarify for anyone paying attention to his ignorant comment that, no — there is no risk of HIV (or chlamydia, something else he apparently mentioned) transmission through urine.

“Commissioner Leonard has thrown fuel on the fire of stigma and discrimination by suggesting a risk that does not exist,” board member Cecilia Chung said in a press release.

In response, Leonard defended his remarks in the context of replying to a statement that urine was ‘sterile.’ While he also has said he’ll clarify his comments further if required, he has not (as of this writing) done so. Even if his message to an irate citizen was taken out of context or misconstrued by the media, City Commissioner Randy Leonard, responsible for Portland’s water supply, needs to make clear that he understands the simple fact that there is no health risk for HIV/AIDS infection from urine.

People with HIV/AIDS in Portland, and across the world, deserve no less.

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