Green Column: Learn More and Get Involved
In the February issue of HEALTHCARE DESIGN, Janet Brown’s Green Column, “A fruitful partnership: Where philanthropy and healthcare sustainability intersect,” relates the story of Magee-Womens Hospital, part of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and its efforts to boost education about women’s health and environmental toxicants.
In this online exclusive addendum to the article, Brown touches upon ways you can learn more and become involved in supporting greener healthcare, providing a number of resources to get you started.
The healthcare sector has been a leader in taking action to reduce patient and worker exposure to toxic chemicals like mercury, lead, and chemotherapeutic agents. Yet the lack of information on the chemical constituents in products and equipment and the absence of safety testing of those constituents hamper the sector’s efforts to implement changes.
Reform of the existing chemical management system must accompany the efforts underway by sustainability professionals in healthcare. While mounting evidence links chemical exposures to negative health outcomes, the federal law created to protect the public from hazardous chemicals—the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—has not been updated since its passage 34 years ago. But some hospitals have taken matters into their own hands, recognizing their responsibility to offer safer materials and education. Hospitals are realizing that it’s up to them to reduce toxicity of materials and equipment and their potential impact on workers, patients, and the community.
The President’s Cancer Panel recently singled out TSCA as the “most egregious example of ineffective regulation of environmental chemicals.” The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Public Health Association have called on the U.S. Congress to fundamentally restructure TSCA such that it better protects public health and the environment.
In the spring and summer of 2010, members of the U.S. House and Senate unveiled legislation that would dramatically change the existing chemical management system by overhauling TSCA. A sweeping reform effort, the proposals govern chemicals added to nearly every product—except food, drugs, cosmetics, and pesticides, which are regulated separately—a great many of which are used in healthcare. In the lead-up to the initial bill introduction, many in the healthcare sector sent a letter to Congress urging strong reform of TSCA to protect public health and the environment, and to reduce the burden on healthcare.
While the bill didn't move in the 111th Congress, there is momentum for it to be taken up in the current 112th Congress. Healthcare voices will be particularly critical to shaping a bill that is effective, efficient, and that protects public health. If your facility would like to join the collective voice of TSCA reform, e-mail Tracey Easthope at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more education and background on toxic chemicals and how they impact human health and the environment, read Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families’ “ Reproductive Health and Fertility Problems Factsheet.”
Learn more about the hazards of vinyl and DEHP (and alternatives) from Health Care without Harm by visiting http://noharm.org/us_canada/issues/toxins/pvc_phthalates/.
Visit Health Care without Harm’s safer chemicals Web page for facts, educational information, advocacy around the TSCA, and links to other helpful sites, like the Environmental Working Group’s newborn cord blood study and others.
Visit the Collaborative on Health and the Environment for Webinars, archives, research, and guidance around environmental factors and impact on human health.
To assist you in making science-based decisions around environmental strategies, try signing up for “Above the Fold,” a free, daily e-news blast of research, articles, and studies about environmental health from Environmental Health News.
The Green Guide for Health Care provides specific credit goals to address chemical avoidance and management in its version 2.2 operations section. Several areas cover chemicals, including sections on environmentally preferable purchasing (chemical policy, toxicity reduction, advocacy, safer building materials, etc.), chemical management, and waste management, to name a few.
Hospitals are increasingly asking manufacturers and suppliers for more information on hazardous materials and product ingredients, stemming from their success with mercury reduction and the resulting shift in the marketplace to mercury-free products. Practice Greenhealth’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing tips includes a standard set of questions on environmental disclosures for use in the contracting process to help purchasers make informed decisions on products and equipment that may contain hazardous materials.
The Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Pediatric Toolkit, which is endorsed by the American Pediatric Association, assists physicians with education on the identification of environmental threats to their patient population.
Janet Brown is director of sustainable operations for Practice Greenhealth. She can be reached at email@example.com.