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Greening Hospitals

Monday, June 1, 1998

Greening Hospitals

An analysis of pollution prevention in America's top hospitals

View and Download the report here: Greening Hospitals

Lack of basic environmental practices at major U.S. hospitals is resulting in serious pollution problems and contamination of major foods, including baby foods. A first of its kind environmental survey of 50 major U.S. hospitals uncovered widespread failure on the part of medical facilities to take steps to halt contamination of milk, meats and fish by dioxins and mercury, pollutants that cause a wide range of health impacts.

Federal studies have documented that incineration of millions of pounds of hospital waste each year constitutes a major source of both of these pollutants, as well as other environmental contaminants. A Consumer Reports laboratory study in June, 1998 found dioxin in processed meat baby food prod- ucts at levels 100 times higher than the government’s current daily limit for this extraordinarily potent carcinogen and hormone disrupting pollutant. A December, 1997 government study estimated that 1.6 million pregnant women and women of child-bearing age are potentially exposed each year to unsafe levels of neurotoxic mercury from fish alone, including canned tuna. Thirty-nine (39) state departments of health have issued fish consumption warnings due to mercury contamination.

“Greening” Hospitals finds that the health care industry has begun to change some of these practices. Many of the dirtiest and largest on-site hospital incinerators have been shut down. A growing number of hospitals has pledged to reduce toxic emissions, reduce their waste stream, and purchase products that prevent pollution from dioxins, mercury and other toxic materials. But our analysis of survey results makes clear that often the policies and goals that have been set on paper are not reflected in the actual practices of hospitals. The health care industry has a lot of work to do before it can fulfill the medical oath to “first do no harm.”

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