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E-M:/ Hospitals Need "Green" Overhaul Report

Enviro-Mich message from ecaa@igc.org (ecology center)

Press Release

Contact:        Tracey Easthope

734-663-2400 x 109
Hospitals Need "Green" Overhaul, Survey Finds
Some Premier Hospitals Are Cleaning Up, But Most Are Just Starting

        Some hospitals are demonstrating that "green" hospitals are
possible, but the waste handling and purchasing practices at other major
U.S. hospitals are resulting in serious pollution problems, according to a
new study released today.

        The first ever environmental survey of 50 major U.S. hospitals
found reason for both hope and concern.  Many hospitals are taking steps to
reduce their environmental impact, and saving money.  Others have failed to
take steps to halt the release of dioxin and mercury from their waste
stream.  Dioxin and mercury, pollutants that cause a wide range of health
impacts, are found in fish and baby food at unsafe levels.  Federal studies
show that incineration of millions of pounds of hospital waste each year is
a major source of the highly toxic contaminants.

        Top hospitals in the country were surveyed.  In Michigan, Henry
Ford and Hutzel in Detroit, William Beaumont in Royal Oak and the
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor were surveyed.  Only the University of
Michigan and William Beaumont returned the surveys.  Henry Ford and Hutzel
did not respond to numerous inquiries.  The results were mixed.  The
University of Michigan was one of the few hospitals surveyed that
incinerates all waste.  But both UM and Beaumont have programs in place to
eliminate mercury use.

        The state of Michigan has more permitted medical waste incinerators
than any other state in the country.  According to the most recent list
available, many hospitals in Michigan continue to incinerate, including
Henry Ford in Detroit, Sparrow in Lansing, Borgess in Kalamazoo, Alpena
General in Alpena, and Oakland General.  Many other hospitals send their
waste to regional medical waste incinerators.  There are cost-effective
alternatives, however.  For instance, St. Joe's in Ann Arbor recycles much
of their waste, and sends the infectious waste stream to a commercial
autoclave (steam sterilization) facility.

        Johns Hopkins Hospital, voted the nation's top hospital by U.S.
News and World Report, turned out to be one of the worst in the
"Greening Hospitals" survey.  Hopkins unnecessarily sends waste to a low
income Baltimore community to be burned in an incinerator with a dangerous
safety record.

        In Michigan, two commercial medical waste incinerators receive
waste from numerous hospitals.  The commercial incinerator in Hamtramck,
located in a low-income community of color, was recently cited for
violating their permit limit for mercury.

        "The problems in Hamtramck illustrate the value of cleaning up our
waste streams.  We can tolerate no mercury or PVC plastic in these
incinerators and expect the environment to be protected," said Guy
Williams, Pollution Prevention Specialist with the National Wildlife

        Of the top 50 hospitals surveyed, over 40 percent were
unnecessarily incinerating waste that could be treated by safer methods.
Only one in five hospitals had programs to reduce purchases of polyvinyl
chloride (PVC), a major factor in dioxin emissions when hospital waste is
incinerated.  Only 4 percent of the hospitals surveyed used PVC-free IV
bags, the easiest and most cost effective alternative for a major PVC
hospital product.

        Dioxin is a carcinogen which also disrupts the normal functioning
of the hormone system, leading to a broad array of reproductive and
developmental health problems.  A study released this month by
Consumer Reports found that dioxin levels in the average jar of processed,
meat baby-food products were 100 times greater than the government's
allowable daily limit.

        The survey also found that nearly four out of five hospitals
surveyed had mercury reduction programs, but nearly half were still buying
mercury  thermometers and over half were still buying mercury blood
pressure cuffs.  A December, 1997 EPA Report on mercury found that 1.6
million pregnant women, children and women of child-bearing age are exposed
to unsafe levels of mercury from fish alone.  The same study found that ten
percent of mercury comes from medical waste incineration.

        "Community members need to be concerned about what's being emitted
into our neighborhoods," said Donele Wilkins, Executive Director of
Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.  "We want to improve the air
quality for all our communities, particularly for those that already bear
an unfair burden."

        Survey results are presented in a groundbreaking report, "Greening
 Hospitals," released today by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), a national
coalition of health care providers and public health advocates, and The
Environmental Working Group.
        The report also identified a number of America's hospitals and
health care associations that are reducing their industry's negative impact
on health and the environment.
        *Dartmouth Hitchcock in Lebanon, New Hampshire has a model mercury
segregation and recycling program.
        *Albany Medical Center in New York has model chemical recycling and
mercury reduction programs.
        *Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, dramatically reduced its
"red bag" waste, rejected incineration and saved millions of dollars.
        *Resolutions calling for elimination of PVC plastic in the health
care industry have been adopted by the California Medical Association, the
Minnesota Hospital and Health Care Partnership and the American Public
Health Association.

        Tracey Easthope, MPH, Director of the Environmental Health Project
of the Ecology Center and a founding member of HCWH, said, "There are real
solutions to the problem of pollution from the health care sector.  We are
ready to help hospitals interested in reducing their environmental impact.
There is no reason that hospitals should remain near the top of the list of
sources of persistent toxic substances to the environment."

        To receive a copy of "Greening Hospitals,"  contact The
Environmental Working Group: (202)  667-6982.  The report is available,
free of charge, at www.ewg.org.

Health Care Without Harm, a nationwide coalition of 85 organizations,
includes the American Nurses Association, Physicians for Social
Responsibility, Catholic Health Care West, the Michigan Chapter of the
Vietnam Veterans of America, the Ecology Center, the National Wildlife
Federation, the Breast Cancer Fund, and the United Methodist Church.

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