Studies across all continents on the dirtier side of healthcare show that health settings poorly manage their waste. The workers collecting that waste receive insufficient protections, minimal training, paltry pay and zero respect.
The health care industry's bloated carbon footprint contributes significantly to climate change. Requiring hospitals to publicly report their emissions, and do something about them, is a logical step forward.
Healthcare professionals can address the climate hazards faced by workers in three ways: educating professionals across all health sectors on occupation-related climate issues, identifying climate-related injury and illness trends in worker populations, and advocating for climate programs and policies that protect workers.
Most homeopathic and over-the-counter medicines on the market today include potentially harmful chemicals and fillers in the form of inactive ingredients, some of which are allergens that have already been banned from leading clean beauty brands.
Ten CEOs from health care systems around the country have formed a coalition they say is committed to improving safety, well-being and equity for all who work in the industry, and on May 4 unveiled a Declaration of Principles to serve as a standard of safety.
We believe people already compromised from high exposures to toxic chemicals should not be exposed to additional toxics in their medical treatment.
It is, at core, an environmental justice issue. We all have a role to play to solve it.
Environmental justice is a movement that seeks equality in access to clean air, water, food, and more, not dependent upon where an individual lives: whether they're on the "right side of the tracks" or not. For our quick explainer on the EJ movement, click here.
Toxic chemicals and environmental justice
Photo by Robert Durell for EHN
Clear evidence shows that communities of color, low-income communities, and other marginalized groups face higher rates of health impacts from exposure to toxic chemicals such as phthalates.
These exposures can occur in any number of ways, including:
- Employment such as cleaning or factory work that involve harsh industrial products
- Food packaging in areas with less choice often contain more plastics that leach chemicals into food
- Communities living next to factories or plants often have greater air and water contamination, making exposures unavoidable.
The health impacts of these environmental disadvantages have been demonstrated time and time again:
- According to the CDC, Blacks have higher levels of phthalates than whites.
- Greater exposures to phthalates contributes disparate adverse birth outcomes between Black mothers and infants and their white counterparts, including preterm birth, low birth weight, and fetal growth restriction.
- Women of color face higher toxic exposures relative to white women, with increased rates of diabetes and more aggressive forms of breast and endometrial cancers.
Toxic chemicals in health care
Many common medical products used today contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals, notably DEHP, a reproductive and developmental toxicant and carcinogen.
- Some medical products, such as IV bags and tubing, can contain up to 40% DEHP by weight.
Take action on sustainable health carePhoto by Clay Banks on Unsplash
In 2002, the FDA advised health care professionals to switch to DEHP-free products when treating particularly vulnerable patients. Nineteen years later, more than 60 percent of the 400+ million IV bags used in the U.S. annually still contain DEHP.
You can change that:
- Contact the FDA to request updated rules on phthalates and other toxic chemicals in medical equipment. Have you had an adverse reaction yourself? Report that here.
- Contact your government representatives and let them know this issue matters to you. Find their contact information here.
- Connect with the CDC Office of Minority Health and Health Equity and express your concerns. Contact OMHHE over Twitter or LinkedIn here.
- Ask your medical professionals what products they're using at your next appointment. Get informed, and share that knowledge (and this article) with your family and friends.
- Sign up for our email newsletter Code Green to receive the latest on sustainable health care news in your inbox bi-weekly.
More reading on safer health care products and delivery
As federal policymakers confront the parallel crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and racial injustice, a significant investment in our nation's care infrastructure - and the workforce and green jobs that power it—presents an urgent opportunity to address all three.
As western wildfires become bigger and more intense, state and federal fire agencies are using more and more aerial fire retardant, prompting concerns over fish kills, aquatic life, and water quality.
The chemicals, known as PFAS, are linked to health effects including cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, asthma, and ulcerative colitis.
Researchers, doctors call for regulators to reassess safety of taking acetaminophen during pregnancy
The painkiller, taken by half of pregnant women worldwide, could be contributing to rising rates of reproductive system problems and neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism.
"If we look at the rate of carbon emissions, most is emitted by the developed and industrialized countries, but the problem is poor countries like Bangladesh are the main sufferers."