Sunday, February 15, 2009

Health Care Without Harm

Imagine hospitals and other facilities built without cancer-causing materials. Picture a hospital that supports local sustainable agriculture and organic growing practices. Imagine health care facilities that offer full disclosure of materials used in the delivery of care that might be harmful to consumer health, and fragrance-free environments that do not harm patients with environmental sensitivities.

Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is "an international coalition of hospitals and health care systems, medical professionals, community groups, health-affected constituencies, labor unions, environmental and environmental health organizations and religious groups" whose mission is "to transform the health care sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment."

While this may seem like a tall order---or perhaps a pipe dream---HCWH is indeed a growing global coalition looking closely at health issues surrounding mercury, biomedical waste, green purchasing practices, healthy building practices, pesticides and fragrances, and the widespread toxicity of materials used in the delivery of health care.

The stated goals of HCWH are:

1. Create markets and policies for safer products, materials and chemicals in health care. Promote safer substitutes, including products that avoid mercury, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and brominated flame retardants.

2. Eliminate incineration of medical waste, minimize the amount and toxicity of all waste generated and promote safer waste treatment practices.

3. Transform the design, construction and operations of health care facilities to minimize environmental impacts and foster healthy, healing environments.

4. Encourage food purchasing systems that support sustainable food production and distribution, and provide healthy food on-site at health care facilities.

5. Secure a safe and healthy workplace for all health care workers.

6. Ensure patients, workers and communities have full access to information about chemicals used in health care and can participate in decisions about exposures to chemicals.

7. Promote human rights and environmental justice for communities impacted by the health care sector, while assuring that problems are not displaced from one community or country to another.

Here on Digital Doorway, I will be following HCWH's development and reporting on issues raised through the various campaigns already underway. The health care industry is not immune from the reverberations of its own environmental effects, and I am very grateful to have discovered this robust international campaign with a goal of reducing the toxicity created by the health care industry while increasing sustainability and responsibility in the health care arena.
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