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Health and the Environment

Health care and the environment are intertwined and as we learn more about pollutants from mechanized health care equipment and chemicals, greening our health care system becomes more important.

Find green business solutions
california precipitation landscape and solar solutions Health and the environment are codependent. Our food supply, the water we bathe in, the remedies we use for illness, how we disinfect...and how we recycle our waste are all part of an ecological approach to living.

Health care in the modern world has been largely taken outside the home ... and in that process, a vast network of industries have arisen to produce machinery, chemicals, and pills to supplement basic life support systems of clean air, clean water, healthful food, and adequate exercise...among other behaviors such as community. This transition to a mechanical means of health support has had an impact on our environmental quality. As the new field of ecological health care takes shape, we will learn more about how we can go forward to better processes that protect both individual health and the shared health of the environment.

One organization that is taking steps in the direction of ecological health care is The Teleosis Institute, which is certified as a Green Business by the Bay Area Green Business Program.

Following is a quote from their website explaining the role of ecological practices in health care:

The physical environment is one of the single most important determinants of human health. As numerous studies have demonstrated, protection of the water, air, food and the larger global ecosystem has a direct correlation to the prevention of illness and the preservation of health. As the earth provides us with the many necessary ingredients for survival, we can see that the food we eat, the water we bathe in, the place we live, the home we live in, where we work, dance, play, and run all affect our health. It is our responsibility to choose and provide sustainable health care practices that do not increase the degradation of the environment.

Ecologically Sustainable Medicine focuses on the complete relationship between human health and the health of the environment. By committing to the use and practice of Ecologically Sustainable Medicine, there is a shift in focus to not only how the environment is affecting human health, but how human action is effecting the environment. ESM relies on health care practices and techniques that are safe, effective, and cause no harm to the patient or the ecosystem.

How do current medical practices hurt the environment?

Current medical practices rely on the utilization of toxic products, chemicals, and materials. Contemporary biomedicine heavily relies on practices that harm the environment. These products and chemicals include but are not limited to mercury, PVC and DEHP, cleaners, pesticides and disinfectants, antibiotics, and other pharmaceutical drugs. These eventually pollute the air, water, and land. By engaging in certain waste and toxin reducing practices, allopathic medicine can be a major player in the move towards sustainability.

Asthma is an environmental health issue

Health care for environmentally triggered conditions such as asthma is also part of ecological health care. EPA is committed to reducing the impact of environmental asthma triggers on asthma patients and their caregivers. As part of this effort, EPA works with health care plans and providers and other health care organizations to promote environmental management as a standard of care and clinical practice. EPA recognizes health care plans and providers for leadership in environmental asthma management, collaborates with the healthcare community to integrate environmental management into comprehensive asthma care and provides the health care community with information about environmental asthma triggers and ways to manage them. SOURCE:

Hospital pollution prevention efforts

In 1998, the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the US EPA signed a landmark agreement to advance pollution prevention efforts in our nation's hospitals. Specifically, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) calls for the elimination of mercury-containing waste from hospitals waste stream by 2005; the reduction of the overall volume of waste (both regulated and non-regulated waste) by thirty-three percent (33%) by 2005 and by fifty-percent by 2010; and the identification of hazardous substances for pollution prevention and waste reduction opportunities.

Other non-hospital specific pollution prevention resources can be found on EPA Region 2's Pollution Prevention Web site and may prove useful to hospital employees as they try to reduce their hospital's environmental footprint.

Medical waste is currently being disposed of in our communities in a wide variety of ways.

Medical waste is generally defined under state regulations. Medical waste is often described as any solid waste that is generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals, in research pertaining thereto, or in the production or testing of biologicals, including but not limited to:

  • blood-soaked bandages
  • culture dishes and other glassware
  • discarded surgical gloves - after surgery
  • discarded surgical instruments - scalpels
  • needles - used to give shots or draw blood
  • cultures, stocks, swabs used to innoculate cultures
  • removed body organs - tonsils, appendices, limbs, etc.
  • lancets - the little blades the doctor pricks your finger with to get a drop of blood

California Health Pollution Resources

California monitors and manages medical waste through the California Department of Health Services, Medical Waste Management Program and offers information through the Division of Drinking Water and Environmental Management. Their webpage provides a number of links to related websites offering guidance and overviews. For more information on Medical Waste Management Program activities use the links to the left, or contact either the Medical Waste Management Program HQ at (916) 449-5671, or the Southern California Regional Office at (213) 977-7379 or (213) 977-6877.

SOURCE: P2 Healthcare Industry

Home health practices and the environment

Find your closest recycling center.

Enter Your ZIP code to Locate Your Nearest Recycling or Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center: CIWMB.CA.GOV

A more comprehensive list of wastes banned from the trash are found at: Hazardous Waste & Universal Waste (U-Waste)

SOURCE: California EPA programs

Responsibility for proper use and disposal of health care chemicals, etc. is not limited to hospitals and doctors offices. As medications come home with us, we use some of them...and dispose of the rest. HOW we dispose of excess medication is also a growing factor in polluted water, in particular.

Pharmaceutical medications are considered hazardous waste because they are not easily removed from the water system. That means that home disposal of medications should NOT be through the sewer system.

"Wastewater treatment plants are designed to remove conventional pollutants such as suspended solids and easily biodegradable organic material, not other pollutants such as pharmaceuticals." California Department of Health Services Pharmaceuticals should be disposed of according to your local Public Works Department regulations. Most communities provide hazardous waste programs for citizens' use.

Zero Waste California ( ) On February 9, 2006 regulations changed. We can no longer place some common items in the trash. Those items include:

  • All fluorescent lamps and tubes
  • All batteries
  • All electronic devices
  • Thermostats that contain mercury

To learn about a wide variety of potential pollutants at home and work, arm yourself with good information. The EPA has a comprehensive list of potential pollutants...and information about each: SOURCE:

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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