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Improving Air Quality in Your Community

Outdoor Air - Industry, Business, and Home: Hospitals - Additional Information

This information will help you gain a better understanding of hospitals. The topics below address the following questions:

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What are hospitals?

Medical hospitals are facilities that engage in providing general medical, surgical, and specialty services. Equipment breakage and waste incineration may release pollutants into the air and may contribute to health concerns in hospitals and in the community.

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What kinds of pollutants are emitted from hospitals?

Hospitals can emit hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) such as mercury and dioxin. These pollutants can contribute to health problems that may affect employees, patients, their families, and the community. While Federal, state, local, and Tribal regulations limit the amount of emissions from hospitals, dangerous releases of HAPs can occur if a hospital does not operate in compliance with regulations.

  • Mercury
    • Mercury can be used in thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, thermostats, fluorescent lights, and other products found in hospitals.
    • At room temperature, elemental mercury is a liquid and emits toxic vapors, which can be inhaled into the lungs and absorbed into the blood stream.
    • Mercury is very toxic to humans. It impacts the kidneys, liver, respiratory system, and central nervous system.
    • When emitted indoors, mercury will eventually leak into the outdoor air through doors, ventilation systems, and other openings. It can also reach outdoor air through the incineration of mercury-containing products.
    • EPA has developed an extensive Web site related to mercury.
  • National air pollution standards exist for hydrogen chloride (HCL), carbon monoxide (CO), lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), particulate matter (PM), dioxin/furans, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2)
  • EPA has developed regulations for medical waste incinerators and for ethylene oxide emitted from commercial sterilizers.

For more information on the toxicity of these pollutants, check out the information in EPA's Health Effects Notebooks and the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). EPA also has more information available at its Air Toxics Web site.

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How can I help hospitals reduce air pollution?

  • Make Connections
    • Get to know local hospital administrators. They know best about the materials and procedures used in their hospitals and the regulations with which they must comply.
    • Keep local media aware of progress by sending them updates. Publicity can reward success and attract more public involvement.
    • Hospitals for a Healthy Environment Exit EPA Disclaimer, a partnership between EPA and other organizations, sponsors awards for local efforts to eliminate mercury.
  • Make a Plan
    • One idea is to form a work group that includes local hospital administrators to develop and implement workable pollution reduction plans.
  • Locate Resources
    • Find state, local, and Tribal contacts.
    • Use the resources listed on these Web pages to get help with analysis, technical information, training, and funding.
  • Develop Pollution Prevention Certification
    • Help hospitals work with societies such as the American Hospital Association Exit EPA Disclaimer to sponsor a certification for those who actively strive to reduce air emissions.
  • Encourage a "Top Down" Pollution Prevention Approach
    • Many hospitals are part of a larger hospital system that includes doctors' offices, outpatient clinics, and laboratories.
    • Work with hospitals to aggressively implement pollution prevention measures in all parts of its system.
  • Help Hospitals Raise Mercury Awareness in the Surrounding Community
    • Encourage hospitals to sponsor a "mercury turn-in" event in the surrounding community to collect mercury thermometers and batteries.
    • This opportunity will allow them to inform the community about mercury dangers.
    • Such an event will promote the hospital as a cooperative partner within the community.

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What other Web sites related to pollution reduction in hospitals are available?

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