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Environmental, Government Groups Launch Effort to Curb Toxic Hospital Waste

Release Date: 10/8/2003
Contact Information: Mike Fagan
(206) 553-6646

October 8, 2003

With support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Oregon Center for Environmental Health (the Center) has been selected to coordinate the Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) Program for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

The goal of the project is to transform the health care industry’s use and disposal of toxic substances such as mercury so it is no longer a threat to the environment and to reduce the huge volume of waste generated by that sector. According to the EPA, the health care sector ranks as the fourth-largest source of mercury air emissions and generates more than two million tons of waste each year.

To address these issues the Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) program was created as a joint project of the American Hospital Association, the EPA, Health Care Without Harm, and the American Nurses Association.

Specifically, H2E works to:
      • Virtually eliminate mercury-containing waste from health care facilities’ waste streams by 2005
      • Reduce the overall volume of waste (both regulated and non-regulated waste) by 33% by 2005 and by 50% by 2010
      • Identify hazardous substances for pollution prevention and waste reduction opportunities, including hazardous chemicals and persistent, bio-accumulative, and toxic pollutants.

In the first phase of this program, the Center has organized a region-wide network of “Champions” to participate in Northwest Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (NW H2E). Champions are organizations that will assist health care facilities in achieving the national H2E goals by providing outreach, education and technical support to health care facilities. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ), Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), and the Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center (PPRC) in Washington will join the Center and EPA as “Champions” of this regional program.

In alignment with the national H2E, the primary goal of the NW H2E effort is to eliminate mercury in hospitals throughout the region, help these facilities achieve significant waste reductions and to identify opportunities to reduce products and practices that are toxic to workers, patients and the community/environment at large. The project hopes to minimize the volume of waste generated and reduce the use of persistent, bio-accumulative, and toxic chemicals in the hospital setting, thus eliminating several major sources of pollution in communities throughout the Northwest.

“Hospitals generate huge volumes of waste including highly toxic substances like mercury”, states Neha Patel, program coordinator for the Oregon Center for Environmental Health (OCEH). “Through our work here in Oregon we have gotten mercury thermometers and other medical devices containing mercury out of hospitals state-wide. It is exciting to be able to replicate these efforts throughout the Northwest Region.”
    Other Contacts:
      NWPPRC – Chris Wiley
      DEQ – Liisa Itkonen
      ACAT – Pam Miller

      OCEH – Neha Patel;