The irony is inescapable: Hospitals, dedicated to healing, are often hotbeds of toxic chemicals that wreak havoc on both patients’ and employees’ health. And the massive stream of trash—an estimated 4 billion pounds a year—that flows from U.S. hospitals is anything but healthy for the environment.
Baltimore’s Urbanite (Oct. 2008) reports that nurses nearly top the charts when it comes to occupational asthma rates. That’s one reason for organizations like Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, an international group whose Maryland members are switching to nontoxic floor cleaners, eliminating pesticides, establishing local food programs, and instituting greener purchasing policies. Johns Hopkins’ innovative rotoclave, a steam-heated sterilization machine, transforms tons of infectious medical waste into shredded bits safe for landfill deposit, and it’s far greener than incinerating.
Hospitals can’t afford not to clean up, says a former executive director of Hospitals for a Healthy Environment: “Waste is not an inevitable result of production, but a measure of inefficiency.”