The Issue

Toxic chemical exposures begin before birth and co

ntinue throughout our lives. Many of these chemicals have been linked to serious illnesses, including asthma, infertility, learning disabilities, Parkinson’s disease and cancer.

The health care sector is a major consumer of chemicals including those well documented to cause serious impacts on health and the environment. Thus, a sector whose mission it is to protect human health is contributing to the burden of disease.

By addressing chemical exposure in health settings, the health sector can not only protect  patient and worker health, but also actively demonstrate the safe management of chemicals thereby leading by example.

Action Items

  • Develop institution-wide chemicals and materials policy and protocols to protect patient, worker, and community health and the environment, while helping drive society wide demand for alternatives.
  • Implement a facility -specific chemicals action plan with benchmarks and timelines.
  • Participate in the WHO-HCWH Global Mercury-Free Health Care Initiative by substituting all mercury thermometers and blood pressure devices with safe, accurate, affordable alternatives.
  • Address the use of chemicals of concern, including, for example, glutaraldehyde, halogenated fire retardants, PVC, DEHP and BPA, and seek safer alternatives and substitutes.
  • Adopt policies that require disclosure of chemical ingredients in products and materials and seek to ensure that all ingredients have undergone at least basic toxicity testing.
  • When products or materials are identified that contain Substances of Very High Concern — substances that have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction, or that are persistent and bioaccumulative or warrant similar concern — hospitals should make it a high priority to replace them with safer alternatives.