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Health Care Professionals Reduce Environmental Pollution - Virginia leads the way in the mid-Atlantic region

Release Date: 9/16/2004
Contact Information: Bonnie Smith, 215-814-5543

Bonnie Smith, 215-814-5543

PHILADELPHIA – When most people walk through the door of a medical facility, they aren’t thinking about recycling, reducing waste, or preventing pollution by using products that contain less toxic material. They are thinking about their health.

Recently more and more health care professionals across the country are learning the best ways to improve their facilities’ health.

Virginia is the first state in the mid-Atlantic region to sign on to the national collaborative called Hospitals for a Healthy Environment which educates health professionals about pollution prevention opportunities in hospitals and health care systems. Today, EPA and Virginia will recognize its charter members.

Donald S. Welsh, Regional Administrator for EPA Region III said, “Hospitals for a Healthy Environment is an excellent example of what can be achieved when we allow an industry to voluntarily take responsibility for its own waste. This pollution prevention partnership will significantly reduce the environmental impacts that result from the healthcare industry.@

The Virginia champions for this program are Virginia’s Department’s of Natural Resources, Health and Human Resources, and Environmental Quality, along with the Virginia’s Hospital and Healthcare Association, the Health Care Waste Management Cooperative, Nurses Association, Dental Association, and the University of Virginia’s MERCI Foundation.

In addition to these champions, 72 Virginia hospitals have signed up for the program today, pledging to reduce their environmental impacts. For a complete listing of the 72 hospitals and health care facilities see Virginia’s website at

The program encourages both waste minimization and pollution prevention activities. The major goals are to eliminate mercury; reduce waste, both hazardous and non-hazardous; and to implement greening activities – such as using energy efficient lighting and electronics – in the health care industry.

One example of pollution prevention in hospitals is minimizing the production of pollutants such as mercury. When hospital staff throw mercury-containing devices such as thermometers and blood pressure cuffs out with the trash they go into landfills where the mercury may leach into water supplies and be released into the air. Experts estimate that medical and municipal waste incinerators are responsible for 30 percent of the total mercury emissions to air.

Another environmental concern is waste. By reducing solid waste, hospitals can protect the environment and save money. For example, Itasca Medical Center, a 130-bed hospital in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, is saving $16,000 annually by switching from disposable to reusable items.

Nationally, Hospitals for a Healthy Environment is a joint project of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, American Hospital Association, Health Care without Harm, and the American Nurses Association, as well as state and local agencies. More than 800 facilities and organizations have joined the national program since it began in 1998.

Hospitals for a Healthy Environment offers expert advice and on-line assistance on a wide-range of topics from environmental purchasing to waste management. The goal is to help health professionals undertake efforts that are beneficial to the environment and health of our communities. For more information about the program see the website at