2017 highlights from the Safer Chemicals program

In 2017, Health Care Without Harm’s Safer Chemicals Program made great strides in a number of areas to help transform the materials economy, empower health care to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals in their facilities, and educate the public about emerging threats to public health and the environment. We share these highlights and look forward to another productive year.

Advancing healthy furniture

Unhealthy furniture can contribute to poor indoor air quality and contamination of the hospital environment. In the last year, Practice Greenhealth’s Healthy Interiors goal has gained momentum, with increased manufacturer participation, an ever-growing list of safer furnishings in a wide array of product categories, and expanding participation by health care systems. More than 140 hospitals reported meeting or exceeding the goal in 2017.

Purchasers in other sectors, including higher education, government, and high-tech, adopted health care’s Healthy Interiors criteria, which will soon be embedded in the institutional furniture sustainability standard maintained by the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA). Health Care Without Harm also worked with a major furniture manufacturer to develop a continuing education module for interior designers and architects to receive credit from the leading professional associations.

Launching the Hand Hygiene Goal

Toxic antimicrobials can lead to health risks and antibiotic resistance. Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth launched a new goal and how-to guide to eliminate the use of triclosan and triclocarban in hand hygiene products. While infection prevention and control in health care are of utmost importance, some antimicrobial ingredients commonly used in hand hygiene products in the health care setting have been shown by multiple studies to pose risks for both employees and the environment and contribute to antibiotic resistance. The goal and toolkit offer step-by-step guidance to help facilities achieve this important goal and protect employees.

Moving toward safer medical devices

Some medical devices can be toxic to manufacture and can contain hazardous plasticizers that pose threats to vulnerable patients. In order to provide information about safer alternatives to health systems, Health Care Without Harm worked with manufacturers to develop public lists of medical products that do not contain PVC or the plasticizer DEHP. Working with Practice Greenhealth, health systems have leveraged their buying power by encouraging suppliers to provide information on their compliant products and to bring to market a wider array of safer alternatives.  

Contributing to our scientific understanding

Health Care Without Harm contributed to the release of two scientific statements, spearheaded by the Green Science Policy Institute, that advanced our understanding of the role of toxic chemicals as threats to environmental health.

The “Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarban” documents a consensus of more than 200 scientists and medical and public health professionals on the hazards of and lack of demonstrated benefit from common uses of triclosan and triclocarban.

The second statement, which was signed by over three dozen scientists and public health professionals, called for a coordinated strategy to study health effects and reduce exposures for the more than 6 million Americans who are drinking water polluted with highly fluorinated chemicals. These chemicals are used as stain and water repellents and in fighting aviation fires and are associated with serious health problems, including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, decreased sperm quality, high cholesterol, and decreased response to vaccines.