SOURCE: Health Care Without Harm

Health Care Without Harm

July 12, 2012 10:27 ET

Energy Policies Should Include Health Protections, Experts Say

At Symposium on Energy Policies and Health, Health Professionals Urged to Speak Out on Health Ramifications of Energy Use

PITTSBURGH, PA--(Marketwire - Jul 12, 2012) -  Experts on Health and the Environment gathered at Carnegie Mellon University today to urge health professionals to become involved in the public debate on energy to ensure that health protections are included in energy policies. The experts discussed how physicians, nurses, and other health professionals can protect public health in their workplace, their communities, and in the public policy arena. 

"The evidence on the links between environment and health is strong enough so that we need to look at all policies that have environmental implications with a health lens," stated Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm. "The health care sector needs to not only add their voices to the debate on the environmental impacts of energy, but also to lead in this effort, to protect public health."

As the nation continues to feel economic pressures, oil and gas exploration appears attractive to increase jobs and lower energy costs, but the environmental costs can also be debilitating. Almost 75 percent of the nation's health care expenditures are for treatment of chronic illnesses, such as asthma, cancer and heart and lung disease, many of which are exacerbated or caused by environmental factors. In Pennsylvania alone, for example, more than 260,000 children and more than 890,000 adults have asthma. According to a report released in 2011 by HCWH, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) and the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), the estimated incremental direct cost of asthma in Pennsylvania to children and adults is over $2.3 billion a year.

"In reality, fracking is a global economic disaster," stated Terry Collins. Collins is the Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry and Director of the Institute for Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University. "Fracking is further poisoning, heating, filling and acidifying the oceans. In real time, it is degrading health, biodiversity, peace and prosperity. It is important for health professionals to speak out on energy policies and activities and to help redirect America and the world toward the clean energy we can so easily have by changing course." 

"Nurses and other healthcare professionals are very concerned about the health ramifications of the new energy boom in Pennsylvania and other states," stated Nina Kaktins from the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association. "We believe it is important for us to voice these concerns and help develop public policies that put human and ecological health first."

The health care sector is undergoing a major transformation to reduce environmental contaminants associated with health care. Under Health Care Without Harm's leadership, hospitals are reducing waste, reducing the use of harmful chemicals, reducing energy consumption, and purchasing products made in more environmentally sustainable methods. Green hospital building continues on a wide-spread scare. More than 1000 hospitals have now joined Practice Greenhealth, a membership organization for hospitals dedicated to greener operations, and 11 major hospital systems have joined with HCWH, Practice Greenhealth and the Center for Health Design to form the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, which is dedicated to speeding the greening of the health care sector through free environmental assistance programs for hospitals, use of its large market share to make more sustainable products available for purchase, and encouraging the health care sector to lead on public health issues.

"Hospitals can do many things to help reduce their environmental footprint in ways that not only improve the health of their communities, but save money as well," stated Noe Copley-Woods, MD, Assistant Professor of Ob/Gyn at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "By reducing unnecessary pre-packaged materials, by recycling and using less product, clinicians can make a difference in the operating room, saving thousands of dollars while reducing harm to the environment."

HCWH is an international coalition of more than 508 organizations in 53 countries, working to transform the health care industry worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. For more information on HCWH, see www.noharm.org

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