SOURCE: Health Care Without Harm

Health Care Without Harm

July 24, 2012 14:21 ET

Health Care Announces Support for Safe Chemicals Act on Eve of Committee Vote

Senators Urged to Put Health Concerns First

RESTON, VA--(Marketwire - Jul 24, 2012) -  As the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee nears its July 25th vote on the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (S.847) -- legislation that would strengthen the nation's system for managing chemical safety -- members of the health care sector have written Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Mike Crapo (R-ID) in support of the legislation, calling it an important measure to protect human and environmental health. Health professionals and others in the sector are concerned that the current regulatory system, which has not been updated in more than 35 years, is not adequate to respond to increasing evidence of links between chemical exposures and a wide range of diseases and health conditions.

Signers of the letter include the health care industry's largest supply chain expert and contracting company, representing more than $42 billion in annual purchasing (Novation); a premier child health care and pediatric center (Seattle Children's); the Catholic Health Association of the United States, which represents health systems and hospitals responsible for one-fifth of hospital admissions in 22 states and the District of Columbia; the fifth largest health system in the country (Dignity Health); a major health system in Minnesota (Fairview Health Services); and a leading research, education, and patient care center committed to protecting children from environmental threats to health (Children's Environmental Health Center at the Mount Sinai Medical Center).

According to the letter, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has measured hundreds of chemicals in urine and blood samples of Americans, finding widespread human exposure to many of them, including flame retardants, perfluorinated compounds, phthalates, and heavy metals, among others. Many of these chemicals are linked to diseases and conditions, such as cancers, learning and developmental disabilities, birth defects, and asthma. 

"Those who work in the health care field are very concerned about the rising rates of many chronic diseases and the connection to environmental exposures," said Jennifer Waddell, Senior Clinical Manager, Novation. "Many hospitals and clinics have already started eliminating chemicals of concern and are trying to purchase safer products, but health care needs laws that provide clearer direction and complete access to the information we need to make informed decisions."

The Safe Chemicals Act would require chemical manufacturers to provide basic health and safety data for all chemicals as a condition for them remaining on or entering the market. It would also require them to make that information public. 

"The health care sector is actually looking for federal regulators to be their partners in helping to protect public health," said Rachel Gibson, Director, Health Care Without Harm Safer Chemicals Program. "Under current laws, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's hands are tied, as the agency has little access to information on the safety of chemicals and little authority to require testing of them or to remove unsafe products from the marketplace. The Safe Chemicals Act would completely change this, giving the U.S. EPA the ability to take necessary steps to protect public health."

The health care sector collectively represents 18 percent of the gross domestic product, and has a purchasing power in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Recently, hospitals comprising the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, representing $20 billion in purchasing power, wrote to product manufacturers about their intentions to purchase products made without halogenated flame retardants, chemicals linked to a wide range of health problems. In the absence of laws requiring ingredient disclosure, the hospitals asked manufacturers to voluntarily disclose which products do not contain the hazardous chemicals and to make those products more widely available.

"Preventing illness is an important part of our work," said Rachelle Reyes Wenger, Director, Public Policy and Community Advocacy, Dignity Health. "We strongly believe this legislation is needed to reduce communities' exposures to harmful chemicals, and we urge Congress to slow the growing disease burden on American families by passing it now."

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a legislative hearing on the Safe Chemicals Act on Wednesday, July 25, 2012, at 10 am EDT, in the committee's hearing room, 406 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC.

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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