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Health Care Without Harm

SEHN also participates in Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition of hospitals and health care systems, medical professionals, community groups, health-affected constituencies, labor unions, environmental and environmental health organizations, and religious groups working to transform the health care industry worldwide. Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) believes that the medical industry should not be a source of harm to public health and the environment, and that it is possible to move toward operating in an ecologically sustainable manner without compromising patient safety or care. HCWH has successfully campaigned to reduce hospital emissions of dioxin and mercury (two toxic chemicals that contaminate people and ecosystems at hazardous levels), and to push for safer substitutes for some plastics in medical equipment. As a result of HCWH initiatives, more hospitals have begun to preferentially purchase DEHP-free medical devices, particularly in their neonatal units.

HCWH successes with PVC, DEHP, and mercury have created the conditions for addressing materials policies more broadly in health care. Brominated flame retardants are now being targeted for identification and phase-out in hospitals, where alternatives exist. Dr. Schettler has worked specifically with HCWH’s safer materials workgroup, which is advising Kaiser Permanente (the oldest HMO in the country) and Consorta (a major group purchasing organization) on developing a comprehensive chemical policy for all medical materials. This larger systemic change in the health care industry is an important focus of HCWH’s ongoing work.