Could Hospitals Be A Hazard?

by Kerrin Gallagher on March 27, 2014

One would presume that hospitals holistically help the health of the community. But, hospitals have to take extra care because they could have extreme effects on the environment. From hazardous waste to power, hospitals have many different environmental factors to worry about. With that, hospitals have to implement special strategies in order to make sure they take the correct measures to have a positive environmental impact.

One major consideration hospitals have to take into account is waste. It is estimated that in one day, there is a generation of 7,000 tons of waste. This statistic includes a great number of wastes. For one, some of it is infectious and hazardous. Hospitals take many tests, from throat swabs to blood samples, so precaution has to be taken when getting rid of these wastes. There has been government regulation of this, which is the Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988. This was put into place after medical supplies and hazardous waste, such as used syringes, were washing up on the northeast coast. This act forced hospitals to track waste and document its disposal instead of risking hazardous pollution. Although the document is no longer technically in effect, states have followed its lead in their regulations by keeping it as strict to ensure proper disposal.

Currently, the most used way of infectious medical waste disposal is incineration, which is burning of the waste in a controlled environment. Although this is the most used way, and one of the most efficient, it does have an environmental impact. When burning it, some toxins, such as mercury, are released into the air. This is a major public health concern for the population as a whole. But, this could be improved by reducing medical waste as a whole, therefore reducing the amount that would be released into the air by incineration. This is a concern and there is definitely room for improvement.

Another area that has room for improvement is noninfectious waste. But, a simple way for hospitals to reduce that environmental impact is through recycling. Not all waste from hospitals is hazardous, and there are still large amounts of noninfectious solid waste. Hospitals employ thousands, and on top of that not only are there patients, but also their families. With this in mind, small practices can be used to eliminate waste. Proper practices, such as eliminating use of plastic food utensils, could lower the environmental impact of the hospital.

Furthermore because of this high volume of people, a lot more energy is used than a typical building, which is not open all night, and does not have people constantly filtering through. This is a lot of energy used, and that is on top of all of the additional energy used to keep medical devices, such as heart monitors, powered all the time. This is a considerable amount of energy, and that needs to be considered. Because of that many hospitals have been taking green initiatives to lower their environmental impact. On top of that, many new and innovative technologies have been coming out to keep hospitals’ energy use as clean and efficient as possible.

An example of one of these new technologies is Helios. This company produces a device that is used for sterilization, particularly in smaller places such as doorknobs, which is a major contamination spot for hospitals. This unorthodox product takes in UV light and uses it to sterilize. Not only is this extremely helpful to health of patients, their families, and healthcare professionals to help prevent exchange of germs in a setting where there is many, but it is also environmentally friendly.

With new innovations coming into place, the environmental impact of hospitals can be reduced. If new startups keep this attitude, the options are endless for what can be done to make hospitals more environmentally friendly. And for places with such high volume and that are so completely necessary for us, these improvements will go a long way.

 

 

http://www.heliosintech.com/#!helios-targets-2013-for-product-launch-a/c1h2r

http://www.epa.gov/region4/ead/news/pollution_nc.pdf

http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/medical/tracking.htm

http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/medical/mwfaqs.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23612530


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