AUGUSTA-Maine’s hospitals today pledged to play a leadership role in improving the health of communities across the state by volunteering to eliminate the use of most mercury-containing supplies and medical equipment, and taking other steps that will result in a cleaner, safer environment.
The Maine Hospital Association joined the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) in signing a landmark pollution prevention agreement aimed at: “virtually eliminating” mercury from the hospital waste stream by 2005 and conducting mercury thermometer exchange programs; continuously reducing the use of plastics containing PVC, which forms highly toxic dioxin when burned as waste, as well as reducing the use of hazardous materials such as solvents and other toxic materials used in laboratories and building maintenance; urging manufacturers to make more environmentally-preferable products available to hospitals; reducing the overall volume of hospital waste by 50 percent by the year 2010.
Governor Angus King, who was present for the signing of the agreement, saluted hospitals for their action and cited this initiative as an example of an effective public-private partnership that will benefit all the people of Maine.
“This is an important step to address the problem of mercury in products in Maine’s environment,” said the Governor. “This effort illustrates the concern that many Maine organizations and individuals have about mercury-and it is complementary with the legislation my administration is proposing this session.”>/p>
Over the next three months, each of Maine’s 39 non-profit community-governed hospitals will be asked to sign similar agreements that set specific reduction goals. The hospitals will be assisted by a nationally-known environmental consulting firm from Vermont that has been retained with grants provided by the Maine DEP and an international organization known as Health Care Without Harm.
“Maine’s hospitals are deeply committed to building healthier communities,” explained MHA President Steven R. Michaud. “By signing this agreement, hospitals hope to serve as a positive example of what can be accomplished by working together to achieve a healthier environment.”>/p>
Over the past 14 months, hospitals have worked closely with DEP, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Maine Peoples’ Alliance and the Toxics Action Center to develop a proactive plan for reducing the use of hazardous materials such as mercury, as well as reducing the number of products containing PVC, which can produce hazardous by-products when disposed.
In late 2000, a coalition called Maine Hospitals for a Healthy Environment was formed by MHA, DEP and NRCM, which also represents Health Care Without Harm. The coalition hosted a major statewide conference in November that was attended by most of Maine’s hospitals.
“Maine hospitals are becoming national leaders in the effort to prevent mercury and dioxin pollution,” said Everett “Brownie” Carson, NRCM Executive Director. “We applaud the hospitals for their commitment to a healthy Maine environment.”>/p>
“New regulations aren’t the only tools we have to clean up and restore our environment,” said Brooke Barnes, DEP Deputy Commissioner. “The Maine Hospital Association is on the cutting edge of a new approach to improving environmental quality-voluntary agreements with measurable commitments. This agreement also emphasizes the collective power of ‘buying green.’ If Maine hospitals demand clean products, the market will respond with innovations that benefit us all.”>/p>
“We believe that Maine’s hospitals are really setting a precedent for the rest of the country,” said Bill Ravanesi, Boston Project Director for Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition with 300 member organizations in 27 countries working for environmentally responsible healthcare.
Maine Hospitals for a Healthy Environment also is in the final stages of developing a separate plan for introducing alternative methods for treating and disposing of medical waste within Maine.
Examples of mercury containing medical devices and other products include: mercury body temperature thermometers, certain types of blood pressure cuffs, batteries, fluorescent light bulbs and cleaners and degreasers used in building and equipment maintenance. Common PVC products include intravenous (IV) bags and tubing, inpatient identification bracelets, blood bags and catheters.
While most of these items do not pose a danger to patients or healthcare workers, they can pollute the environment and cause health problems when they are placed into the waste stream.