Green Buckeye RN

Health Care Sector Supporting Comprehensive Chemical Reform Legislation; Toxic Chemicals Contribute To Chronic Disease Epidemic, Sector Says
April 26, 2011, 10:29 am
Filed under: News

Health Care Without Harm

(Washington, DC)—Health care sector leaders are urging Congress to move swiftly to pass chemical reform legislation, citing the measure as critical to public health protection.  As Senators introduce comprehensive legislation intended to overhaul the nation’s chemical regulatory system (the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011”), the sector is highlighting the link between preventing disease, containing costs, and reforming the law.

“In order to reduce the chronic disease burden of Americans and to contain health care costs, we need to eliminate toxic chemicals that have trespassed into our bodies and into our lives,” stated Gary Cohen, President of Health Care Without Harm, an organization that works to help hospitals reduce the amount of environmental harm associated with the delivery of health care.  “There is a wave of real concern in the health community about the link between the widespread exposure to chemicals and the overwhelming epidemic of chronic disease burdening the U.S. health care system.” 

Last year, the President’s Cancer Panel issued a dire warning about the role chemicals play in the development of some cancers, and called on the president to use the power of his office “to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our Nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.” The Panel characterized the federal law governing chemical safety as the “most egregious example of ineffective regulation of environmental contaminants.”

With a significant body of evidence linking chemical exposures to a wide range of diseases and health conditions, the health care sector has begun to transform itself by developing more ecologically sustainable operations to protect patients, employees, and communities.  
“This is an important issue for Catholic health care providers because of our commitments to improve community health, to provide safe health care, to be good stewards of health care resources, and to protect creation,” said Julie Trocchio, senior director for community benefit and continuing care with the Catholic Health Association of the United States, representing Catholic hospitals, health systems, and long-term care facilities. “We welcome legislation that seeks to eliminate exposures to harmful chemicals and protects the health of our communities, especially vulnerable populations who may be most harmed.”
“Kaiser Permanente invests significant time and resources to identify products free from chemicals that are harmful for humans or the environment,” stated Kathy Gerwig, Vice President, Workplace Safety and Environmental Stewardship Officer of Kaiser Permanente.  “That degree of investment is simply not feasible for most products and materials we buy, nor is it possible for most organizations that do not have the resources and skills that we have developed over decades.”

One of the problems facing health care as it attempts to reduce chemical exposures is the lack of publicly available information on the chemical ingredients of many products used daily in health care facilities.  Chemical companies are not required to disclose the ingredients or the health and safety of their chemicals to product manufacturers.  The “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011” would require chemical manufacturers to provide basic health and safety information for all chemicals as a condition for them remaining on or entering the market, or to generate such data to the extent they do not exist.  It would also require chemical companies to make the information public. 

“In health care, we have a moral imperative to do no harm.  We are very pleased this legislation gives the EPA the proper authority to restrict the most toxic chemicals,” stated Gina Pugliese, vice president of the Premier healthcare alliance’s Safety Institute.  “Requiring the EPA to incorporate the latest science will go far to help determine the impact these chemicals could have on patients, health care workers, the environment, and local communities, thereby achieving a higher standard of safety.”

The “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011” was introduced by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Charles Schumer (D-NY).  If the bill is enacted, it would be the first time that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—the legislation by which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates chemicals—has been updated since it was first passed in 1976.  In that period, the EPA has only required testing on approximately 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals on the market.

“Most people believe that the chemicals we use today would not be on the market unless they are safe,” stated Cohen.  “Unfortunately, this is not true.  Chemicals have been regulated under a lax and ineffective system that puts the burden of proof on consumers and those harmed by the chemicals, not on the chemical industry itself.  The bill would give the EPA the authority and tools it needs to better protect our society from unregulated toxicants.”

For additional information on the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011”, visit


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