I remember growing up along Long Island Sound and enjoying its beaches as a child. In the late eighties, when tons of medical waste ended up in the NY rivers and the sound, the beaches became hazardous, or what was perhaps even more disgusting, bio-hazardous. My friends and I heard awful stories of syringes and other medical waste littering the shore. I recently had to undergo a surgical procedure and wondered what was going to happen to the wrappers, tubes, and those hideous little rubber padded socks that all procedure rooms seem to require. Were those awful socks going to end up on some beach next to some poor unsuspecting kid’s sandcastle in Greenwich one day?
Health Care Without Harm is a global coalition of medical practitioners, hospitals, community groups, labor unions, and environmental health affiliates whose constituents include 443 organizations in 52 countries. The purpose of the coalition is to minimize pollution and thereby protect the health of practitioners, their patients and the surrounding environment, a.k.a. the earth.
In 1995 the EPA identified medical waste incinerators as the leading source of dioxin contamination in the environment. This report brought health care workers together to found the organization in 1996. Today, HCWH touts such successes as: eliminating mercury-based equipment completely in the US, promoting safe waste management and helping to close incinerators worldwide, initiating green building programs geared specifically toward hospitals, and helping to improve the food hospitals serve in order to support local agriculture and provide patients with nutritionally viable meals.
The HCWH has come under fire from conservatives who feel the organization is a front for the anti-capitalistic environmental movement that thwarts progress on any level. Perhaps right wingers are just fearing the loss of their extra special golf cart at the club, or their financial panderings from BigBiz. The religious right fear the organization’s manipulation of clergy for their detrimental eco-slander that supposedly does more harm than good by promoting less toxic practices. HCWH stays strong and continues to fight for the removal of PVCs and other dangerous materials and contaminants in medical systems. And then there are religious groups affiliated with the coalition who steer clear of the partisan politics.
Just as the Hippocratic Oath promises to, “first, do no harm,” HCWH is based on the premise that health care providers have a responsibility to eliminate practices that harm people and the environment. Together with our partners around the world, we share a vision of a health care industry that first does no harm, and instead promotes the health of people and the environment. To that end, we are working to implement ecologically sound and healthy alternatives to health care practices that pollute and contribute to disease.
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