The story of the Sambhavna Clinic, a non-profit holistic health clinic in Bhopal, India, built to treat those injured by the Union Carbide toxic gas release in 1984. enlarge video
HCWH's co-founder Gary Cohen is a recipient of the prestigious Skoll Award. This video, chronicling the evolution of HCWH's work, premiered at the 2009 Skoll World Forum. enlarge video
Cleaners and Disinfectants
Everyone expects a hospital to be clean. However, many traditional cleaning products, floor strippers and disinfectants present a variety of human health and environmental concerns. They often contribute to poor indoor air quality and may contain chemicals that cause cancer, reproductive disorders, respiratory ailments (including occupational asthma), eye and skin irritation, central nervous system impairment and other human health effects.
In addition, some of these products contain persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs), are classified as hazardous waste, and/or otherwise contribute to environmental pollution during their manufacture, use, or disposal.
Triclosan, an anti-bacterial biocide increasingly prevalent in liquid detergents and soaps (janitorial products), could enhance the ability of bacteria to resist antibiotics, and poses a long-term threat to wildlife and to human health. Traces of triclosan have been found in human breast milk.
Less-toxic, environmentally friendly maintenance products exist for almost all health care facility needs.
Hospitals also use a variety of methods to disinfect and sterilize surfaces and equipment. Some of the most commonly used products, however, such as glutaraldehyde and ethylene oxide, have been shown to cause serious health effects. Alternatives to these products offer effective disinfection while protecting health care workers and the environment.
What You Can Do
Using unscented "green" cleaners can reduce maintenance costs, help protect the environment, safeguard the health of building occupants, increase employee productivity and improve indoor air quality.
A good place to start to identify environmentally preferable cleaning products is Green Seal Environmental Standard for Cleaners used for Industrial and Institutional Purposes (pdf).
Health Care Without Harm also urges hospitals to eliminate Gludaraldehyde, and switch to safer substitutes for disinfection. See our fact sheet, 10 Reasons to Eliminate Gluraraldehyde (pdf).
- Cleaning Chemical Use in Hospitals Fact Sheet (pdf)
- Cleaning for Health: Products and Practices for a Safer Indoor Environment
Report and toolkit available on INFORM website
- Common Substances in Hospitals May Cause Asthma: HCWH report (pdf) Read the press release
Database with information about choosing safer personal care products; advanced search option allows search for products without fragrance
- EWG Survey links chemical exposures on the job to diseases in nurses
Environmental Working Group website
- Glutaraldehyde Control in Hospitals
Sustainable Hospitals website
- Green Seal Environmental Standard for Cleaners used for Industrial and Institutional Purposes (pdf)
- Safe Cleaning Products Initiative
information about safer cleaning products from Women's Voices for the Earth
- Sustainable Hospital Project
database of alternatives
- Ten Reasons to Eliminate Gluraraldehyde (pdf)
- Ten Ways to Find Safer, Greener Cleaners (pdf)