In The Community

Environmental Stewardship

Safer Chemicals

Exposure to toxic chemicals in everyday life has increasingly become a health concern. More than 80,000 chemicals are used in commerce today, and only a small fraction have been tested for effects on human health. There is growing evidence that environmental exposures to some chemicals contribute to cancer, asthma, reproductive disorders and other heath impacts.

At Kaiser Permanente, we’re committed to researching and sourcing safer alternatives to products such as cleaners, solvents, disinfectants, plastics used in medical devices and building materials, flame retardants, and formaldehyde.

In 2010, Kaiser Permanente developed the Sustainability Scorecard as a way to rate our medical supplies on how eco-friendly and non-toxic they are. The scorecard is the first of its kind for health care and enables Kaiser Permanente to better choose products that reduce environmental and human health impacts while also encouraging our suppliers to increase their offerings of eco-friendly supplies. You can download a version of the Sustainability Scorecard for reference.

To promote health in all communities, we made the Sustainability Scorecard available to the health care industry’s largest Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs). With coordination by Practice Greenhealth, five GPOs then agreed to collect information on product attributes using a list of Standardized Environmental Questions for Medical Products based on our model. The total annual purchasing volume represented by these organizations is estimated at $135 billion. This significant leveraging power is helping to advance an economy where the production and use of chemicals are not harmful for humans or the environment.

We have already made great strides in product replacements:

  • Rigid endoscopes that use steam instead of chemical sterilization
  • PVC-free carpet
  • PVC-free and DEHP-free PCA sets
  • Converting to DEHP-free IV administration sets
  • Implemented sustainability criteria for fabrics

Read some of our case studies in environmentally preferable purchasing.

Kaiser Permanente recognizes the importance of engaging in public policy work in order to advance an economy where chemicals used in commerce are not harmful to humans or the environment. Kaiser Permanente’s environmental stewardship officer, Kathy Gerwig, has testified before U.S. Senate and House committees about Kaiser Permanente’s efforts to curb the use of potentially toxic chemicals.

Kaiser Permanente also supports safer chemicals through research. The organization’s Division of Research frequently conducts studies that highlight the connection between exposure to harmful chemicals and their impact on health. A recent study published in the journal Human Reproduction, looked at the effect of high levels of workplace exposure to Bisphenol-A, or BPA, on the male reproductive system in humans.  Kaiser Permanente works to publicize findings such as these and to assure that our medical facilities are free from such toxins.

To learn more about our safer chemicals work, download our factsheet.

What you can do

  • The Center for Environmental Health provides useful tips for reducing toxicity in your home.
  • Because children are particularly vulnerable to toxicants, Kaiser Permanente has developed a Green Parenting Guide for creating environmentally friendly surroundings for newborn children.
  • Common household items such as paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, and pesticides contain hazardous components. Although we cannot completely stop using hazardous products, we can make sure that leftovers are managed properly. The best way to handle household hazardous waste is to give leftovers to someone else to use. Many communities have set up collection programs to keep hazardous products out of landfills and combustors. More than 3,000 household hazardous waste (HHW) collection programs exist in the United States. Find out more about HHW.
  • Using safer cleaning products can help protect your family’s health and the environment. The three most dangerous cleaning products in the average home are probably drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and acid-based toilet bowl cleaners. Most of them are labeled “DANGER. Corrosive.” Corrosive products can severely burn skin or eyes or cause internal burns if ingested. There is no reason to have corrosive product. Safer alternatives exist for all of them. Consult the EPA’s list of products recognized as environmentally safe.