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 health conditions.
At Kaiser Permanente, we’re continually researching and sourcing safer alternatives to products such as cleaners, solvents, disinfectants, plastics used in medical devices and building materials, flame retardants, and formaldehyde.
Our 2025 Goal: We will increase our purchase of products and materials meeting environmental standards to 50 percent.
Kaiser Permanente has already made great strides in product replacements:
- IV solution bags that are free of PVC and DEHP
- Mercury-free devices
- Chemically-safest infant skin care
- Tricolsan-free soaps
- Nitrile (latex-safe) gloves
- Non-toxic paint and fabrics
- New furniture containing no chemical flame retardants or antimicrobial additives
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.
Kaiser Permanente is the recipient of the 2015 EPEAT purchaser award for its excellence in the procurement of environmentally preferable electronics. It recognizes Kaiser Permanente’s leadership in buying laptops, desktops, tablets, monitors, printers and multifunction devices registered in the EPEAT rating system. It is the first health care system to earn the award.
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 exploring 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.
What you can do
- Did you know children are particularly vulnerable to toxicants? Kaiser Permanente’s Green Parenting Guide has helpful tips to create 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 unused supplies are managed properly. The best way to handle household hazardous waste is to give the surplus 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 use corrosive products. Safer alternatives exist for all of them. Consult the EPA’s list of products recognized as environmentally safe.