Hospital cleaning supplies go green

Nontoxic products gentler on environment, workers

Hospitals nationwide are "going green" with nontoxic cleaning products and supplies that are better for the environment and safer for patients and employees, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Many of the cleaning products used to sterilize equipment and prevent the spread of infection contain chemicals that are potential health hazards. The products can be particularly dangerous for the physicians, nurses, maintenance workers, cafeteria workers, and administrators who spend countless hours breathing them in and touching them. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the health care and services industry in 2010 reported nearly 654,000 injuries and illnesses—more than any other private industry.

Moreover, hospitals are one of the largest consumers of energy and water, generating tons of harmful emissions.

Bay Area hospital joins environmental campaign

Environmental sustainability is among the top goals of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, which works with more than 600 medical facilities in an effort to make hospitals more energy-efficient, promote nontoxic products, and rely on healthier foods.

Recently, the coalition commended the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF) at Parnassus for its efforts to adopt "greener" chemicals. In recent months, UCSF has implemented various sustainability practices:

  • Instead of disposable alcohol wipes, custodians use non-alcohol, non-bleach wipes that give off fewer harsh fumes.
  • Bleach is used only to scrub out highly infectious bacteria in rooms where patients have checked out or where patients with infectious diseases are staying.
  • Nontoxic products approved by Green Seal, a sustainability-certification group, are used to clean glass, carpets, upholstery, bathrooms, and floors.
  • The floors of patient-care areas are being renovated from vinyl—which requires stripping and waxing to maintain its shine—to rubber, which can be cleaned with water and buffed with a cleaning pad.

Going green is worth the cost, officials say

Dan Henroid, UCSF's sustainability officer, notes greener cleaning materials do not cost significantly more than the older products.

"What happened is that the market has finally caught up to the demand," Henroid told the Chronicle, adding, "[We] and other hospitals have pushed for chemicals that use less toxins, and suppliers finally have enough variety to meet all of our needs, to meet the stringent cleaning standards for hospitals, and also do it with fewer toxins."

For example, Kaiser Permanente recently saved $5 million annually as part of negotiations to buy chemical-free intravenous bags and tubing. Since Kaiser hospitals collectively purchase five million tubes and nine million bags every year, the system was able to negotiate a lower rate.

Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser's environmental stewardship officer, says, "If we know that there's credible evidence that … certain chemicals in products can cause harm, it's our obligation to seek a safer alternative" (Lee, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/8).


Next in the Daily Briefing

Is the pace of medical innovation slowing?

Read now