Epa May Open Vent On Medical Waste Pollution Coalition Cites Pressure From The American Hospital Association, Other Groups
The Environmental Protection Agency is “poised” to approve weakened standards for cancer-causing air pollutants escaping from incinerators that burn hospital wastes, a group of environmental and health organizations warns in a report being released today.
The EPA in early 1995 proposed stiff standards for reducing emissions of dioxin, mercury, lead and cadmium from the smoke produced when medical waste is incinerated.
However, the Campaign for Environmentally Responsible Health Care, a coalition of 118 local and national environmental and health groups, says pressure from the American Hospital Association and other groups has caused the Clinton administration to water down the standards in favor of weaker ones.
The new standards likely will receive final approval this summer, the group says.
Cleaning up the pollution would add less than one dollar to the typical cost of a day in the hospital - currently about $966 - the coalition says in the report.
Although they effectively kill germs from such material as used gloves, bandages and other hospital wastes, medical waste incinerators are among the chief sources of dioxin going into the environment, the EPA declared in 1994.
The coalition’s report estimates that 6,323 hospitals in America produce over 1.9 million tons of waste to be incinerated every year. The top five states are: New York, California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida, the report states.
“Hospitals are where you go to get well, and they’re spewing out all of this toxic pollution,” said Robert Pregulman, southern field organizer for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), one of the groups making up the coalition.
Although such organizations as the AFL-CIO and Physicians for Social Responsibility support the coalition, the medical waste report appears to be primarily the work of U.S. PIRG and the environmental activist group Greenpeace.
Among other steps, the environmental coalition wants hospitals to reduce their use of materials containing polyvinyl chloride. Found in most plastics, the chemical forms dioxin when incinerated.
“In contrast to the administration’s recent high profile rules for tougher new standards on particulate air pollution and ground level ozone, the proposed medical waste incinerator standards will do next to nothing to halt emissions of dioxin, mercury and other pollutants into the environment,” the groups state in the report.
New regulations being proposed by the EPA will virtually ignore smaller hospitals, which operate about 40 percent of the medical waste incinerators in the country, the report states.
Alicia Mitchell, a spokesperson for the American Hospital Association, said her group had been unable to obtain a copy of the environmentalists report, entitled “First Do No Harm: Reducing the Medical Waste Threat to Public Health and the Environment.”
However, she confirmed that the hospitals group did oppose the EPA’s proposed medical waste incinerator standards when they were first issued in 1995.
“I think it’s important to realize here that the different methods for treating waste from hospitals all have an up side and a down side,” she said. “There isn’t any pollution-free method.”
She said hospitals are “trying to deal with this matter in the most responsible ways possible,” including reduced use of materials that lead to formation of dioxin when they are burned.