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EPA: Despite Plenty of Hospital Activity, No Added Scrutiny on Healthcare

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Media, December 10, 2009

Though it may seem there has been an upswing in hospital-related activity by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this year, a spokesperson for the EPA said there is not a formal boost in hospital enforcement. But she agreed various aspects the agency is pursuing have direct effects on healthcare.

"We are not aware of any overall increased focus on hospitals within the agency," said Deb Berlin, a press officer for the EPA. "For example, hospitals are not currently specifically identified as one of the agency's national enforcement priorities."

However, "the healthcare industry is a very important and fast-growing sector of the nation's activities" that the EPA has devoted resources too in recent years," Berlin adds. She points to the following developments, all of which have influenced how the EPA views hospital environmental compliance:

  • The EPA's proposal to reclassify hazardous pharmaceutical wastes could ensure larger quantities of these wastes are disposed of properly (i.e. not flushed down the drain or disposed of in municipal waste streams). "This rule is an example of EPA's ongoing work to revise environmental regulations to appropriately address changing circumstances over time," Berlin says.
  • In a related move, the EPA is looking at how to better prevent pharmaceuticals from ending up in water bodies, all of which could affect hospitals more in the future, she says.
  • In 1998, the EPA and the American Hospital Association signed an agreement that launched the Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) partnership program. "This program's goals were to eliminate mercury containing wastes from the healthcare system, reduce the overall volume of wastes generated, and to identify pollution prevention and waste reduction opportunities," Berlin says. H2E became well-known within hospital environmental circles, and in 2006, H2E evolved into a fully independent, nonprofit organization that is now part of Practice Greenhealth.

Meanwhile, HealthLeaders Media previously reported on the following other actions the EPA took within the last 12 months:

  • Mandated that hospitals run full loads in ethylene oxide sterilizers and log them, with some exceptions
  • Began increased oversight of hospital disinfectants after one-third of 325 registered substances failed EPA verification of labeled claims by manufacturers
  • Updated rules for hospitals that still house medical waste incinerators

Scott Wallask is senior managing editor for the Hospital Safety Center. He can be reached at swallask@hcpro.com.

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