LA JOLLA, CALIF. — The link between environmental toxins and cancer and other diseases is so suggestive that health care professionals must do all they can to diminish the risks to public health, Dr. Mitchell L. Gaynor declared at a meeting on natural supplements in evidence-based practice sponsored by the Scripps Clinic.
Such an effort, he said, should be based on what Lancet editor Richard Horton termed “the precautionary principle.” This notion holds that “we must act on facts and on the most accurate interpretation of them, using the best scientific information,” Dr. Horton wrote (Lancet 1998;352:251–2). “That does not mean we must sit back until we have 100% evidence about everything. Where the … health of the people is at stake … we should be prepared to take action to diminish those risks, even when the scientific knowledge is not conclusive.”
“We should demand that this principle become part of public policy” in the treatment and prevention of environmental causes of disease, said Dr. Gaynor, of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York.
“I gave a lecture at the United Nations in 2003 on water pollution as it related to all the countries on earth and the fact that very soon, clean drinking water is going to become a scarce commodity,” he said. “It's important that we become advocates for our own health.”
While evidence on the adverse health effects of chemical exposure continues to mount, steps toward more environmentally friendly policies are under way at many health care organizations around the globe. For example, Health Care Without Harm is an organization of almost 450 member groups in 52 countries that are working to reduce pollution in the health care industry (www.noharm.org
“Hospitals are huge releasers of a lot of pollutants, but this is starting to change,” Dr. Gaynor said at the meeting, which was cosponsored by the University of California, San Diego.
For example, more than 1,400 health care facilities in the United States have pledged to become mercury free, and 91% of chain pharmacies and the top 10 largest pharmacy chains have stopped selling mercury fever thermometers.
Consorta Inc., the large national health care group purchasing organization, supports the notion of greener and safer product innovation.
The decline of medical waste incinerators in the United States is an additional sign of a lean toward green. In 1998, there were 6,200 medical waste incinerators nationwide. By 2003, that number had dropped to 115. “Hopefully, there will be less need for even those,” said Dr. Gaynor, who is also the author of “Nurture Nature, Nurture Health: Your Health and the Environment” (New York: Nurture Nature Press, 2005).
An effort is also underway to phase out polyvinyl chloride IV tubing; when PVC products are produced or burned, they emit dioxins, which are associated with cancer and damage to the immune system.
'Hospitals are huge releasers of a lot of pollutants, but this is starting to change.' DR. GAYNOR