Four major health systems commit to buying furniture without toxic flame retardants
Ecology Center is part of ‘team that helped make this happen’
In a reflection of the momentum building to eliminate an unnecessary health threat, four major health systems announced earlier this month that they will stop purchasing furniture treated with toxic flame retardant chemicals. Combined, these four health systems, including Michigan’s Beaumont Health System, represent 7,000 patient beds throughout Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio.
“The Ecology Center is part of the team that helped make this happen,” according to Tracey Easthope, director of environmental health programs at the Ecology Center. Easthope, who has a master's degree in public health, has worked with organizations across the country for decades on projects to protect humans from toxic chemicals in food, air, water and household products.
The announcement was made by Health Care Without Harm, a national coalition working to transform the health sector so that it becomes ecologically sustainable and a leading advocate for environmental health and justice.
“Health care represents a major sector of the economy with significant purchasing power,” Easthope said. “With these announcements and more by other health systems to come, we hope to help move the market to safer furnishings.”
In addition to Beaumont, the health systems making the pledge are Advocate Health Care, the largest health system in Illinois and one of the largest health care providers in the Midwest; Hackensack University Medical Center, the largest provider of inpatient and outpatient services in New Jersey; and University Hospitals, an integrated network of 12 hospitals, 26 outpatient centers, and primary care physician offices in 15 counties in northeast Ohio. Kaiser Permanente made a similar pledge in June.
The health systems, which spend nearly $50 million a year on furniture, will specify with their suppliers that upholstered furniture should not contain flame retardant chemicals where code permits. “These health systems are leading a movement within the health care sector—and the broader market—to transition away from toxic chemicals commonly found in furniture,” according to a statement fromHealth Care Without Harm.
“We are continuously looking for better ways to improve the quality of the environment for the patients, visitors and the community we serve,” according to Kay Winokur, Beaumont’s vice president for quality and professional services and ‘green team’ administrator. “With the leadership and support of Beaumont’s more-than-700-person Green Team, we are able to provide a healthy and comfortable setting by supporting and implementing flame retardant-free furniture in our hospitals and outpatient centers.”
Commonly used flame retardant chemicals can pose a threat to human health and the environment. Depending on the flame retardant, effects include reproductive, neurocognitive, and immune system impacts, among others.
“Hospitals take very seriously the links between chemicals in the environment and rising rates of disease,” said Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. “They are committed to creating healing environments, free from products containing chemicals linked to chronic diseases.”
The four health systems phasing out the purchasing of furniture with flame retardant chemicals are enrolled in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI), a national campaign to implement a new approach to improving environmental health and sustainability in the health care sector.
“Demand from these health systems will drive the production of furniture that does not include toxic flame retardant chemicals,” Cohen said. “Because the health care sector is such a large part of the economy, hospitals can help shift the entire marketplace, which will benefit public health and make products safer for all consumers.”
EcoLink — September 2014 An online publication of the Ecology Center