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Give me Your Sick….plastic perils in hospitals

by Tao Oliveto, Minneapolis, MN

I missed posting for two days because I’m in Minneapolis visiting family. My mom is in the hospital and I arrived just after her surgery. She is fighting cancer and I was relieved to see her looking bright and strong. Being at the hospital produced a mix of thoughts and feelings, some personal and some drifting – in my usual way – to the world we live in.

When I was 16, my first job was as a tray passer in a city hospital. Three of us would work just a few hours each evening, loading the dinner trays onto a cart and pass them out over 17 floors, go back and pick them up again. I was a typical junk food-loving teenager at that point, but remember still being perplexed at what I uncovered on those trays. It all looked processed and wilted, faded to shades of gray. The most sick patients, coming out of surgery, received a can of soda and a serving of Jello – in other words – sugar and chemicals.

So I wasn’t surprised when, decades later, it appeared not much had changed. My mom was served some version of what I saw in my tray passing days. What did shock me, however, was that the food was now being served in plastic – styrofoam cups included! Back in my hospital days, they were at least using glass plates and stainless steel utensils. This is progress? This is how we treat the sick?

I can’t help but imagine, not only the environmental assault from this waste, but the already struggling immune systems of patients facing the added stress of unwholesome food and exposure to the dioxins and other chemicals in the plastics surrounding them. Read below and visit an earlier post to learn more about the dangers of plastics.

Hospitals and plastics. Dioxin prevention
Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.

CHLORINATED DIOXINS and related compounds are extremely potent toxic substances, producing effects in humans and animals at extremely low doses. Because these compounds are persistent in the environment and accumulate in the food chain, they are now distributed globally, and every member of the human population is exposed to them, primarily through the food supply and mothers’ milk. An emerging body of information suggests that dioxin contamination has reached a level that may pose a large-scale, long-term public health risk. Of particular concern are dioxin’s effects on reproduction, development, immune system function, and carcinogenesis. Medical waste incineration is a major source of dioxins. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, as the dominant source of organically bound chlorine in the medical waste stream, is the primary cause of “iatrogenic” dioxin produced by the incineration of medical wastes. Health professionals have a responsibility to work to reduce dioxin exposure from medical sources. Health care institutions should implement policies to reduce the use of PVC plastics, thus achieving major reductions in medically related dioxin formation.

It looks like our awareness and our efforts towards change need to go beyond the world of take-out containers and plastic bags. We have so much to learn, so many important steps to take to heal our bodies and the planet. Be a voice for the earth and the people you love.

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One Response to “Give me Your Sick….plastic perils in hospitals”

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