Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the annual Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada (ANAC) annual conference. The event is taking place in Toronto and has brought together nurses and teachers of nursing from across the country working toward improving the health of Aboriginal people. I found myself speaking at this event because of a unique partnership between the ANAC and a group called Canadian Nurses for Health and the Environment made up of Canadian Nurses Association members. It is this intersection between health and the environment where I find my works fits in.
So I pulled together a variety of examples of where healthcare as a sector can create inadvertent harm to people and the planet. How some of this manifests as pollution which can be compounded by issues of poverty. Meaning pollution does not affect everyone equally. I introduced the almost taboo subject of the feminization of nature with a case study of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia living as close as possible without living in the area known as “Chemical Valley” a region that is home to 19 petrochemical refineries. There is a startling decline in the number of baby boys born in this community and ongoing health research has not eliminated the impacts of decades living near these plants.
I went on to look at a host of options nurses have to reduce the negative environmental impacts of the healthcare system. Simple things like asking their colleagues to help recycle or turn off lights can make a world of difference. Just asking is usually all it takes.
It was an important talk to an important audience I hope that it will spark some ideas and action.