Toxics Have Left the Building

No doubt the to-do list at work is usually a little on the long side.  Like most I like to work on the things that are most appealing and I know you may shake your head when I tell you Toxics Use Reduction and Safer Chemical Policy happen to be a personal favourite.  It is not glamorous stuff like energy retrofits and reusable packaging but just as important if not more so.  It is no secret that we use a variety of chemicals in our day-to-day work at UHN.  Lab reagents, cleaning  and sterilization products and pharmaceuticals are some of the more obvious ones.  Where there is a chance to do better we embrace it.  UHN has had a number of chances over the years and has come a long way. 

When the City of Toronto’s progressive Sewer-Use-Bylaw came into effect 11 years ago several target substances were listed.  I will not take it personally if none of you have heard of Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPE) a once common surfactant in soap.  The mighty NPE is also a potent Endocrine Disruptor – in this case mimicking female hormones wracking havoc on human bodies and wildlife too.  “STOP dumping this stuff down the drain” said the Sewer-Use-Bylaw. “Prevent this stuff from getting into our environment.  Do what you have to. ”

In the end, UHN had to go back to our supplier and request that the soaps we purchased from them be reformulated excluding the dreaded and now illegal NPE.  The supplier did it and because it was easier to make, market and sell only one soap, jurisdictions outside of Toronto (not motivated by the Sewer-Use-Bylaw) now also had the chance to use a safer product.  Thanks UHN!!!

This is the great power of legislation, innovation and collaboration.

Luckily the City of Toronto is at it again this time targeting air emissions under a program called ChemTRAC  which “aims to improve public health and support a green local economy by reducing toxic chemicals in our environment.”

Music to my ears!

UHN has found itself leading again in an exciting partnership with the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care working to increase the number of safer chemical products used within health care facilities while also increasing the number of businesses in Toronto who sell products/services with safer chemicals.

We have only been working on this project for a few months and already the Coalition has developed

  • Searchable Online Green Products and Service Directory
  • Safe Chemical Policy documents and web site
  • Draft posters to educate health care staff on toxics
  • Research and pilots with manufacturers to reduce the use of toxics

Next we hope that the comprehensive Green Procurement policy already in place at UHN will showcase the possibilities to other institutions and facilities in Toronto and beyond. In addition we are sharing our findings with other local groups also interested in Toxics Use Reduction like the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition.  With this momentum I hope it won’t be long before new processes and products make it possible to say good-bye to these among others.

  1. Nitrous Oxide
  2. Volatile Organic Compounds (anesthetic gases, lab solvents)
  3. Mercury (switches, thermostats)
  4. Lead (radiation shielding)
  5. Particulate Matter (emergency generators)
  6. Trichloroethylene (pipe wrap)
  7. Ethylene oxide (sterilizing)
 Once this is all done I guess I will have to get back to the rest of my to-do list. Reduce energy consumption, eliminate waste and free vallet bike parking.

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