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Consultant: Hospitals among top polluters

By Michael Moore
The Missoulian

The nation's health care system is the second-largest contributor to climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions in the country.

Hospitals use more energy than any industry other than national defense, and 30 percent of the mercury in the environment comes from medical incinerators.

"That just doesn't make sense," said Beth Eckl, a consultant who works with Practice Greenhealth, a group that works for environmentally sustainable health care. "We create a waste stream that in part causes the problems we're trying to cure."

Eckl spoke at a Friday conference on the topic sponsored by St. Patrick Hospital, which is at work on making itself a better environmental citizen.

"We're not going to fix everything at once, but we are moving step by step," said St. Pat's Beth Schenk.

Hospitals, by their nature, are garbage-producing behemoths. Sterile instruments that come wrapped in near-infinite layers of plastic, all manner of items soaked in blood and bodily fluids, pharmaceuticals, mercury and dioxin-releasing plastics are just part of the problem.

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