PANNA: Hospitals Spray Dangerous Pesticides


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Hospitals Spray Dangerous Pesticides
December 22, 2003

A survey of top U.S. hospitals finds many of these institutions regularly using toxic pesticides, despite the fact that a large number of their patients may be especially vulnerable to the toxic effects. “Healthy Hospitals: Controlling Pests Without Harmful Pesticides,” published in November 2003 by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and Beyond Pesticides, reports on the survey, which was conducted in 2001.

All hospitals responding to the survey use chemical pesticides inside and/or outside their facilities. Of the 37 pesticides most commonly used, 16 are likely, probable, or possible carcinogens; 13 are linked to birth defects; 15 are linked to reproductive problems; 22 are neurotoxins; and 28 are acutely toxic. More than one third of hospitals reporting are using pesticide products that have been canceled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Some of the reporting hospitals use bendiocarb, chlorpyrifos, and diazinon, chemicals for which non agricultural uses are being phased out or canceled due to their unacceptable health risks. Health effects linked to these pesticide active ingredients include birth defects and neurological damage.

“Obviously patients and staff should be protected from pests, but they also need to be protected from pesticides,” said Gina Solomon, MD, MPH of the Natural Resources Defense Council and on the faculty at University of California, San Francisco. “Pesticides have been linked to an array of health problems that are particularly relevant to pregnant women, developing children, and people with asthma.”

In 2001 HCWH and Beyond Pesticides mailed the survey to 171 major U.S. hospitals. Only 22 responded, the majority of which are urban, non-profit hospitals affiliated with a university. Despite the low response, the survey results are consistent with a 1995 report by the Attorney General of New York State on pesticide use in hospitals, schools and other public buildings in the state. The report authors suggest that use of pesticides in U.S. hospitals may actually be even greater than represented by the survey, since self-selected respondents are more likely to be replacing pesticides with Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plans.

IPM practices seek to prevent and manage pest problems through non-toxic methods such as good sanitation, structural maintenance, and mechanical and biological controls. IPM practices turn to toxic pesticides only after non-toxic methods have been tried or have no chance of working. Some hospitals are having great success managing pests with very few hazardous pesticides or none at all, and IPM techniques. San Francisco General Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Hackensack University Medical Center were highlighted in the report as model practitioners of least toxic pest control practices.

“Hospitals should be leaders in implementing reduced-risk pest management if they are serious about the medical profession’s commitment to ‘First, Do No Harm,’ yet many are using hazardous pesticides unnecessarily when safer and more effective methods are available,” said Catherine Porter, JD, Women’s Cancer Resource Center and HCWH.

The report provides detailed, commonsense information on steps hospitals can take to implement a safer and effective least toxic pest control program, and suggests practices to counteract specific pest problems. Report authors also encourage patients and community members to inquire about pest management and pesticide use at medical facilities they use and visit, including asking whether notification is being provided to patients, staff and visitors when a pesticide product is used, and advocate for safer pest management practices within hospitals.

“We expect hospitals and schools to provide a physical environment that is beneficial and above all, safe. Just as schools in California and across the nation are turning toward safer approaches to pest control, it is time that hospitals move in the same direction,” said David Chatfield, Director, Californians for Pesticide Reform.

To download a copy of “Healthy Hospitals: Controlling Pests Without Harmful Pesticides” November 2003, by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and Beyond Pesticides, visit

Contact: Catherine Porter, Women’s Cancer Resource Center, phone (510) 601-4040 ext. 102, email; PANNA.

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don’t always get coverage by the mainstream media. It’s produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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