January 18, 2012

Converting to eco-friendly IV equipment

Latest purchasing initiative supports sustainability and public health, saves money

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kaiser Permanente, committed to improving the health of its patients, workforce and communities, announced today it is converting its IV medical equipment to more eco-friendly alternatives that are free of PVC and DEHP, two industrial chemicals used in plastics that have been shown to harm human and environmental health.

Eco-Friendly IV Equipment

Kaiser Permanente has agreed to purchase IV solution bags that are 100 percent PVC and DEHP free and intravenous tubing that is 100 percent free of DEHP. PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) and DEHP di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate are both widely used in medical products and have been shown to have harmful effects on health. Kaiser Permanente purchases 4.9 million IV tubing sets and 9.2 million solution bags each year. This conversion affects nearly 100 tons of medical equipment and also is expected to save close to $5 million a year.

“We at Kaiser Permanente recognize that the products we buy can have a direct effect on human health and the health of our environment,” said Raymond J. Baxter, senior vice president for Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy. “Our efforts to remove harmful chemicals from hospitals and clinics reflect our commitment to the total health of our members and our communities.”

The move marks a major success for Kaiser Permanente’s Sustainability Scorecard, the first of its kind in health care and a model for green purchasing in the sector. The scorecard, which launched in 2010, allows Kaiser Permanente to evaluate the environmental and health impacts of each medical item it purchases and also encourages suppliers across the industry to provide greener products for the health care sector. The scorecard requires suppliers to provide information on their company’s environmental commitment, use of potentially harmful chemicals in their products and information about product and packaging recycling.

“Kaiser Permanente recognizes we can improve health today and for the future by taking a close look at the products we purchase,” said Barry Brenner, vice president for medical sourcing at Kaiser Permanente. “With Kaiser Permanente’s size and influence, we are able to move the industry to create greener products.”

Research suggests that long-term exposure to DEHP, used as a plasticizer in medical devices such as IV bags and tubing, can affect the body’s endocrine system, resulting in a variety of hormonal abnormalities, particularly in infants. When PVC plastic is manufactured or incinerated, dioxin pollution is created. Dioxin is a known carcinogen. These substances are currently widely used throughout the health care industry.

“Kaiser Permanente is continually working to highlight the connection between environmental health and public health, through green purchasing, sustainable energy solutions, and informing public policy,” said Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser Permanente's vice president for employee safety, health and wellness, and environmental stewardship officer. “With this switch to IV materials that are free of PVC and DEHP, we are making a significant stride in protecting the health and safety of our members and our communities.”

Kaiser Permanente spends more than $1 billion each year on medical products. The focus on greener products is just one aspect of Kaiser Permanente’s industry-leading work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the use of harmful chemicals and promote sustainable food choices. The organization is dedicated to environmental sustainability because it has direct, positive effects on individual and community health.

Kaiser Permanente has a long history of environmental stewardship. Through its green building efforts, Kaiser Permanente saves more than $10 million per year and has eliminated the purchase and disposal of 40 tons of harmful chemicals in its facilities. For example, the organization has worked with suppliers to virtually eliminate the use of products and equipment that contain mercury, which is a neurotoxin. Last year, the organization announced it had agreed to deploy up to 15 megawatts of solar power in a deal that has placed solar panels at Kaiser Permanente facilities across California. For more information about Kaiser Permanente’s environmental efforts, go to kp.org/green.