By Barbara Polivka, PhD, RN, professor and Shirley B. Powers Endowed Chair of Nursing Research, University of Louisville, Kentucky
- Earth Day was founded by U.S. senator Gaylord Nelson and started as a national environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970. An estimated 20 million Americans gathered that day at sites across the nation.
- An important result of the enormous public response to the first Earth Day celebration was the subsequent creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act.
- Earth Day became an international celebration in 1971 when the UN Secretary General talked about it at a Peace Bell Ceremony in New York City.
Earth Day is a time to think about how we affect the environment and how we are affected by the environment.
Health Care Without Harm is an international organization promoting environmental health and justice. If you aren’t familiar with Health Care Without Harm I urge you to go to their web site to see how health care organizations are decreasing their environmental impact. Health care facilities are taking the following steps:
- Eliminating medical devices containing mercury and using safer non-mercury alternatives.
- Eliminating pthalate-containing medical devices made of PVC, such as IV bags and tubing (exposure to pthalates may harm the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive organs) and switching to safer plastics.
- Reducing the use of pesticides and choosing nontoxic integrated pest management techniques.
What can nurses do? Advocating to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and materials in our workplaces is a great place to start. Personally, we can choose safer products to use in our own homes. The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Web site provides a wealth of information about how to eliminate toxic chemical exposures.
The EPA has also launched a Safer Choice certification. Products meeting the Safer Choice standard cannot contain chemicals known to be carcinogens, reproductive toxins, or neurological toxins. The Safer Choice label pictured here easily identifies these products. A list of over 2,000 products is available at https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice. Using certified Safer Choice products is safer for you and your family, and for the environment.
As Florence Nightingale wrote in Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not (1859):
“… the symptoms or the sufferings generally considered to be inevitable and incident to the disease are very often not symptoms of the disease at all, but of something quite different—of the want of fresh air, or of light, or of warmth, or of quiet, or of cleanliness . . . ”
Happy Earth Day!