Opinion: The hidden harm of health care: air, water, and other pollution

My emergency medicine team had spent several tense hours working to ease the severe asthma attack that was making breathing difficult for our 8-year-old patient. Once she was stable, her mom asked, “Why do you think her breathing got so much worse than usual?”

I gave her the standard answer — maybe her daughter caught a virus or her medicine regimen needs to be changed — but I cringed a bit as I stripped off my gloves and tossed them into the overflowing waste bin, knowing that’s not the whole story. There is also air pollution from factories and power plants near her home, smog from cars and trucks, and pollution from the hospital she is being treated in.

To most people, the health care, like my gloves and the plastic wrapping around the tools and medicines my team used for our asthma patient. As Matt Eckelman and Jodi Sherman , health care accounts for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., 10 percent of smog formation, and 9 percent of other harmful air pollutants.

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