Chemicals of concern are ubiquitous in health care settings. The health care sector relies extensively on them: they can be found in pharmaceuticals, disinfectants, maintenance chemicals, laboratory reagents, medical devices, interior furnishings and floorings, and in substances used for cleaning and sterilization. Some of the chemicals used in health care settings are carcinogenic, mutagenic, endocrine disrupting, and may present health and environmental hazards. They can also bioaccumulate and persist in the environment. Some of these chemicals are also a major source of indoor air pollution. Some, such as mercury and dioxin, have been identified as global chemicals of concern by the world’s governments for their contributions to international environmental health problems. 

Health care institutions contribute to the problem, but this is not inevitable. There are safer alternatives for many uses of hazardous chemicals. 

As the UN Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) points out, chemicals in products used in health care affect human health throughout the life cycle of these products –- that is, during production, use, and disposal. 

Health care has a central and urgent role to play in eliminating unnecessary products, reducing use, and detoxifying products and processes

Health Care without Harm and its partners work alongside the health care sector to identify toxic chemicals used in health care delivery, contribute to the identification of safer alternatives to replace the most hazardous substances, help pilot alternatives, and promote proven strategies to minimize their impact on human and planetary health.

By addressing chemicals of concern used in health settings, the health sector can not only protect patient and worker health but also actively demonstrate the safe management of chemicals, thereby leading by example.

Our work on safer chemicals