US healthcare system is a top producer of greenhouse gas emissions

The U.S. healthcare sector produces enough greenhouse gas emissions to land itself among the top GHG emission-producing countries — yes, countries — in the world, according to new research from Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and Northeastern University in Boston.

In fact, if the U.S. healthcare industry was a country, it would rank No. 13 in the world for GHG emissions, which is more than then entire United Kingdom.

The reason the U.S. healthcare system ranks so high is because it uses an exorbitant amount of energy for heating, electricity and energy-intensive goods and services, according to the researchers. The system's energy use and GHG emission production has only worsened in recent years — the study shows greenhouse gas emissions from the healthcare sector grew 30 percent over the last decade.

For the study, the authors examined direct emissions from hospitals and clinician offices and indirect emissions generated by the industry's suppliers of energy, goods and services. Looking at the data, the researchers estimated 12 percent of the country's acid rain, 10 percent of its smog formation and 9 percent of its respiratory disease from particulate matter is attributable to healthcare-related emissions.

The study also linked healthcare-generated GHG emissions to global warming, ozone depletion and cancer from chemical exposure.

"While some pollution is currently inevitable in our efforts to safely care for patients, there is a tremendous amount of waste in our healthcare system," said author Jodi Sherman, MD. "People are trying to reduce waste from a cost perspective. But there is a public health perspective as well that is important. Protecting public health is also an issue of patient safety."



More articles on sustainability:
SSM Health renews commitment to sustainability: 3 things to know
ACP calls on physicians to combat climate change
Research identifies long-term effects of prenatal exposure to air pollution

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