Strong Memorial Hospital, Eastman Dental Center Receive Environmental Award

April 27, 1999

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has honored the University of Rochester with a 1999 USEPA Environmental Quality Award for successfully reducing mercury usage within Strong Memorial Hospital and the Eastman Dental Center.

The USEPA award is the result of a recently completed, two-year pilot project between Strong Hospital, Eastman Dental Center, and Monroe County. The project, which was initiated by the county amid growing concerns of mercury-contaminated fish in Lake Ontario, was aimed at extending pollution prevention to hospitals and dental offices throughout the Rochester Embayment Watershed.

Through the efforts of the Mercury Reduction Task Force, mercury thermometer usage at Strong Memorial Hospital decreased by 90% in one year, and nearly all mercury-filled blood pressure cuffs have now been replaced with their non-mercury counterparts. In addition, mercury-containing patient feeding tubes were replaced with tungsten alternatives, and the hospital’s waste incinerator, off line since 1997, was replaced with an environmentally-friendly autoclave system earlier this year. At the Eastman Dental Center, a variety of changes have also taken place, including implementation of more effective dental amalgam (mercury fillings) collection methods and additional training programs for staff.

"The collaborative efforts of this program have resulted in a successful mercury-reduction model for other hospitals to follow," said Marvin Stillman, manager of environmental compliance at the University of Rochester and a member of the Mercury Reduction Task Force. In addition to the significant impact the program has had in Rochester, a ‘how-to’ manual -- Reducing Mercury Use in Health Care/Promoting a Healthier Environment -- was developed for others to follow and can be accessed through the EPA’s website. So far, the manual has been used in over 16 states and three Canadian provinces. "It’s rapidly becoming the gold standard for how to implement a mercury replacement program at a health care institution," said Stillman.

Mercury’s many properties make it a common ingredient in medical instruments and in dental amalgam. Mercury is safe for these uses. However, breakage or unproper disposal of such items can allow mercury to escape into the environment, move up the food chain, and accumulate in the tissues of aquatic animals. When contaminated fish are repeatedly consumed by humans and wildlife, mercury can produce adverse health effects, especially in young children and developing fetuses.

Each year, the U.S. EPA Region 2 honors the accomplishments of individuals and organizations in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who have significantly improved environmental quality in the past year. Award recipients come from all sectors of the community and including non-profit, environmental and community groups, individual citizens, environmental education and business organizations, and members of the news media. The Environmental Quality Award is the highest recognition presented to the public by the USEPA.

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