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NC Hospitals Offer Breath of Fresh Air, Literally

Many pieces of construction equipment and vehicles produce high emissions, but starting in January, two hospital systems in Charlotte will implement policies to limit their pollution. (Mahmoud Hashemi/flickr)
Many pieces of construction equipment and vehicles produce high emissions, but starting in January, two hospital systems in Charlotte will implement policies to limit their pollution. (Mahmoud Hashemi/flickr)
December 7, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two major hospital systems in the state are taking steps to make sure their communities and patients breathe easier on their campuses.

Beginning January 1, Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health will require any construction equipment on site to use the lowest exhaust-emitting machinery and promote anti-idling practices. The change came about after Clean Air Carolina reached out to hospital leadership to educate them about the impact some construction equipment can have on air quality.

Clean Air Carolina executive director June Blotnick explained:

"This is a major clean air win for public health,” Blotnick said. “And we are hoping that other hospital systems across North Carolina will follow suit and take steps to reduce diesel emissions on their construction sites."

The group worked with Novant Health on a study in 2016 to demonstrate the impact hospital construction projects can have on air quality as it monitored the construction of Novant's new Women's Center in Matthews. The EPA estimates that every dollar spent on reducing diesel pollution results in $13 in public health benefits.

Dr. Thomas Zweng, Chief Medical Officer with Novant Health, championed Clean Air Carolina's request from the beginning, and said the decision to reduce emissions on their campuses is in line with his organization's mission.

"We exist to improve the health of the communities one person at a time, and foundational to that is that we all have clean water and clean air,” Zweng said. “So it's a natural alliance, a natural partnership to work with others in the community that are focused on clean air."

Carolinas Healthcare also will be changing their policies when it comes to construction equipment beginning January 1. Director of environmental sustainability solutions for the health system, Kady Cowan, said construction happens on medical campuses more often that you might imagine.

"We are constantly renovating and expanding and changing our facilities.” Cowan said. "The idea is to really start to look towards market transformation and making sure that the most clean-burning equipment is the equipment that is the most widely used and available across Charlotte."

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, diesel exhaust contains more than 40 toxic pollutants and is a designated carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Particulate matter found in the exhaust contributes to asthma in vulnerable populations as well as to climate change.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC