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Leslie C. Davis, Magee-Womens Hospital,UPCI, Center for Environmental Oncology, Deva Davis, Women, Environment, History, Cancer,Mercury, Tuna, Eating,toxins,Heinz Endowments,

Women and the Environment

by: Leslie C. Davis, President, Magee-Womens Hospital; Vice President, Women’s Services, UPMC

Throughout history, women have traditionally controlled the environments of their families and had major impacts on their health and welfare. In fact, the term “economy” derives from the Greek word for oikos meaning home, reflecting the central role of household management for the nation. As a hospital dedicated to the health and well being of women and children, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC is proud to have launched several major efforts to promote environmental education for its patients and health professionals. Designated a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over the past three years, Magee has expanded its efforts to educate and motivate women and their health professionals in the simple ways that home and community-based activities affect their health and that of their families.

This issue of “Healthy Choices, Healthy Lives”, brought to you in partnership with the Center for Environmental Oncology of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and supported by the Healthy People, Healthy Places Program of the Highmark Foundation and the Heinz Endowments, provides an overview of women’s special environmental health risks. Furthering our commitment to the health of women and infants, Magee has eliminated nearly all mercury-containing equipment from our hospital. Mercury is a common ingredient in thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, fluorescent lights, and batteries. Scientists understand that as a heavy metal, mercury leaves tracks throughout the environment and can damage the nervous system of animals and humans and impair their ability to have healthy offspring. The best way to ensure that society has healthy children is to prevent exposure to toxicagents from occurring in the first place.

In recognition of our mercury-free commitment, this past year, Magee received the Making Medicine Mercury Free Award as well as the Partner Recognition Award from Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, two premier national distinctions of environmental achievement in health care.
We have continued this effort to improve environmental health by creating programs to educate prospective parents on the importance of protecting the capacity
of men and women to have healthy children if and when they choose to do so.

Since 2005, Magee has included environmental education in its programming for new parents, in patient education materials, and in its childbirth and newborn classes. We are committed to informing and motivating parents, caregivers, and the greater community in creating a healthy, sustainable environment for ourselves, our children, and our future.

At their initial prenatal visits, expectant mothers receive a special calendar outlining monthly milestones for their pregnancies. This calendar offers information on bathing products, infant feeding, and safe nurseries, as well as tips for reducing toxic exposures in the home. As they are discharged, all new mothers receive information on avoiding toxins, including limiting pesticides in the home, garden and on pets; removing shoes at the door so you do not track toxic chemicals inside; limiting eating fish that are high in mercury like swordfish, tilefish, shark, mackerel (king) or canned albacore tuna; and reading labels on cosmetics and personal care products and choosing safer products, when possible, using the National Household Products Database of the National Library of Medicine and the Environmental Work Group’s information system at Other suggestions given to new parents are:

* Test your home for invisible radon gas as it has been shown to increase cancer risk
* Test your home for lead-based paint if you are in an older home built before 1980
* Install a carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home
* Use low toxicity household cleaners such as baking soda and vinegar to avoid suspected carcinogens
* Choose low volatile organic compound (VOC) furniture, paints and flooring, if possible

Primary prevention remains the most cost-effective way of promoting health. We continue to partner with colleagues at Children’s Hospital and the Center for Environmental Oncology to develop innovative ways to educate health professionals and the public through the use of films and public lectures on a wide range of topics. In recognition of our education and outreach to health care professionals on topics of environmental health, Magee received the 2007 Children’s Environmental Health Excellence Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Children’s Health Protection.

Additionally, since 2007, in partnership with the Heinz Endowments, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC hosted two “Women’s Health and the Environment” conferences, bringing in nationally heralded environmental health scientists who educated over 4,000 participants on the most recent scientific evidence about environmental exposures and how these exposures impact our health. These scientists raised awareness about environmental toxins present in our air, water, food and the personal care products we use, and how, even in low doses, the cumulative affect of our exposure to these contaminants might increase our risks of developing cancer, heart disease, asthma and other diseases. Another set of chemicals, endocrine disruptors, such as bisphenol A (BPA) found in baby bottles, toys, and dental sealants, mimic our body’s natural hormones and impact our endocrine systems. These conferences also highlighted solutions and strategies that encouraged women to lower their environmental exposures and thus, reduce the health risks to themselves and their loved ones. Click here to view the comprehensive toolkit, which was developed for these conferences.

As a result of these and other efforts, major manufacturers of baby bottles recently announced that they will no longer use BPA. For more information on health education at Magee and for class schedules, click here to our Health Education Calendar.