Environmentalists slam FHA scheme to ship four million pounds of hospital laundry to Calgary

News release

Media Release issued by: Labour Environmental Alliance Better Environmentally Sound Transportation David Suzuki Foundation

The Fraser Health Authority should reverse its decision to truck dirty laundry from four Fraser Valley hospitals to Calgary for washing, says an alliance of environmental and public interest organizations.

The groups say that that any projected cost savings from a contract with a private firm to truck four million pounds of soiled hospital linens to Calgary over the next year will be far outweighed by the negative consequences for the environment, people’s health and on the Fraser Valley economy. Until this past weekend, hospital workers in Chilliwack and Mission did the laundry.

“Hauling dirty hospital laundry 800 kilometres in eighteen-wheeled semi-trailers is ridiculous. We’re urging the health authority to reconsider,” says David Thompson, executive director of Better Environmentally Sound Transportation (BEST). “The small financial savings on the FHA’s budget sheet will be at the expense of road users and everyone who breathes the air from the Fraser Valley right through to Calgary.

“With thousands of Canadians dying every year because of smog, reducing motor vehicle emissions remains a major issue. Trucking laundry across B.C. and over the Rocky Mountains is a step backwards,” Thompson adds.

Gerry Scott, Climate Change Program director for the David Suzuki Foundation noted that trucking emissions are a rapidly growing component of Canada’s overall greenhouse gas total and must be brought down, not driven up.

“More unnecessary trucking means more unnecessary pollution. With Canada about to ratify and implement the Kyoto Protocol to address climate change, it makes no sense to proceed with an arrangement that will drive up emissions further. “Will the Fraser Health Authority start including the costs of pollution, climate change and the associated public health risks in its contracting out calculations?” says Scott.

Mae Burrows of the Labour Environmental Alliance doubts there’ll be any savings to taxpayers at all.

“Stained linens, including stains from bodily fluids and waste, will sit bundled in plastic bags for days. The stains will set, requiring stronger and more toxic cleaning products to get them out. This will also shorten the useable lifespan of linens adding to replacement costs,” says Burrows.

Environmentalist Dr. Lillian Martin, a Phd chemist who teaches at the University College of the Fraser Valley, says there are other costs — and risks — connected to the filthy laundry.

“There is a real danger that contaminated laundry may be spewed onto the highway and surrounding area if one of the trucks is involved in an accident,” warns Martin. “Viral and bacterial infections from fugitive laundry could be spread all over the countryside, endangering the population’s health and fouling the water, soil and air.

“Who will pick up the tab for an infection outbreak, the spill cleanup and other consequences? The long-term health and environmental costs could be substantial,” says Martin.

The Labour Environmental Alliance’s Burrows adds that in addition to the direct environmental costs of contracting out hospital laundry are the social costs of low wages.

“Decent jobs with good wages and benefits that support families and businesses in the Fraser Valley are being exchanged for poverty level wages in the nine dollar an hour range in Calgary. And poverty is a major determinant of poor health.

“This business of literally driving jobs out of B.C. with the dirty laundry will increase pollution which contributes to climate change. Climate change affects droughts and temperatures that in turn affect so many parts of our lives including agriculture and fisheries,” says Burrows.

“We can’t afford to separate the impact of a critical decision like the health authority’s laundry contract from the rest of our lives. If it impacts our environment, it impacts our health and our economy.”

— 30 — Contact: Mae Burrows, Labour Environmental Alliance, 604-669-1921 or 604-526-1956 David Thompson, Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, 604-669-1921 Gerry Scott, David Suzuki Foundation, 604-727-8651 Lillian Martin, 604-792-0025 x2456 days and 604-796-2443 evenings