Julia Schoen, MD, Diagnostic Radiologist at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, contributed this post.

The World Health Organization attributes over 13 million annual deaths around the world to avoidable environmental causes. This includes deaths related to the climate crisis. For example, there has been a 50% increase in heat-related mortality in elderly populations in the past 20 years as the climate has warmed and heat waves have become more intense and frequent. We’re also seeing impacts on population health related to air and water quality as well as natural disasters, like hurricanes and wildfires. Likewise, the amount of waste we produce has a negative impact on population health. As we celebrate World Health Day 2022, I’d like to take a step back and examine radiology’s role in promoting a more sustainable future.

Hospitals account for up to eight percent of carbon emissions in the United States, and radiology departments are significant contributors, mainly due to heavy equipment and technology usage. When you dispose of a CT scanner, what happens to it? Where does it go, and what are the environmental repercussions? How are local populations impacted by the landfill it’s dumped at? These are great questions – and we don’t have all the answers to them, but they beg the question – How can radiology address our climate impact and environmental pollution?

At the systemic level, healthcare facilities can create sustainability committees. Radiologists and medical students can join advocacy groups like Radiologists for a Sustainable Future or Med Students for a Sustainable Future. Groups like these promote sustainability at all levels and push advocacy efforts to support industry-wide change. There are also practical solutions to implement within our radiology departments, such as waste reduction and energy efficiency. For example, the Cleveland Clinic found that reducing the number of times air is exchanged in the operating room when it was not in use saved them a significant amount of money and energy.

I hope to see more and more physicians take action to mitigate our environmental impact and keep our patients and communities healthy. After all, we have one planet – let’s protect it together.

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