Nursing Students Embrace Deirdre Imus' Green Message

Before a large audience of nursing students, faculty, staff and community members, Deirdre Imus presented a stimulating lecture at MCCC on Sept. 28, discussing the hazardous effects of environmental chemicals, and how we can improve our environment.

Imus posed the questions: "Why are our children so sick? Why are they not as healthy as they were even 10 to15 years ago?" Imus is the president and founder of the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology at Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC), and co-founder and co-director (with husband Don Imus) of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer in New Mexico. She said there has been an increase in childhood conditions and illnesses such as cancer, asthma, autism, learning disabilities, obesity and diabetes.

Imus believes the current situation is a true health emergency. "If we are looking at why, we have to start with our environment," she said. New chemicals are introduced into the environment all the time, and fewer than two percent are tested, she noted. Of the ones that have been tested, many contain toxins. "There is a big deficit between the research and the incidence of illness."

It makes sense to reconsider the products we use from a health standpoint, Imus said, pointing to home cleaning agents, baby care items, pest control for the home and lawn, and even cosmetics. "Emissions from new carpet and fabrics on furniture get circulated into your ventilation system. That becomes your indoor environment," she said. Pollutants are present everywhere -- in homes, schools, airports and businesses.

In 2001 Imus established the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology at HUMC to work on eliminating cleaning agents that contain harmful ingredients and replacing them with environmentally responsible products derived from natural or renewable sources. The "Greening the Cleaning®" program now has over 200 clients, including hospitals, schools and businesses. All profits from the sales of institutional products are donated to fund education and research to identify, control and ultimately prevent environmental factors that may cause pediatric cancer and other health problems in children. All after-tax profits from the sale of retail products go to the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Governors in New York (2005), New Jersey (2006), and Connecticut (2006) have issued executive orders requiring all state agencies to reduce the use of cleaning agents with harmful chemicals.

Before establishing the "Greening the Cleaning" program at HUMC, Imus asked herself if hospitals were true places of healing. She concluded that most were not because of their physical environment, starting with the cleaning products they use, which contain carcinogens and neurotoxins.

She went to speak to HUMC President John Ferguson and found that the vision was already there. "I proposed the idea and he stopped me after five minutes," she recalled. "We accomplished this at the fourth largest hospital in the country with close to 10,000 employees. We realized if we could be successful there, the concept could spread."

The Imus Center began to get inquiries from other hospitals and responded by setting up free facility assessments, focusing on products currently in use and making suggestions for healthier replacements. "This is not a trend, or a fad. Most importance is education," Imus said. "When people understand it, they are behind it. It's a lifestyle change."

Cost and efficacy are always concerns. "People say it's great that it's non-toxic, but is it working?" Imus maintains that "Greening the Cleaning" products are both affordable and effective -- and the company is developing a favorable track record to prove it.

Mercer County Community College started using "Greening the Cleaning" products in its Hospitality kitchens earlier this year. According to instructor Frank Benowitz, the products do a good job and the students like the change to healthier alternatives.

Each summer, Imus and her husband, radio personality Don Imus, welcome children who are ill with cancer or who have lost a sibling to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) to the Imus Cattle Ranch, about 50 miles northeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The ranch was built from scratch, using environmentally friendly materials. Imus notes, "The food is 100% organic vegan. We use no pesticides. All structures were built using the least toxic materials available. We established this place as a role model for the children, as a healthy way to live and as a way to prevent exposure to toxins."

The kids become ranch hands for nine days. "My husband Don grew up on a ranch. He has a strong work ethic. Sick children can lose their self-esteem and sense of purpose. We give the kids responsibilities. We see their progress. We provide the environment, but we don't preach. They notice, and they start asking questions about how they can do this at home."

"I am a mother of an 8-year-old boy. I'm not a doctor," Imus said. "I employ a common sense approach and do some basic fundamental things." If enough people ask for a change, consumers can create the demand for new, healthier products, she added.

Imus left the audience with a suggestion. "Decide on one single, fundamental change. It will have an immediate impact for the better. There are no small changes. One single change makes a big difference."

For more on the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center, and to learn more about "greening" your environment, go to the website and click on "Greening Your Life." Click here.

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