Doctors are well known for taking care of their patients, and lately for trying to go green. By using anesthesia, surgeons can eliminate stress and pain during a surgery, allowing the procedure to be completed in comfort—at least, in comparison to a surgery without anesthetics.
One group of doctors is looking to care for the environment as well—also concerning the use of anesthesia. By selecting certain anesthetics, some doctors are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Once a doctor finishes a surgery, the anesthetic gas is released into the air. Many of these gasses have an impact on the environment, contributing to the notorious greenhouse effect. According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, anesthesia used at an average hospital has a carbon footprint equivalent to that of several parking lots full of cars (a carbon footprint is the entire greenhouse gas emissions caused by one product: basically, it’s a calculation of how much of an impact a product has on the environment).
When an anesthetic is inhaled by a patient, the body makes few changes. The gas is generally released into the atmosphere as medical waste, and often acts as greenhouse gases once they have been in the atmosphere for an extended period of time. Keep in mind that the study does not recommend that doctors cease using anesthetics—rather,
Not all anesthetics have such a deep imprint on the environment. Susan M. Ryan, anesthesiology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted a study on the most commonly used anesthetics to determine their carbon footprints. Certain products are less damaging to the air—like sevoflurane, which the study determined to the product with the smallest carbon footprint.
Sevoflurane is the most commonly used anesthetic at UC Davis Medical Center—however, it’s not because of its toddler-sized carbon footprint. Rather, doctors prefer sevoflurane because they find it less irritating to patients’ lungs than other options. In the same vein, the anesthetic with the largest footprint, desflurane, is used less frequently because it irritates the lungs more than other products.
Still, one must not discount the effects of these gases on the environment. Acccording to the study, using the gas desflurane for just 60 minutes has the same impact on the environment as driving your car for up to 470 miles. In the end, Dr. Ryan suggested that doctors make small changes to help save the environment—while also ensuring the safety of their patients. The study also proposed that researchers develop a way to dispose of anesthetic gases without releasing them into the atmosphere.
While our own health is undoubtedly important, maintaining the health of the world we live in is equally important. Hopefully doctors can both look after patients and the environment by making Dr. Ryan’s proposed changes happen.