Timon Singh

Anaesthesia Gases Equal the Emissions of 1 Million Cars

by , 12/03/10
filed under: global warming

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It turns out the airline industry may not be the largest contributor to global warming after all. According to a joint study from the University of Copenhagen and NASA (along with anaesthesiologists from the University of Michigan Medical School), the anaesthetic gases used by doctors and dentists during medical procedures have a heavy environmental impact. The study states that one kilo of anaesthetic gas, which is currently on its way to being banned in the EU, can impact the environment the same way as 1,620 kilos of CO2.

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While you may think that the amount of gas used in a single surgery is not a large amount, it turns out that the annual amount of anaesthetic gasses released into the atmosphere has the smart impact as one million cars. Unlike CO2 and other greenhouse gases, there is no legal obligation to report the use of anaesthetic gasses.

The study was printed in the “British Journal of Anaesthesia“, where lead researcher, Ole John Nielsen, a Professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, reassured the medical community that not all anaesthetic gasses were environmentally damaging.

“We studied three different gasses in regular use for anaesthesia, and they’re not equally harmful,” explains Professor Nielsen to E! Science News. “All three are worse than CO2, but where the mildest ones have global warming potentials of 210 and 510 respectively, the most harmful will cause 1620 times as much global warming as an equal amount of CO2.”

“This ought to make anaesthesiologists sit up and take notice. If all three compounds have equal therapeutic worth, there is every reason to choose the one with the lowest global warming potential”, says professor Ole John Nielsen.

The three anaesthetic gasses – isoflurane, desflurane and sevoflurane – are related to a compound called HFC-134a, which is set to be banned across Europe from January 2011. HFC-134a is 1.3 times worse than C02 in terms of impact on global warming, so it is not surprising that it is to be pulled from gas production. “The surprising properties of anaesthetic gasses are an important reminder to anyone using any kind of gasses. They really ought to examine the atmospheric fate of them, before releasing them into nature”, says Professor Nielsen.

+ University of Copenhagen

Via E! Science News

Lead image © Bolshakov

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2 Comments

  1. bewilderedpatriot December 3, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Also, as someone who uses Isoflorane, I can tell you that its not all released. There are (ironically) charcoal traps that are used to absorb the unused anaesthetic.
    Still, perhaps thats not careful enough. Also, how much CO2 is released during the production of these compounds?

  2. oboistkat04 December 3, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    What does it mean one million cars? The lifetime of a million cars, or a million cars running for an hour? And this is equivalent to using one kilo of the anesthesia gas?

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