(NPR) — Many of the chemicals used as anesthesia are also greenhouse gases.
One Oregon doctor who has done the math says that some are much worse for the environment than others.
Anesthesia revolutionized surgery by vanquishing patients' pain. But many of the chemicals are greenhouse gases. One Oregon doctor who has done the math says some are much less damaging to the planet.
Sevoflurane is one of the most commonly used anesthesiology gases. The other big one is desflurane. There are others, too, like nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas.
Whichever gas patients get, they breathe it in — but only about 5% is actually metabolized. The rest is exhaled. And to make sure the gas doesn't knock out anyone else in the operating room, it's sucked into a ventilation system.
And then? It's vented up and out through the roof, to mingle with other greenhouse gases.
These two gases are actually fairly similar medically; sevoflurane needs to be more carefully monitored and titrated in some patients, but that's not difficult, Chesebro says.
The U.S. health sector is responsible for about 10% of the nation's greenhouse gases. “We clinicians are very much focused on taking care of the patient in front of us,” she says. “We tend to not think about what's happening to the community health, public health — because we're so focused on the patient in front of us.”