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Anesthesiologists Trying to Go Green

Some anesthesiologists are trying to improve their environmental footprint by choosing anesthetics that produce less potent greenhouse gasses, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee.

After surgery, anesthetic gas is often vented into the atmosphere. Some of the gasses can have powerful greenhouse properties, according to the paper. Choosing the anesthetic that is most damaging to the environment can result in 12 times as much greenhouse gas production as choosing the least damaging, according to the report.

The paper interviewed Dr. Susan M. Ryan, a professor of anesthesiology, who was the co-author of a paper appearing this month in the scholarly journal Anesthesia & Analgesia. Dr. Ryan tested three forms of anesthesia commonly used in the United States and Europe for their potency as greenhouse gasses.

The paper reported that a type of anesthesia called sevoflurane has the lowest carbon footprint of all, and is already extremely popular among physicians do to the fact that it does not irritate breathing passageways as much as other anesthetics do. Desflurane, for example, is the anesthetic that produced the worst greenhouse has emissions and tends to irritate patients more.

However, questions of patient safety will likely trump environmental concerns, the paper reported. Some patients tolerate certain anesthetics better than others due to variations in patient profiles, and doctors will likely select the anesthetic best suited for the patient even when that might mean using a less environmentally friendly anesthesia.

Many hospitals and other members of the medical industry have been trying to reduce the environmental impact of their operations. About half of U.S. hospitals are recycling at least some of the medical supplies they would otherwise dispose of, as the health care industry is beginning to tackle the problem of medical waste. Hospitals, which account for four percent of all energy consumed in the U.S., can achieve a 60 percent reduction in energy utility use by redesigning the way they use energy, which will translate into savings of about $730,000 annually for a newly constructed, code-compliant hospital, according to a study released at the CleanMed conference.

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