Did you know that some forms of anesthesia are greener than others? It’s true. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times shared the story of Dr. Brian Chesebro, a Portland, Oregon-based anesthesiologist who decided to conduct some independent research on the sustainability of different types of anesthesia. He focused on sevoflurane and desflurane, two commonly used anesthetic gases.
Used in a wide range of procedures, anesthetic gases are inhaled by patients through breathing masks. Most of the gas is exhaled—only about 5% is actually metabolized—and sucked into a ventilation system, which ultimately carries it up to the roof and into the atmosphere.
What Dr. Chesebro discovered upon further investigation surprised him (and many others in the medical and environmental fields): desflurane has catastrophic impacts on the environment. In fact, the amount of desflurane used in a typical procedure does the same amount of environmental damage as a fleet of 12 Hummers operating for the same duration of time. When it comes to trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, desflurane is 20 times more powerful than sevoflurane, and it remains in the atmosphere for much longer—14 years—as opposed to a single year for sevoflurane.
There is good news. Thanks to these findings, anesthesiologists can make better-informed decisions about what anesthetics to use. We’re pleased to share that propofol, the anesthetic preferred by the doctors here at Allied, has very minimal environmental impact. However, it’s important to note that we do use anesthetic gases—including desflurane—in some procedures. But we administer the more sustainable sevoflurane much more frequently than desflurane. In fact, we only use desflurane in special cases, when the benefits of patient safety with desflurane clearly outweigh other anesthetic options. Furthermore, whenever we use any anesthetic agent, we make a point to use them in the most environmentally friendly way possible.