The health care of Western countries is burdening the global climate due to Anesthetic gases and air conditioners. In the US, the medical sector accounts for 8 to 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. In the UK, a quarter of all public sector emissions are accounted for by the National Health Service (NHS). The most resource-hungry areas are surgery and especially the surgical area. Researchers from Canada, the UK and the US have now determined the carbon footprint for 3 clinics in the country, noting remarkable differences.

Anesthetic gases and air conditioners in the operating room put a strain on the carbon footprint

Anesthetic gases and air conditioners in the operating room put a strain on the carbon footprint

The CO2 balance of the clinics is determined by 3 areas:

Inhalation anesthetics, heating costs and waste. Of the inhalation anesthetics, desflurane has the most adverse effects on the climate. Since it is slowly degraded in the environment, its global warming potential (“GWP100”) is 18 times higher than other inhaled anesthetics. Desflurane is valued by anesthesiologists, because it has the shortest sleep and recovery phases because of the rapid influx and flooding and the anesthesia is therefore easily controllable. In North America, it is the preferred inhalant anesthetic. In England it is hardly used because of the higher costs. NHS anesthetists need to dodge other gases or injections.

Oxford University Hospital

This has a direct impact on the climate balance in the operating theaters. According to Andrea MacNeill of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, anesthetic gases at the Vancouver General Hospital account for 63 percent of total surgical emissions. At the University of Minnesota Medical Center, the proportion was 51 percent, while at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, only 4 percent of greenhouse gases come from the anesthesia machines.

The Oxford University Hospital has other problems. The energy consumption for heaters, ventilation systems and air conditioners is significantly higher there than in Vancouver or Minnesota. In addition, the energy comes mainly from coal power plants. The share of energy consumption in the carbon footprint in Oxford is therefore 84 percent. There are 36 percent in Minnesota and only 17 percent in Vancouver. The Canadian clinic benefits from the fact that a large share of electricity production is accounted for by hydro-power plants.