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Laughing gas is no laughing matter when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions

Hospitals and anesthesiologists are reevaluating the gases they use during surgical procedures.
Hospitals and anesthesiologists are reevaluating the gases they use during surgical procedures.

Anesthesiologists are looking at what gases they use from a different perspective.

Of all the greenhouse gas emissions generated by health care facilities, five percent is due to anesthetics.

Michigan Medicine has implemented a Green Anesthesia Initiative, which encourages using a different gas when possible.

Dr. David Hovord at the University of Michigan Medical School is a co-leader of the Green Anesthesia Initiative. He said an anesthetic called sevoflurane can be used instead of an old favorite.

“When we actually looked at this, the difference between them is quite stark. And it comes down to reducing the amount of nitrous oxide that we use,” he said, adding, “When we replace the nitrous oxide with sevoflurane, we found that equivalent CO2 emissions drops dramatically.”

And sevoflurane is known to improve how patients wake up after surgery.

Nitrous oxide, commonly called laughing gas, also persists in the atmosphere for more than 100 years and breaks down the ozone layer, according to the Michigan Society of Anesthesiologists.

That group is encouraging members to go with the more environmentally friendly gas when it’s possible.

In a news release from the group, it was noted that Michigan Medicine and Henry Ford Health have eliminated the use of desflurane, which is approximately 40 to 50 times more detrimental to the environment than sevoflurane and isoflurane.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.