Anaesthetic gases: environmental impact and alternatives
Little consideration has been given to the environmental impact of gaseous anaesthetic use. All currently used volatile anaesthetics are halogenated and chemically similar to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), giving them the potential to impact the environment negatively via both ozone depletion and global warming. Overall contribution to climate change is dependent on both these environmental effects, as well as the quantities released into the atmosphere. This review of the current data provides an insight into the overall ecotoxicity of volatile agents and gives alternatives which may be employed to limit environmental load. Results from the studies reveal that global warming potential and ozone depletion potential are significant for all volatiles, especially when combined with nitrous oxide use. However, because atmospheric levels are estimated to be small when compared to gaseous emissions from industrial and agricultural sources, the actual percentage contribution to climate change is small. Despite these findings, the cumulative effects of small contributors to climate change should not be underestimated, especially with increasing numbers of future anaesthetics and a decreasing CFC load. The carbon footprint of an individual anaesthetist is significantly increased by the daily use of volatile anaesthetic agents and recognised alternatives may be utilised to minimise this.
Keywords: anaesthetic gases, volatiles, environmental impact