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Operating rooms are major sources of greenhouse gasses. Penn is eliminating a form of anesthesia that hangs in the air for more than a decade after use.

Sarah Gantz, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

Philadelphia-area health systems are phasing out a common anesthesia gas that hangs in the atmosphere for 14 years.

Desflurane is the most potent greenhouse gas found in hospitals, which are increasingly engaged in efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

Desflurane was once favored by doctors because it leaves the body quickly, enabling patients to wake up within minutes of the anesthesia gas being turned off. But another inhaled anesthesia, sevoflurane, is now considered a better option for most patients because it is less likely to cause nausea and is less irritating to the airway. Sevoflurane is also much less harmful to the environment, dispersing in the atmosphere in a little over a year.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Virtua Health have already eliminated desflurane. Virtua is increasingly shifting away from all inhaled anesthetics and encouraging doctors to opt for anesthesia drugs that can be delivered through an IV, without emitting greenhouse gases.

Main Line Health has also reduced its use of desflurane, though the system's hospitals plan to keep it on hand for select cases.

Penn Medicine has phased out desflurane at four of its six hospitals — Hospital of University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Hospital, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center and Princeton Medical Center. The two Penn hospitals still using desflurane, Chester County Hospital and Lancaster General Hospital, will stop using it by the end of the year.

 

The push to eliminate the harmful greenhouse gas is part of broader climate initiatives at Philadelphia-area hospitals, with research showing that the health sector contributes about 9% of national greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Penn and Main Line Health last month joined more than 130 health organizations nationally that have signed on to the Health Sector Climate Pledge created by the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services in 2022.

Jefferson Health is part of a sustainability initiative by The Joint Commission, a leading hospital accreditation organization.

There's also a business case for becoming more environmentally friendly: Penn expects to save millions of dollars through its emissions reduction initiatives.

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(c)2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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