Sudbury doctor trying to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the operating room

A Sudbury doctor is trying to help hospitals curb their greenhouse gas emissions — and it starts in the operating room. 

Dr. Sanjiv Mathur, an anesthesiologist at Health Sciences North, said he’s encouraging hospitals to adopt the gas sevoflurane into their practices. 

This comes after he co-authored a report examining the environmental impact of anesthetic gases.

Currently, a common gas used in the operating room is desflurane.  Both sevoflurane and desflurane are effective as anesthetics, Mathur said, but sevoflurane leaves a smaller carbon footprint.

“Sevoflurane, if you used it for a full day would be equivalent to getting into a car and driving 40 kilometres,” Mathur said. “Desflurane is in the atmosphere 10 times longer, and is equivalent to getting into a car and driving 2,000 kilometres if used for a full day.”

Mathur said that patients won’t notice any difference in the switch. Sevoflurane is currently used on children before surgeries, as well as patients with weaker lungs.

Gases used in the anesthesia process can be harmful to the environment, Dr. Mathur says. (Casey Stranges/CBC)

Mathur said he was motivated to make changes when the Canadian Medical Association challenged all physicians to find ways to reduce carbon emissions in their own workplaces.

“This was an excellent example of looking at what we’re doing on an everyday basis and what a difference we can make to reduce our output without in any way negatively affecting patient outcomes,” Mathur said.

So far, Mathur said physicians have been quick to adopt his suggestion to switch up the anesthetic gases.

Mathur said part of that is because of the consensus in the medical community that the world is in a climate crisis. 

“Remarkably, after these studies have come out, there’s been a dramatic and very quick reduction in the use of desflurane and its greenhouse gas potential,” Mathur said.

“I have not met a physician who doesn’t think it’s a good idea to reduce the carbon footprint of our work, as long as we don’t have any reduction in patient care.”

Dr. Mathur’s report on comparing environmental impact of anesthetic gases will be available in hard copy early in 2020.