Scientists detected rapid accumulation of anesthetic gases in atmosphere causing global warming

The study revealed that concentrations of potent global warmers Desflurane, Isoflurane and Sevoflurane reached an alarming level in the global atmosphere starting from crowed urban areas to pristine Antarctic environment.

Created On: Apr 10, 2015 14:00 ISTModified On: Apr 10, 2015 15:52 IST

The concentrations of modern inhalation anesthetics like Desflurane, Isoflurane and Sevoflurane in the global atmosphere is growing rapidly and the concentrations of these gases have been detected as far as Antarctica.

This was revealed by a study titled Modern Inhalation Anesthetics: Potent greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere published on 13 March 2015 in the online journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Major findings of the study
• Over the past decade, concentrations of anesthetics Desflurane, Isoflurane and Sevoflurane have been rising in the global atmosphere starting from crowed urban areas to pristine Antarctic environment.
• The accumulation of these medical gases is due to the fact that they undergo little metabolisation during medical application and evaporate almost completely to the atmosphere.
• The discovery is of major concern because unlike carbon dioxide, the major climate warmer, the medical gases are extra potent in their greenhouse-gas effects. For instance, one kilogram of Desflurane concentration is equivalent to 2500 kilograms of carbon dioxide in terms of the amount of greenhouse warming potential.
• The global combined emission of these gases to the atmoshphere is around 3.1 million tonnes CO2 equivalent in 2014.
• In 2014, atmospheric concentrations of Desflurane, Isoflurane, Sevoflurane and Halothene were recorded as 0.30 parts per trillion (ppt), 0.097 ppt, 0.13 ppt and 0.0092 ppt respectively; which shows that the most harmful Desflurane forms 80 percent of combined accumulations of the anesthetics.

The study was conducted by the lead researcher Martin Vollmer, atmospheric chemist at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology in Dubendorf, Switzerland along with six other scientists from Switzerland, South Korea and United Kingdom.

The history of modern inhalation anesthetics
Among the modern inhalation anesthetics, the fluranes have become the inhalation anesthetics of choice in most developed countries although nitrous oxide (N2O) and halothane are still applied in human anesthesiology around the world.

Halothane was intensively used during 1960s and 1970s but was replaced in developed countries due to its potential for liver injuries (halothane hepatitis).

Methoxyflurane used during 1960s and 1970s was the first halogenated ether used in anesthesiology but was phased out due to medical side-effects.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, enflurane became the inhalation anesthetics of choice across the world before it was replaced by isoflurane in early 1980s. Isoflurane is presently still used, in particular in veterinary anesthesia.

Since the introduction of Desflurane in 1992 and sevoflurane in mid-1990s, these anesthetics have become the widely used anesthetics.


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