Date of Award

Fall 12-1993

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Community & Environmental Health

Committee Director

Gregory H. Frazer

Committee Member

Raymond M. Leinbach

Committee Member

Delores Mintz

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.C48L66


Halsey (1991) summarized the underlying reasons for continuing concern about the problem of waste anesthetic gases. Careful and systematic monitoring studies indicate that individual trends in anesthetic pollution levels are not as low as was confidently predicted 10 years ago, when scavenging devices became commonplace. Second, there are now clear legal requirements for assessment of the situation. It is estimated that each year more than 200,000 health professionals are occupationally at risk of illness as a consequence of chronic exposure to low doses of waste anesthetic gases (Rogers, 1986).

These contaminants are suspected pf being ~eratogenic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, and embryo-lethal. Increased risk of spontaneous abortion, congenital anomalies, hepatic and renal disease as well as reduced psychomotor performance, depressed immune responses, increased susceptibility to neoplastic disease, and evidence of central nervous system symptoms have been implicated (Perie, Vranes, & Marusic, 1990; Brodsky, 1983; Brodsky & Cohen, 1985; Spence & Knill-Jones, 1978). However, due to conflicting epidemiological studies and inconsistent animal data experiments, firm evidence to support an etiologic association with waste anesthetic gases has not yet been established (Rogers, 1986).

Spence (1987) pointed out that the precise mechanism of action to produce depression of cell growth is only known for nitrous oxide (N2O). A potential pollutant, nitrous oxide, is 20 times more soluble than nitrogen in tissues and fat and is quickly absorbed from the lungs into the bloodstream and distributed to all body tissues (Mattia, 1983). Nitrous oxide oxidizes the cobalt ion of vitamin B12 , inactivating it as a cofactor in synthesis of folate, methionine and thiamine, and thus interfering with DNA synthesis. Exposure to high concentrations of N~O causes megaloblastic anemia, leucopenia, neuropathy and possibly some fetotoxic effects (Redfern, 1990). Although, there have been significant improvements over the years in the control of anesthetic gas pollution of operating suites through installation of scavenging systems, increased attention to maintenance and leak detection, increased attention to careful anesthetic practice, a significant number of operating room personnel are still exposed to anesthetic agents in excess of current exposure standards. Personnel at risk of exposure should at least be made aware of the potential health hazards of occupational exposure to anesthetic waste gases.


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