HealthPRO Canada News

September 19, 2023

Leaky Pipes? Nitrous Oxide Waste Harming Planetary Health  

Vancouver Coastal Health

Vancouver Coastal Health is taking action to shrink its environmental footprint by reducing nitrous oxide waste that escapes into the atmosphere. 

Why it matters: Commonly known as laughing gas, nitrous oxide has been used as an anesthetic and analgesic in many hospital operating rooms for decades. But its harmful impact on the environment is no laughing matter.  

  • The greenhouse gas packs a potential global warming punch 265 times higher than carbon dioxide when comparing the same volumes. 
  • Replace cryogenic containers that leak by design 
  • Switch to portable tanks that bypass central supply systems that can leak  
  • Consider removing nitrous oxide and switching to Sevoflurane or regional anesthesia 

Vancouver Coastal Health recently shut down the central supply system for nitrous dioxide at Vancouver General Hospital, the largest hospital in its network. 

Dr. Stewart Brown, an anesthesia clinical fellow who helped spearhead the initiative, said Vancouver General’s gas supply system had a problem, common to many hospitals – major leaks in pipes that are difficult to locate and repair. Dr. Brown and his colleagues determined 95 per cent of the hospital’s supply of nitrous dioxide was leaking out before it reached patients, even though the gas was rarely being used for procedures in recent years. 

By decommissioning the central supply, Vancouver General has been able decrease greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of removing 57 cars from the road annually.    

Similar leaks were identified at Vancouver Coastal Health’s University of British Columbia hospital, which is now in the process of replacing the leaky pipes with a small local supply system that is used only when required. 

“Everyone in the hospital system is motivated to reduce our impact,” Dr. Brown said. “Making these changes is a relatively simple way to clean up a very leaky and inefficient way of doing things.” 

What’s next: HealthPRO Canada is hopeful other hospitals and healthcare facilities will follow Vancouver Coastal Health’s leadership on environmental sustainability, said Alicia Martin, Clinical Director, Pharmacy Member Success. 

We will soon be launching the fourth iteration of our Sustainability Scorecard and other Sustainability tools to empower Members to make more informed and sustainable Supplier and product choices. This includes the ability to assess the environmental impact of anesthetic gases and inhalers. For more information contact: