Waste Anesthetic Gases in the PACU
Help decrease clinician exposure
to Waste Anesthetic Gas

If you are a health care professional caring for patients in recovery
rooms or post-anesthesia care units (PACUs), what you don't know
about anesthetic gases could impact your health. Anyone in close
proximity to a post-op patient's breathing zone is at risk for inhaling
the Waste Anesthetic Gases (WAG) that the patient exhales.

Are PACU nurses at risk?

Because the patient is the main source of waste anesthetic gases in the PACU, it is more difficult to control clinician exposure. The extent of the exposure may also be difficult to quantify because measurements of anesthetic gases are often taken from different parts of recovery rooms. This poses a challenge as these systems and measurements may not account for the WAG levels in the patient’s breathing zone.

PACU nurses are at risk because of the lack of close regulation on how much of these waste gases they are directly exposed to for significant periods of time each day. In August 2002, Krenzischek et al, identified in ASPAN, that there is a potential for staff exposure to WAG in the PACU setting. They noted that there were higher levels of WAG at the patient’s breathing zone compared to the RN work environment and pointed out that NIOSH recommends that the risk be minimized by reducing exposures to the greatest extent possible.

It’s the most critical area in the room.

The breathing zone, directly in front of the patient’s mouth, is where waste gases tend to linger as they are exhaled from the patient’s nose and mouth. This is also the primary source area for the nurses’ exposure as they provide bedside care to their patients.

Unfortunately, PACU nurses may not be aware of the presence of these excess gases as some gases are only discernible to human detection at extremely high levels.