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.

Potential Effects of WAG

Through decades of studies, researchers have found possible correlations between exposure to waste anesthetic gases and some potential health effects. The OSHA website listing for waste anesthetic gases warns of potential effects such as nausea, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and irritability, as well as sterility, miscarriages, birth defects, cancer, and liver and kidney disease. Additionally, NIOSH Publication No. 2007-151 recommends: "increasing awareness about the adverse health effects of WAG, describing how workers are exposed to Waste Anesthetic Gas, recommending work practices to reduce these exposures, and identifying methods to minimize leakage of WAG into the work environment."

Although we are still learning about the potential health effects created by waste anesthetic gases, OSHA states in their guidelines that the "weight of evidence regarding potential health risks from exposure to anesthetic agents in unscavenged environments suggest that clinicians need to be concerned. Moreover, there is biological plausibility that adds to the concern that high levels of unscavenged waste anesthetic gases present a potential for adverse neurological effects or reproductive risk to exposed workers." 1

“Why risk potential health and reproductive problems while waiting for definitive proof, when this is not likely to be forthcoming? Even without direct proof of cause, we should reduce levels of waste anesthetic gases to their lowest possible concentration by careful use of efficient control measures.”
– J Brodsky; Exposure to Anesthetic Gases: A Controversy. AORNJ, 1983.