Interventionalists are significant contributors to radiology’s overall role in climate change

Interventional radiology departments play a significant role in imaging’s harmful environmental impact. And one new analysis has experts urging the field to adapt their daily habits.

That’s according to a group of New York University doctors and researchers who calculated the volume of greenhouse gases generated by their hospital-based IR department over a five-day work week.

By performing 98 procedures, the suite emitted about 23,500 kilograms of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), NYU Langone physicians reported Monday in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology. A majority was generated to power climate-controlled rooms.

Jonathan S. Gross, MD, corresponding author with Langone’s Department of Radiology, and colleagues offered up a comparison to underscore the magnitude of their findings.

“This is equivalent to the emissions generated by burning approximately 2,640 gallons of gasoline or by driving an average passenger vehicle 58,300 miles,” Gross et al. added in the study. “It would take 389 young trees 10 years to sequester this amount of carbon.”

Earlier this month a number of radiologists, including American College of Radiology President Geraldine McGinty, MD, MBA, outlined imaging’s devastating environmental impact. They presented the field with 4 areas to mitigate energy use and called on specialists to “urgently” consider their role in climate change.

For the current investigation, Gross and colleagues performed a life cycle assessment to calculate greenhouse gases emitted by their IR department. They keyed in on generated waste, disposable supplies and linens used, and the operating time of electrical equipment for procedures done between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. over a five-day work week.

Most emissions were related to indoor climate control (11,600 kg CO2e), followed by producing and transporting disposable surgical items (9,640) electricity plug load for imaging, non-imaging, and lighting equipment (524 kg), and waste disposal (426 kg) among others.

In light of these figures, the group suggested implementing a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” strategy—such as those used in operating rooms—to help decrease IR’s carbon footprint.

For example, more than half the climate-control system emissions were generated during off-hours when the suite was not typically in use.

Similarly, redesigning procedure packs to minimize waste and moving toward supplies that can be reprocessed, such as surgical instruments and gowns, may be helpful and even impact the bottom line. 

“The practice of interventional radiology generates substantial volumes of greenhouse gases, a majority of which come from energy used to power climate control followed by emissions related to the production and transportation of single-use supplies,” the authors concluded. “Efforts to reduce energy consumption and the use of disposable supplies may decrease GHG emissions and IR's contribution to climate change.”