When people think of using an inhaler, they might be surprised to know just how much an impact those “little blue inhalers” have on the environment, says a B.C. doctor.
Kevin Liang, a family doctor in the Fraser and Vancouver Coast healthy authorities, was part of a Fraser-Health led study in the BC Medical Journal found that between 2016 and 2021, inhalers produced 8,478 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the Fraser Health region alone.
The health authority notes that carbon footprint is about 22 per cent of all emissions from Fraser Health facilities, which includes 174 buildings with 13 acute care hospitals.
Liang said in his day-to-day work he prescribes a lot of inhalers for folks who have asthma and COPD, and with that he does quite a bit on analysis work looking into the climate impact of inhalers.
“We knew the impacts are quite high individually because each one of those little blue inhalers has an impact of up to driving 139 kilometers, but we didn’t know how much of that is overall across the entire health authority.”
That 139 kilometres, he said, is the entire life cycle of the inhaler.
The bulk of the emissions come from the gas within the little metal canister that is released with each puff.
Fraser Health says the “carbon culprits” are liquefied gases called hydrofluoroalkanes (HFAs), which are present in one type of inhalers – pressurized metered-dose inhalers. HFAs deliver medication to the lungs and, in the process, release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
However, low-carbon HFA- free alternatives that use dry powder and soft mist formulations are effective for most patients and more environmentally friendly with no negative impact on the health or comfort of patients.
He explained that in Canada, 90 per cent of inhalers prescribed are the metered-dose inhalers, while 10 per cent are the dry-powder inhalers.
“We’re not saying no to inhalers, but rather your alternative.”
That’s why Liang said he tries to educate his patients about these inhalers and how to use them, how to prescribe them, and who it’s indicated for.
While some people need to use the HFA inhalers, “large swaths of the population can use the greener option.”
“It’s never that we want to take away your inhalers or we want to compromise your asthma or COPD for the environment. But rather, we want to help you improve the respiratory killer with talking about different alternatives that don’t contain these propellants and sometimes are way better for your, for your health in general.”
People can read the report here.