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Safety In The Air

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, colourless and tasteless gas, usually produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon containing compounds. It is absorbed 200 times more by haemoglobin than oxygen is. This reduces the oxygen carrying capacity and can eventually lead to hypoxia and even death. The severity of CO poisoning depends on its concentration in the breathing gas and the exposure time. A long exposure to relatively low concentrations can therefore result in serious CO poisoning.

In diving, the partial pressure of CO will increase with depth, and even a low concentration of CO contamination, which at normal atmospheric pressure and after a prolonged exposure time would have no toxic effect, will become dangerous with increasing depth. When descending, the haemoglobin can get saturated with CO, impairing its ability to bind with oxygen, but the increased oxygen partial pressure may also result in enough oxygen in the blood keeping cells oxygenated. During the dive, the decreased oxygen transportation (through the haemoglobin) is also partially compensated by the amount of dissolved oxygen in the blood plasma. But during the ascent, when the partial oxygen pressure is reduced, and the amount of dissolved oxygen also reduces, this can lead to hypoxia. This might be the reason why the symptoms of poisoning may become worse during or after ascent.