Deep-Six Underwater Systems, Inc.
"Add Depth to Your Life"

Table of Contents

1 Pressure and Gases
2 The Face Mask
3 The Snorkel
4 The Fins
5 Weight Systems
6 The Knife
7 The Wetsuit
8 Pressure and Water
9 The Ear and Pressure
10 The Sinus and Pressure
11 The Stomach/Intestine and Pressure
12 The Lung and Pressure
13 Barotrauma caused by External Air Spaces
14 The Buoyancy Compesation Device (BCD)
15 The Scuba Cylinder
16 The Scuba Cylinder Valve
17 The Regulator
18 Density and the Diver
19 The 4 Gas Laws
20 Hand Signals
21 Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
22 Hyperventilation
23 Nitrogen Narcosis
24 Diver's Flags
25 Sound Underwater
26 Color Underwater
27 Decompression Sickness
28 Breathing Oxygen
29 Deep Diving
30 Thermoclines
31 Thunderstorms
32 Underwater Life
33 Open Water Dives
34 The Final Examination
35 The Environment
36 Advanced Course

21 - Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

    A drop of blood contains approximately 300,000 red cells. Each milliliter of blood contains 2,500,000 red cells. In each of the red cells there are about 250,000,000 molecules a hemoglobin. Each of those molecules love to combine (chemically bond) with oxygen molecules. The hemoglobin in the red cells bonds with the oxygen molecules that are moving from the lung into the blood stream. The oxygen moves from the alveoli to the capillaries because of the pressure differential of  high pressure O2 in the lungs to the lower pressure in the returning blood from the body. The oxygen is then carried from the lungs to all cells in the body finally to be released by the hemoglobin to various cells to keep them productive. Without hemoglobin's tremendous means of transport the blood would have to travel 20 times faster to carry the required oxygen in the plasma of the blood alone!

     Hemoglobin loves carbon monoxide (CO) 300 times better than oxygen. If you have carbon monoxide in your breathing air the hemoglobin will combine with it rather than the oxygen. Once the hemoglobin becomes carboxyhemoglobin it will not release the CO to the body. In effect, the hemoglobin no longer functions as an oxygen transport agent. That contaminated red cell will be taken out of service by the spleen. In effect your blood stream will be systematically destroyed until death from lack of oxygen if one continues to breathe a sufficient quantity of carbon monoxide.

     Hemoglobin contains iron atoms in its molecular structure. Iron compounds are very colorful. (Look at iron oxide or rust. It is really a beautiful red color.) When hemoglobin has an oxygen molecule attached to it the iron makes it a bright red color. When the oxygen is released the color turns to a dark red. Blood changes its color! If a carbon monoxide molecule is attached to the hemoglobin the iron combination creates a bright pink color. The lips, fingernails, and other places in the body where the blood comes close to the skin in a person poisoned by carbon monoxide makes them look like a clown. When the hemoglobin is contaminated with carbon monoxide it is called, "carboxyhemoglobin."

     How do divers encounter carbon monoxide? How could it get into their scuba tank? Poor compressor operation, poor filtration, and /or a contaminated air source going into the compressor are the responsible agents. If a compressor runs too fast it may get overheated causing a dieseling effect. The oil in the compressor ignites creating carbon monoxide. Running a compressor near the exhaust of an automobile, gasoline-powered lawn mower, a smoking chimney, etc. can cause CO to enter the air supply. Compressor filters are supposed to remove CO by changing it to CO2. If the filter is overwhelmed or wet it may not do the job.

     Breathing carbon monoxide contaminated air usually produces a headache as a preliminary symptom. Dizziness, drowsiness, and unconsciousness follow prior to death.

     Incidentally, smoking 30 cigarettes each day results in the smoker's blood maintaining a constant level of 10% carboxyhemoglobin! 

Copyright Information about this text, DIVING WITH DEEP-SIX is as follows: Copyright 1996 - 2007 by George D. Campbell, III; President. All Rights Reserved. This file may be posted on Electronic Bulletin Boards for download, but may not be modified, printed for distribution, or used for any commercial purpose without the author's written permission. is using this material with the permission of Deep Six. The full version is available at:
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