Scuba Diving: How to Prevent Breathing Contaminated Air


Symptoms of breathing contaminated gas can range from impaired judgement to loss of consciousness to even death.

Choose the best Compressor Parts to Avoid Harmful Contaminants

Depending on the type of contaminant in the gas, a diver’s health can be put at risk.  Symptoms can range from a slight headache to death depending on the type of contaminant.  When combined with diving underwater, even a slight lack of judgement can have harmful effects.

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) – Symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, impaired judgment, confusion, and unconsciousness.
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – Hyperventilation, dizziness, confusion, and unconsciousness can occur.
  • Volatile Hydrocarbons – Fatigue, headache, confusion, impaired judgment, numbness, cardiac arrhythmias, and loss of consciousness are included symptoms.
  • Oil (Condensed) – Symptoms include headache, nausea, impaired respiratory function.
  • Dust (Particles) – These tiny dust particles can cause impaired respiratory function.

Equipment Hazards

In addition to symptoms that occur to the respiratory and circulator system, some contaminants can cause direct harm to the diver’s health by damaging equipment.  Anytime a diver’s equipment is not working properly, the risk for accident or injury is greater.  Excessive moisture may cause:

  • Regulators to freeze or malfunction
  • Corrosion and oxidation of scuba tanks
  • Reduction in the efficiency of compressor filtration

Preventing Compressor Malfunctions

When operating a compressor, as the old adage goes “prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  This is true with compressor parts.  Attentiveness to compressor maintenance ensures that the quality of compressed breathing gas is safe and it also extends the life of the compressor.

Performing safe air fill procedures also ensures quality breathing air.  Before filling the tanks, inspect all compressor filters for contaminants, damage, or engine exhaust near the intake valve.  Stop filling immediately if chemical or oily odors are detected.  Meticulous records of air fills, maintenance, and operator qualifications are a good way to keep track of all maintenance on diving equipment.  Proper oil and filters, such as the ones sold at Discount Lawrence Factor, ensure a clean, breathable air flow.

Every three months or so, send a breathing-gas sample to an accredited laboratory for analysis.  There are also continuous CO and moisture monitoring devices available.

Other Helpful Tips

  • Get air fills from a reputable dive club or shop.
  • Be observant of compressor maintenance, breathing gas analysis, fill procedures, and records.
  • Always conduct a pre-dive gas check. If an unusual odor or taste is detected, do not dive.
  • Check the cylinder for carbon monoxide (CO), which is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas.