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September 2000 Vol. 15, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Mud wrestling over Nitrox

from the September, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dive industry politics fascinates me. It was especially juicy around the issue of Nitrox. I rediscovered a piece I wrote seven plus years ago when industry moguls did just about everything they could to prevent sport divers from using Nitrox. My, the ends they went to ...

* * * * *

Whod a thunk that the notion that divers can dive more safely by using Nitrox a gas with 32 percent oxygen and 68 percent nitrogen would have started a mud wrestling match in the diving industry thats on the verge of busting into a bare-knuckled fist fight.

In this corner, we have Skin Diver magazine, the Cayman Dive Operators Association, and PADI, among others. They argue that Nitrox is not safe that it leads to deeper and more risky diving. The motive for the promotion of Nitrox, they believe, is the almighty buck, since its being promoted by those who expect to make money from the training, sales of equipment and Nitrox, itself. This economic interest is grounds enough to cast suspicion upon those training or providing the gas.

In the other corner are 100 Nitrox stations, two Nitrox training agencies, NAUI and NASDS and a bunch of technical divers who argue that the safety record of Nitrox is nearly perfect and that the conservative, knee jerk reaction by the opposition is designed to protect their own turf.

Letters, faxes and editorials are flying about, and claims from both sides suffer from hyperbole. One claim is that Nitrox has been banned in the Caribbean, which isnt true. The Cayman Dive Operators Association has banned Nitrox which means youre not going to use it on a Bob Soto boat (God forbid you should be able to extend your bottom time by 30 minutes). But, it is available to Nitrox trained divers from a Cayman gas supply house.

The Cayman Association, speaking through the voice of the Cayman hyperbaric chamber, has stated that they would not treat a diver who was using Nitrox when he was bent. Thats pretty ridiculous. No reputable or ethical medical facility could refuse treatment. Dr. Bill Hamilton, president of Hamilton Research and noted physiologist, told us, I hate lawsuits but if treatment is refused to any injured diver using Nitrox, Ill be an expert witness if asked.

Nitrox, like compressed air, requires training in its use. And, the gas needs to be analyzed to determine the correct mixture. Neither compressed air nor Nitrox is a perfect diving gas. It is possible to be bent on both. It is possible to embolise on both. In July (1992) alone, eleven American divers died. Eight were using air. Three were using a mixed gas of some sort, but only one was trained and certified in its use. With compressed air, narcosis is a problem. Using Nitrox, oxygen toxicity is a problem, so depths must be limited to 130 fsw. Nitrox, however, within constraints, is safer than compressed air because it reduces the amount of nitrogen absorbed into the divers body.

While the debate continues, Nitrox diving will expand, computers will be sold, and more and more people will get into it. We can wrestle in the mud to fight progress. We cant stop it.

- Ben Davison, Undercurrent , January 1993

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