Deadly Souveniers and Cigarettes

By E.R. Cross

Comments and questions from predominately recreational Skin Diver readers indicate a worldwide interest in divable wrecks of all types and ages. In the past decade CrossTalk has received questions and helpful safety suggestions on several interesting wreck sites. A review of the findings and actions taken on some of these wrecks seems appropriate.

From Kwajalein Atoll
Several questionable souvenirs were recovered by a recreational diver from a wreck in Kwajalein Atoll.

U. S. Customs agents had the contents of the collected glass vials analyzed. Some were found to contain potentially harmful substances such as aconitine (a violent poison and severe depressant), silver nitrate (a poison) and silver acetate. Black particles in other bottles turned out to be carbon black saturated with a gas similar to phosgene, a deadly chemical warfare agent. Fortunately these were analyzed, found to be potentially dangerous chemicals and destroyed. The contents of any vials, bottles, jugs, cans and other containers should be analyzed before they become souvenirs. Doing so might save a life.

From Detroit, Michigan
A few years ago a diver reported, Recently I found a 105mm artillery shell; just the bullet end. It weighed about 15 pounds. It had a brass head and an inner cylinder of brass. This souvenir is also very dangerous. Many years ago I did a diving job in Utah involving the recovery of a truck load of 105mm shells. The truck had gone off a cliff onto a reservoir behind a dam. Of the 540 rounds of 105mm shells that I recovered from 80 feet of zero-viz water, several had to be detonated at a safe distance by an ordnance technician because they were too dangerous to handle. One, not considered dangerous, reportedly exploded while being unloaded at an army depot where it killed two workers.

Regardless of how long they have been underwater, all military ordnance, including old cannon balls, unidentified material from warships, military planes and combat vehicles, should be left alone. Do not add to the potential for diving problems by handling and recovering unknown objects or unknown material. It can be downright dangerous to your health.

From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
A reader wrote about one of the great legends of Pittsburgh: the missing B-25 bomber. This 10-ton plane with a 70-foot wingspan crashed into the Monongahela River near the Homestead High Level Bridge on January 31, 1956. As of July 1985 the plane had never been found. The reader continued, One of the myths about this plane is that it quickly sank into the muddy bottom of the river because it was loaded with gold for a payroll. Can CrossTalk readers fill in the history on this wreck site? It truly sounds like embellished folklore to me. A final thought for wreck divers: Do thorough research before you begin a dive.

Cigarettes and Diving
Carboxyhemoglobin is a compound formed in the blood from the body's hemoglobin on exposure to carbon monoxide, usually from cigarette smoke. The Undersea Journal (lst Quarter, l985) reported on three basic problems suffered by smokers. Two of the problems apply to nondivers as well as to divers: reduced wind capacity and the formation of carboxyhemoglobin by the binding of the carbon monoxide of cigarette smoke to the hemoglobin in the blood. The third potential threat to a diver's health is that cigarette smoke increases airway resistance and partial or complete airway obstruction by stationary mucus. This can lead to lung tissue damage during a normal ascent from a dive. In severe cases, it could lead to an air embolism. In the Undersea Journal the author recommends that divers avoid smoking cigarettes at least two hours before diving.

As a testimony to this, I started my diving career in 1934 when I was a moderately heavy smoker. In 1942, during a diving job in Panama, I was having trouble getting enough air in my lungs to provide oxygen needed for the heavy exertion required for the work involved. It was either quit smoking or quit diving. I quit smoking and continued diving without problems for the next 42 years. Try quitting completely. At age 86 I still find it has been good for my health. Being a nonsmoker will be good for your health, too.

Try one of life's great challenges. Quit smoking cold turkey. Ultimately, you'll be glad you did.