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by Abigail Van Buren

Oxygen Brings Breath of Life and Kiss of Death as Well

DEAR ABBY: You gave incorrect information to your readers when you stated that oxygen was extremely flammable and the oxygen should be turned off whenever one smokes.

Oxygen does not burn, Abby. It supports combustion. Users of oxygen have their clothes saturated with oxygen, and this is the source of the danger. Their clothes can go up in flames because of it. That's why the rule is, "No smoking around an oxygen user." -- ERNEST R. SCHLACTER, M.D., WICHITA, KAN.

DEAR DR. SCHLACTER: Thank you for correcting my error. I have heard from several readers about it. I have seen signs that read "No smoking near oxygen" and assumed the reason was because it was flammable.

Now I would like to share some of the education I received about oxygen from John P. Skulavik, D.S., respiratory care practitioner and registered respiratory therapist. He is the regional director of environmental, health and safety for Airgas in Lakewood, Calif.:

"Oxygen is neither flammable nor combustible; however, it can make an existing fire burn faster. Therefore, it is important that there be at least a 25-foot distance between oxygen and any flames, sparks, heaters or other source of ignition. Oxygen should never be stored in a small closet or confined space as it could create a fire hazard.

"Smoking while using medical oxygen is a very dangerous practice and should never occur, unless one is anxious to be transported via ambulance to the burn unit, and/or checked into the inside of a refrigerator at the coroner's office."

He further explained that workers who use oxygen should never use pressurized oxygen to blow dust or debris off clothing or surfaces because items saturated with oxygen are a disaster waiting to happen.

You've heard the cliche, "If you play with fire, expect to get burned." Well, the same holds true for oxygen. While oxygen is necessary for life, used improperly it can become an instrument of death.