Where does the oxygen in airline masks come from and why does it smell different?

Little we know about oxygen masks that airplanes have on the seats of passengers and that fall in front of them in an emergency. Beyond the fact that they are essential so that we can breathe during a flight if the plane depressurizes and that we must pull them when they fall and then place them on our nose and mouth, our knowledge is null.

A woman fastens an oxygen mask on an airplane.

Where does the oxygen we breathe from the mask come from? And why doesn’t it smell like the one we breathe in the street? The YouTube channel of the American Chemical Society, Reactions, has answered these questions through an explanatory video in which he categorically rules out that there is an oxygen cylinder located above our heads that is connected to the masks, collects Gizmodo.

In reality, oxygen is generated thanks to a set of chemical reactions which we trigger by pulling on the mask when it falls. Thus, we release sodium chlorate, stored in a small tank, which decomposes when heated and produces oxygen.

The smell of this oxygen is different to which we normally breathe, since in order for us to breathe for a while, the oxygen must heat a small proportion of the iron powder, which causes it to smell of burning. The masks will provide us with air for approximately 20 minutes.

Another curiosity about this mechanism is that in the tanks there is a barium peroxide filter that removes chlorine gas released as a result of the reaction.

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