Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/391

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385
STUFFY ROOMS

At sea-level the pressure of oxygen in the pulmonary alveolar air is about 100 mm. Hg. Exposed to only half this pressure the hemoglobin is more than 80 per cent, saturated with oxygen.

In noted health resorts of the Swiss mountains the barometer stands at such a height that the concentration of oxygen is far less than in the more ventilated room. On the high plateau of the Andes there are great cities: Potosi with a hundred thousand inhabitants is at 4,165 meters, and the partial pressure of oxygen there is about 13 per cent. of an atmosphere in place of 71 per cent, at sea-level; railways and mines have been worked up to altitudes of 14,000 to 15,000 feet. At Potosi girls dance half the night, and toreadors display their skill in the ring. On the slopes of the Himalayas shepherds take their flocks to altitudes of 18,000 feet. No disturbance is felt by the inhabitants or those who reach these great altitudes slowly and by easy stages. The only disability to a normal man is diminished power for severe exertion, but a greater risk arises from want of oxygen to cases of heart disease, pneumonia, and in chloroform anesthesia at these high altitudes. The newcomer who is carried by the railway in a few hours to the top of Pikes Peak or the Andes may surfer severely from mountain sickness, especially on exertion, and the cause of this is want of oxygen. Acclimatization is brought about in a few days' time. The pulmonary ventilation increases, the bronchial tubes dilate, the circulation becomes more rapid. The increased pulmonary ventilation lowers the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood and pulmonary air, and this contributes to the maintenance of an adequate partial pressure of oxygen. Haldane and Douglas say that the percentage of red corpuscles and total quantity of the hemoglobin increases, and maintain that the oxygen is actively secreted by the lung into the blood, but the C method by which their determinations have been made has not met with unqualified acceptance. If waste products, which arise from oxygen want, alter the combining power of hemoglobin, this alteration may not persist in shed blood; for these products may disappear when the blood is exposed to air. Owing to the combining power of hemoglobin the respiratory exchange and metabolism of an animal within wide limits is independent of the partial pressure of oxygen. On the other hand, the process of combustion is dependent not on the pressure but on the percentage of oxygen. Thus the aeroplanist may become seized with altitude sickness from oxygen want, while his gas engine continues to carry him to loftier heights.

The partial pressure of oxygen in a mine at a depth of 3,000 feet is considerably higher than at sea-level, and if the percentage is reduced to 17, while the firing of fire-damp and coal dust is impossible, there need be in the alveolar air of the lungs no lower pressure of oxygen than at sea-level. Thus the simplest method of preventing