Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/392

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

explosions in coal mines is that proposed by J. Harger, viz., to ventilate them with air containing 17 per cent, of oxygen.[1] There is little doubt that all the great mine-explosions have been caused by the enforcement of a high degree of chemical purity of the air. In the old days when ventilation was bad there were no great dust explosions. Mr. W. H. Chambers, general manager of the Cadeby mine, where the recent disastrous explosion occurred, with the authority of his great and long practical experience of fiery mines, told me that the spontaneous combustion of coal and the danger of explosion can be wholly met by adequate diminution in ventilation. The fires can be choked out while the miners can still breathe and work. The Coal Mines Regulation Act enforces that a place shall not be in a fit state for working or passing therein, if the air contains either less than 19 per cent, of oxygen, or more than 11/2 per cent, of carbon dioxide. A mine liable to spontaneous combustion of coal may be exempted from this regulation by order of the Secretary of State.

The regulations impel the provision of such a ventilation current that the percentage of oxygen is sufficient for the spread of dust explosions along the intake airways, with the disastrous results so frequently recorded. If the mine were ventilated with air containing 17 per cent, of oxygen in sufficient volume to keep the miners cool and fresh, not only would explosions be prevented, but the mines could be safely worked and illuminated with electricity, and miners' nystagmus prevented, for this is due to the dim light of the safety lamp. The problem possibly may be solved by purifying and cooling the return air, and mixing and circulating this with a sufficiency of fresh air.

Owing to the fact that the percentage of is the usual test of ventilation and that only a very few parts per 10,000 in excess of fresh air are permitted by the English Factory Acts, it is generally supposed that is a poison and that any considerable excess has a deleterious effect on the human body. No supposition could be further from the truth.

The percentage of in the worst ventilated room does not rise above 0.5 per cent., or at the outside 1 per cent. It is impossible that any excess of should enter into our bodies when we breathe such air, for whatever the percentage of in the atmosphere may be, that in the pulmonary air is kept constant at about 5 to 6 per cent, of an atmosphere—by the action of the respiratory center. It is the concentration of which rules the respiratory center, and to such purpose as to keep the concentration both in the lungs and in the blood uniform (Haldane); the only result from breathing air containing 0.5 to 1 per cent, of is an inappreciable increase in the ventila-

  1. Trans. Inst, of Mining Engineers, 1912.