Why the canary ?

There was a regulation that in coal mines, canaries had to be available for use as gas detectors. According to the BBC this was until the late 1980s. My father was a mining engineer for the (British) National Coal Board, the state company that used to own and run nearly all the coal mines in the UK. He retired shortly before the Lancashire coalfield closed.

As children, my sisters and I were taken to the Mines Rescue Station at Boothstown, in the heart of the Lancashire coalfield. I remember seeing a wall of canaries in cages. The rescue station also had an underground rescue simulator and one of my sisters recalls simulated gas explosions.

The history of the rescue station is described on a very interesting website. There are reminiscences and information about pioneering breathing apparatus, and much else.

I believe I read that canaries weren’t very effective as gas detectors – CO (Carbon Monoxide) maybe but not firedamp (methane). The theory that small body=small lungs=quick to respond may not have been right.

Does anyone know ? – to comment, click on the icon next to the title.

And then there’s the story written by **** ******** about a triplicated fire and gas system, which involved canaries in cages connected via piano wires to the three CPUs (Central Polly Units) that would squawk “There’s Gas in here…”

That’s why the canary…

Jon

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One Response to “Why the canary ?”

  1. Louens Odendaal says:

    I was an electrical engineer in the Anglo American mines in South Africa. Some of the gold mines in the Free State area had methane gas.We were told that in the old days miners use to carry the canary in a cage as the walk down the stope to the work place. It was said that because methane gas was heavier than oxygen the canary would give early warning that there is a gas build up on the floor. Could this be methane or CO ? Later on methane gas detectors were developed for the mines Regards

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