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) [[wiki: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…



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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