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Disease from Carbonic Oxide Gas



Carbonic oxide is the product of the imperfect combustion of carbon in oxygen. It is produced in large quantities whenever charcoal or coke is burned in common air, as is so often done in the chafing-dish and stove in various industrial occupations. The gas is inodorous and most poisonous. I found by direct experi ment that one part in three thousand of this gas produced, by inhalation, extremely dangerous symptoms, namely, giddiness, drowsiness, unsteady movements of the heart, tremulous and con vulsive movements of the muscles, and nausea. I also discovered, some years ago, viz., in 1862, the curious fact that prolonged breathing of this gas, in minute quantities, gives rise, tempo rarily, to the disease known as diabetes.

Amongst the industrials exposed to carbonic oxide, certain of the symptoms I have named are frequently induced when the workers use burning coke in a closed room. I have found tin men and braziers suffering from this cause, and the influence of the same is felt by walking-stick makers and all others who are obliged to stand over the fumes of incandescent coke. After a time the body seems to become, to some extent, accustomed to the gas, but the bad effects are not therefore mitigated, though they be less severely felt. The chief symptoms complained of may be summed up in the one word vertigo. The sufferer tells you he is giddy, that he feels cold, and that his hand becomes unsteady at his labor. He leaves his work for a time, enters into a better at mosphere, obtains relief, and returns to his work again to feel the same symptoms. In the case of a brazier who worked in a small close shop, and who kept a chafing-dish at all times on his bench when he was using heated irons, the symptoms were at first those of nausea, which passed even to vomiting, flushing of the face, giddiness, as if he were spinning round, and faintness. He be came inured to some of these symptoms after a time, but lost appetite, and said he could not help feeling giddy, do what he would, until he was out of doors. Things seemed to be moving before him, and his hand was unsteady. An improved system of ventilation, with a shaft for removing products of respiration, put a stop to these dangers, but he suffered for a considerable time after the cause was withdrawn.

The women who work at the lace frame suffer from carbonic oxide under some circumstances. In cold weather they are led to place a chafing-dish of burning coke beneath the frame, and directly under their own nostrils, the object being to keep their hands warm for the performance of their work, which requires delicacy and precision of hand movement. In this way the women are made to breathe an atmosphere charged with carbonic oxide, from which they suffer severely, at first with acute, afterwards with chronic symptoms. The acute symptoms are headache, gid diness, nausea, faintness, flushing of the face, and irregular action of the heart. The chronic symptoms are, failure of appetite, fetor of breath, a nervous, hysterical condition, and anemia, with great depression of muscular power.

It has not as yet been ascertained whether the disease diabetes has actually been excited in those who work in an atmosphere containing carbonic oxide, but it has been observed, in corrobora tion of the experimental evidence I before mentioned, that some men exposed, by accident, to the gas were rendered diabetic for a period after their recovery from the narcotic effect and from the other immediately dangerous conditions into which they had been cast. Carbonic oxide forms a part of all coal gas, existing in the purest coal gas in considerable proportions-7.85 per cent. It thus becomes diffused, in small quantities, from the burners into the air of badly-ventilated rooms and shops in which gas is largely employed for lighting and warming. I believe that in this man ner carbonic oxide is a common cause of nervous derangement and dyspepsia.

Carbonic oxide is the chief cause of the headache, nausea, and giddiness which are experienced whenever coal gas is directly es caping into rooms where it is introduced for lighting or heating purposes. Carbonic oxide also escapes, sometimes, from badly constructed furnaces and poisons the air. An instance of this, described by the late Dr. John Davy, took place in a church at Ambleside, and caused serious illness to large numbers of the congregation.

symptoms, time, coke, nausea, giddiness, air and unsteady