In Coal Blood

Reading the following story, I couldn’t help thinking of the Turkish government’s “Hey, shit happens, what’s all the fuss about?” response to the death of several hundred humans in the recent mine disaster:

In 1767, the Newcastle Journal announced that the owners of coal mines had asked them to stop reporting the news of fatal mine accidents:


As we have been requested to take no particular notice of these things, which in fact, could have very little good tendency, we drop the further mentioning of it.


Besides cave-ins and floods, miners were commonly killed by three kinds of gas:

-Choke-damp was carbon dioxide, which is colorless and odorless but, of course, unbreathable. The way you recognized a pocket of choke-gas was that a person or several people would walk into it and drop dead. Occasionally, someone was rescued alive, but might not be right in the head afterward.

-White-damp was carbon monoxide. It was noted that small animals were even more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning than humans, so people started carrying them into the mines as alarms. At first they used mice, but then it was realized that a canary falling off its perch was easier to detect than a mouse looking poorly.

-Fire-damp was basically methane, which would accumulate at the top of the chamber until a candle got too near, and then explode. To disarm the fire-damp pockets before they could reach lethal size, mining companies used what they called fire-men. A guy in a wet suit (not a wetsuit, of course) would crawl along the mine floor with a long stick, at the end of which was a candle. When he encountered a suspected pocket, he would hold up the candle on the stick and duck.

These fun facts are taken from Barbara Freese, Coal: A Human History


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One Response to In Coal Blood

  1. Mary says:

    that is all VERY disturbing – the problems as well as the solutions.

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