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CANARIES IN COAL MINES 

Canaries as Lifesavers

In former times pets were not unusual in pits, but it’s an important fact in the history of the Canary Bird, that in some countries canaries mainly were taken for the rescue of miners in mining pits, namely as a gas detector. From the German history of canaries we know, that Tyrolean silver miners in the early 19th century brought  their canaries to St. Andreasberg/Harz in Germany. From here began not only the triumph of the “Harzer Roller”, but also here the canary was probably already taken into the silver mines. Unfortunately still missing the written evidence, whether for singing or even as an“early warning system”. At the commemorative medal “75 Jahre Grubenrettunswesen” of the coal industry Essen/Deutschland a rescue team of 1909 is shown with a bird cage. A canary bird? In the written history (around 1913) is Mr. John Scott Haldane as the first named who recommended canaries as an “early warning system” in pits. His experiments led to the result that canaries and also other birds were due to their anatomy on most suitable. But why canaries? It is purely a personal guess, but in most mining settlements of Germany and Great Britain canaries were bred as a leisure activity.
In Americas gold mines (California), Silver mines (Nevada) and also in Great Britain coal mines, miners took their canaries in cages down into the mines with them as a carbon monoxide detector or also other poisonous underground gases. Carbon monoxide, a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas, could easily form underground during a mine fire or after an explosion. Following a mine fire or after an explosion, a rescue team climbed down into the mine, carrying a canary in a small wooden or metal cage. Any changing of the behavior from the canary was a clear signal and the miners knew that they were in danger, and the evacuation of the pit was initiated. Just as in all industrial branches the modern technology  progressed and in 1986 the last 200 canaries are being unnecessary and phased out from the service in Great Britain coal mines. This action ended a mining tradition in Great Britain dating back to 1911, since when two canaries have been used by each pit. A big mile stone in the history of the canary birds ended!
     A rescue team checks the         condition of a canary
A coal miner shows his “Lifesaver”
Report of the former miner Dennis. C.: "I used to work at Kellingley Colliery in Yorkshire. It was the last deep mine in the UK. Recently closed. We had Canaries on site ready for emergencies. (Kellingley Colliery was a deep coal mine in North Yorkshire, England, 3.6 miles east of Ferrybridge power station. It was owned and operated by UK Coal. The colliery closed on 18 December 2015, marking the end of deep-pit coal mining in Britain). In the UK canaries were apparently used right up to the 20th century and phased out as recently as 1986.
Comment on a documentary about Canaries in the Coal Mines: In the early part of the 20th century, miners in the United States took caged canaries into coal mines in order to provide warning of the presence of toxic gasses including carbon monoxide and methane. Canaries would visibly show distress and sway on their perches in the presence low concentrations of carbon monoxide before toppling over. The concept of the "canary in the coal mine" giving warning of a human health hazard is based on several principles. First, canaries were found to be more sensitive than both humans and other animals such as mice to the toxic effects of carbon monoxide. Second, the birds were allowed to share the same air exposures as the humans. Third, the occurrence of carbon monoxide poisoning in a bird was quite recognizable to the miners, since sick birds would tend to fall off of their perches and appear visibly ill. An article appearing in a 1914 issue of the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry provides a simple description of the concept (Burrell G, Seibert F. Experiments with small animals and carbon monoxide. Jl Indust Eng Chem. 1914;6:241--244.): Birds and mice may be used to detect carbon monoxide, because they are much more sensitive to the poisonous action of the gas than are men. Experiments by the Bureau of Mines show that canaries should be used in preference to mice, sparrows, or pigeons, because canaries are more sensitive to the gas. Rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs, or dogs, although useful for exploration work in mines, should be used only when birds or mice are unobtainable, and then, cautiously, because of their greater resistance to carbon monoxide poisoning. . . . Breathing apparatus must be used where birds show signs of distress, and, for this reason, birds are of great value in enabling rescue parties to use breathing apparatus to best advantage. For more on the use of animals as sensitive indicators of environmental hazards, providing an early warning system for public health, read the 2011Public Health Report - Animal Sentinels for Environmental and Public Health ) by John S. Reif, DVM, MSc, at Colorado State University, Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. This is clipped from the 1926 film by the US Bureau of Mines titles, Oxygen Breathing Apparatus. The film shows the kinds of breathing apparatus used in mine rescues and explains their various parts. A mine rescue team explores a mine, testing for low oxygen content and carbon monoxide. The entire film is posted to my channel. This US Bureau of Mines film and many others are available at the US National Archive in College Park, Maryland. Source: Bird Keeping