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"WMS: Golding Bird on carbonic acid poisoning"

(24 November 1838)

Presentation of a new mechanical apparatus by John Read, which among other uses, could serve as a respirator.

"After the retirement of Mr. Read, Dr. Chowne inquired of Dr. Golding Bird if the evidence ascribed to him by a report in the Times of that day, and referring to a case of supposed poisoning by carbonic acid, was correct. In the Times, Dr. Bird was made to say that twelve per cent. of carbonic acid diffused in the air, was sufficient to produce death; but that ten per cent. was not. He (Dr. Chowne) would be glad to know of Dr. Bird whether he really thought that the two per cent. constituted the difference between life and death?

Dr. Bird replied, that the evidence ascribed to him by the reporter in the Times, was not only not correct, but the precise contrary of what he said. It was not to be supposed that he could state that 10 per cent. of carbonic acid could be inhaled with impunity, when he knew that 8 per cent. was sufficient to produce a spasmodic closure of the glottis. What he really stated in evidence was, that different quantities of carbonic acid produced different effects; four per cent. would produce coma, a little more asphyxia, and from 8 to 10 per cent. suffocation, by spasmodic closure of the glottis. With regard to the man who died in St. Michael's church, in the city, a difference of opinion existed. Mr. Cooper, the eminent chemist, thought that the carbonic acid, when generated, would be rendered specifically lighter by the augmented carbonic, and consequently ascend to the top of the chamber; whence, as it cooled, it would gradually descend, and mix in wholesome proportion with the atmosphere, thus proving totally innocuous. In his (Dr. Bird's) opinion, this law of the admixture of gases was not proved. In all crowded assemblies, in all ventilated apartments, in the Grotto del Cane, and in the celebrated Valley of Death in Java, it was shewn that carbonic acid had no great disposition to a intermix with other gases, but remained in dense strata near the ground. In St. Michael's church, near the stone where the man lay dead, the air over the floor was highly impregnated with carbonic acid. In stooping to collect some of it in a phial, he (Dr. B.) was affected with headache and throbbing of the temples; and some water, which he held in his hand, was instantly, made turbid.

The heat emanating from the stove was never higher than 68° Fah., and therefore not sufficient to cause, as had been stated, an unwholesome exhalation from the adjacent tombs.

His (Dr. B.'s) observations were not directed against Harper and Joyce's stove in particular - this was certainly a most elegant contrivance - but against all such apparatus in which no sufficient vent was given to the gases generated by the combustion of charcoal.

"Westminster Medical Society." LMG 23 (1838-39): 380-82.

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