This subject of, the ventilation of rooms in which common gas is ordinarily used is beginning to attract attention. It is stated, upon scientific authority, that a jet of common gas, equivalent to twelve sperm candles, consumes 5.45 cubic feet of oxygen per hour, producing 3.21 feet of carbonic acid gas, vitiating, according to Dr. Tidy's "Handbook of Chemistry," 348.25 cubic feet of air. In every five cubic feet of pure air in a room there is one cubic foot of oxygen and four of nitrogen. Without oxygen human life, as well as light, would become extinct. It is asserted that one common gas-jet consumes as much oxygen as five persons.
Carbonic acid gas is the element which, in deep mines and vaults, causes almost instant insensibility and suffocation to persons subjected to its influences, and instantly extinguishes the flame of any light lowered into it. The normal quantity of this gas contained in the air we breathe is 0.04; one per cent, of it causes distress in breathing; two per cent, is dangerous; four per cent, extinguishes life, and four per cent of it is contained in air expelled from the lungs. According to Dr. Tidy's table, each ordinary jet of common gas contributes to the air of a room sixteen by ten feet on the sides and nine feet high, containing 1,440 cubic feet of air, twenty-two per cent, of carbonic acid gas, which, continued for twenty-four hours without ventilation, would reach the fatal four per cent.
Prof. Huxley gives, as a result of chemical analyses, the following table of ratio of carbonic-acid gas in the atmosphere at the points named:
On the Thames, at London 0.0343 In the streets of London 0.0380 Top of Ben Nevis 0.0327 Dress circle of Haymarket theater (11:30 P.M.) 0.0757 Chancery Court (seven feet from the ground) 0.1930 From working mines (average of 339 samples) 0.7853 Largest amount in a Cornish mine 2.0500
In addition to the consumption of oxygen and production of carbonic acid by the use of common gas, the gas itself, owing to defectiveness of the burner, is projected into the air. Now, considering the deleterious nature of all illuminating gases, the reasons for perfect ventilation of rooms in which natural gas is used for heating and culinary purposes are self-evident, not alone as a protection against explosions, but for the health of the occupants of the house, remembering that a larger supply of oxygen is said to be necessary for the perfect combustion of natural than of common gas.
Carbonic oxide, formed by the consumption of carbon, with an insufficient supply of air, is the fatal poison of the charcoal furnace, not infrequently resorted to, in close rooms, as a means of suicide. The less sufficient the air toward perfect combustion, the smaller the quantity of carbonic acid and the greater the amount of carbonic oxide. That is to say, at the time of ignition the chief product of combustion is carbonic oxide, and, unless sufficient air be added to convert the oxide to carbonic acid, a decidedly dangerous product is given off into the room. Yet, by means of a flue to carry off the poisonous gases from burning jets, the combustion of gas, creating a current, is made an aid to ventilation. Unfortunately, this important fact, if commonly known, is not much heeded by heads of families or builders of houses. But in any large community where gas comes into general use as an article of fuel, this fact will gradually become recognized and respected.
The property of indicating the presence of very minute quantities of gas in a room is claimed for an instrument recently described by C. Von Jahn in the Revue Industrielle. This is a porous cup, inverted and closed by a perforated rubber stopper. Through the perforation in the stopper the interior of the cup is connected with a pressure gauge containing colored water. It is claimed that the diffusion of gas through the earthenware raises the level of the water in the gauge so delicately that the presence of one-half of one per cent, of gas may be detected by it. Other instruments of a slightly different character are credited by their inventors with most sensitive power of indicating gas-leakages, but their practical efficiency remains to be demonstrated. An automatic cut-off for use outside of houses in which natural gas is consumed has been invented, but this writer knows nothing of either its mode of action or its effectiveness.
The great economic question, however, connected with the use of natural gas is, how will it affect the industrial interests of the country? There are grounds for the belief that a sufficient supply of natural gas may be found in the vicinity of Pittsburg to reduce the cost of fuel to such a degree as to make competition in the manufacture of iron, steel, and glass, in any part of the country where coal must be used, out of the question. Such a condition of affairs would probably result in driving the great manufacturing concerns of the country into the region where natural gas is to obtained. That may be anywhere from the western slope of the Alleghanies to Lake Erie or to Lake Michigan. And, if the cost of producing iron, steel, and glass can be so cheapened by the new fuel, the tariff question may undergo some important modification in politics. For, if the reduction in the cost of fuel should ever become an offset to the lower rate of wages in Europe, the manufacturers of Pennsylvania, who have long been the chief support of the protective policy of the country, may lose their present interest in that question, and leave the tariff to shift for itself elsewhere.
It should be remembered that natural gas is not, as yet, much cheaper than coal in Pittsburg. But it may safely be assumed that it will cheapen, as petroleum has done, by a development of the territory in which it is known to exist in enormous quantities. It is quite possible that, instead of buying gas, many factories will bore for it with success, or remove convenient to its natural sources, so that a gas well may ultimately become an essential part of the "plant" of a mill or factory. Even now coal cannot compete with gas in the manufacture of window glass, for, the gas being free from sulphur and other impurities contained in coal, produces a superior quality of glass; so that in this branch of industry the question of superiority seems already settled.