Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sanitary Re.

Contributions from the Sanitary Research Laboratory and Sewage Experiment Station online

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Chast 2.

decUned, while that from illuminating gas poisoning has greatly
increased, so much so that the latter bids fair soon to exceed the
former.

The death rate from poisoning by illuminating gas was higher
in Massachusetts in 1907 than from scarlet fever in 1905 and 1906,
while in Rhode Island the death rate from illuminating gas from
1903 to 1907 was at times higher than that in Massachusetts from
either scarlet fever or measles. Poisoning by illuminating gas has



Digitized by LjOOQ IC



Illuminating Gas and Public Health



389



evidently become in Massachusetts and in Rhode Island a cause
of death nearly as efiFective as are scarlet fever or measles. It has
of late years claimed as many victims as has typhoid fever in
some American and many German cities.

amounts and kinds of illuminating gas manufactured in
massachusetts (1886-i909).

The following table (Table 2), the main features of which appear
also on Chart 2, p. 388, shows the amoimts of total illuminating gas
(coal-gas and water-gas) and of water-gas, manufactured in each
year in Massachusetts. The data are derived from the Annual
Reports of the Gas Commissioners.

TABLE a.

Amounts oj Illuionatino Gas Made and op Watsk-Gas, and Deaths from Illuminatzno Gas in

Massachusetts.

(1886-1909.)



Years Ending June 30



Total Coal- and
Water-Gas Made
(MilUon Cu. Ft.)



Water-Gas Made
(Million Cu. Ft.)



Deaths from
Illuminating Gas



1886
1887
1888
1889
1890
1891
1892
1893
1894
189s
1896
1897
1898
1899
1900
1901
190a
1903
1904
190s
1906
1907
1908
1909



2,625
2,76s
3,010
3.156
3.346
3.300
3.370
3.594
3.671
3.955
4,639
4.731
4.901
5.1 20
5,608
6,059
6,372
7,776
7,882
8,126
8,902
9,998
10,902
11,360



12
28
47
78

212

777
1,231
1.467
2,022
2,413
2.876
3.090
3,167
3.265
2,881
1,961
2,400
2,989
3.335
3.373
3.536
4.471
4,862
5.518



4
7
19
21
26
29
45

II

77
70
SO

^

78
64
64
74
92
148
114



The same facts are depicted graphically upon Chart 2, which
deserves and will repay careful study. The apparent discrepancy
between these data of deaths and those given on other tables is
due to the fact that the "years" end here on June 30, and not as in
the other cases on December 31.



Digitized by LjOOQ IC



390 W. T. Sedgwick and F. Schneider, Jr.

A COMPARISON OF MORTALITY FROM ILLUMINATING GAS IN MASSA-
CHUSETTS WITH AMOUNTS AND KINDS OF GAS MANUFACTURED.

From Table 2 and Chart 2 it appears that the total quantity of
illuminating gas made in Massachusetts has, on the whole, increased
rather steadily, year by year, since 1886. Once only has there
been a slight decrease (in 1891) and at times (as in 1896, 1903,
1906, 1907, and 1908) the increase has been very rapid. The curve
on Chart 2 shows also on the whole a much more rapid annual in-
crease of output in the later than in the earlier years.

The total quantity of water-gas made shows likewise, on the
whole, a great increase since its distribution for illuminating pur-
poses became legally possible in 1890. But the water-gas curve,
though approximately parallel to the total gas curve for the years
since 1901, was not so before that time. On the contrary, from
1890 to 1896 it was rising much more rapidly; from 1899 it waa
nearly parallel; and from 1899 to 1901 it decUned sharply, whereas
the total gas production increased more rapidly than before.

The third line on Chart 2, the heavy black Une, shows the
deaths, year by year, from illuminating gas in Massachusetts, and,
like the other two lines, it shows on the whole a great increase since
1890. It is, however, much less regular in form, and the increase
which it shows is much greater than that shown by the other two
lines. To the line of total gas production it shows only the most
general relation of rapid increase, and that only with numerous
and striking exceptions of departure, as in 1896, 1899, 1900,
1 901, 1904, 1905, and 1909. If the number of deaths had merely
increased pari passu with the total amount of gas manufactured,
we must have supposed that the poisonous quality of the gas had
remained constant and the habits of the consumers unchanged.
But this is clearly not the case. The deaths increased very much
more rapidly from 1890 to 1898 and from 1901 to 1908 than did
the total amount of gas made, while from 1898 to 1901 and from
1903 to 1906 deaths actually decreased while total gas production
increased. We are therefore driven to seek some other explanation
for the great increase of deaths from illuminating gas than the
mere expansion of the industry and the increasing use of gas.

For an explanation we need not look far. If, instead of com-



Digitized by LjOOQ IC



Illuminating Gas and Public Health 391

paring the death curve with the curve of total illuminating gas,
we compare it with that of water-gas made, we find a remarkable,
though not a perfect, general correspondence. Except in 1896,
1899, 1904, and 1909, this general correspondence is close and
striking, both curves rising and falling together, though often at
different rates. The general increase in deaths, barring the excep-
tional years noted, may therefore be readily explained by the
general increase in the amount of water-gas made.

From 1898 to 1908 the amount of total gas made had doubled,
while the fatalities had not quite done likewise. But while the
quantity of total gas made increased about fivefold from 1886 to
1908, the fatalities increased nearly thirty fold. At the same time
we find the variations in the amount of water-gas manufactured
coinciding much more nearly with the fluctuations in the number
of deaths. The remarkable increase of such deaths in 1891 cor-
responds with the first appearance of ai;iy large amount of water-
gas. And when the deaths reached a maximum in 1897-99
water-gas had reached a percentage proportion of the total output
which it has never equaled either before or since.

In 1900 the New England Gas and Coke Company installed a
large coal-gas plant in Everett, and the effect of the introduction
of their product into the illuminating gas of the Metropolitan Dis-
trict was to produce an actual decrease for three or four years in
the total amount of water-gas manufactured in the state. It is
noteworthy and significant that this decrease corresponds closely
with the low phase of 1901 in the curve of deaths by gas poisoning.
But, as indicated by the diagram, the natural growth of the gas
industry soon called for more gas. The check to the production
of water-gas in 1901 was only temporary and the increased output
since 1901 has been attended by a corresponding increase in deaths
from gas poisoning.

In consideration of all these facts we are warranted in concluding
that the amount of water-gas produced stands in some close rela-
tion to the number of deaths by illuminating gas. This conclusion
is justified and confirmed by a comparison of the percentage which
water-gas formed of the total gas manufactured, with the deaths
per billion feet of total gas produced. If the water-gas is really to



Digitized by LjOOQ IC



392



W. T. Sedgwick and F. Schneider, Jr.



blame, the larger the percentage of water-gas the more dangerous
should be each unit of the resultant product. On the other hand,
by dividing the deaths from gas poisoning by the total amount of
g^,s made, we should obtain a measure of the poisonous effect of a
unit of the total gas. In other words, if the theory that water-gas
has been the primary cause of the deaths by gas poisoning is true,
we should expect to find some general agreement between the
percentage of water-gas to total gas made, and deaths by gas poison-
ing for each unit, such as a billion feet, of total gas made. That
such agreement actually exists appears from Table 3 and its cor-
responding chart (Chart 3).

TABLE 3.

Percentage Which Water-Gas Made Was op Total Illuminatino Gas

Made, and Deaths per Billion Cubic Feet op Total

Illuminating Gas Made (Massachusetts, 1887-1909).



Year Ending June 30



1887.
1888.
1889.
1890.
1891.
1892.
1893.
1894.

1896!
1897.
1898.
1899.
1900.
190Z.
1902.
1903.
1904.
1905.
1906.
1907.
1908.
1909.



Percentage of


Deaths per Billion


Water-Gas Made


Cubic Feet of


to Total Gas Made


Total Gas Made


1. 01


1.09


I.S6


1. 17


2.43


0.64


6.34


2.10


22.20


S.76


36.60


6.24


40.80


7.24


SS. 00


7.90


61.00


11.39


62.00


7.12


65.40


13.31


64.60


15.70


63.80


13.67


SI. 40


8.92


32.30


6. II


• 37.70


7. 54


38.40


9.78


42.30


8.12


41.30


7.88


39.70


8.31


44.70


9.20


48^60


13-57
10.05



Table 3, and especially Chart 3, shows a remarkable concordance
between the percentage of water-gas manufactured year by year
and the corresponding death rate (ratio) from illuminating gas per
billion feet of total gas made. In spite of some differences (as, for
example, 1896, 1904, 1906, 1908, 1909), it is difficult to avoid the
conclusion that the water-gas curve and the death curve stand in
the relation of cause and effect.



Digitized by LjOOQ IC



Illuminating Gas and Public Health



393



The agreement between the variations in the percentage of
water-gas made and the number of deaths year by year is obviously
not absolute, but when we reflect upon the actual conditions under
which water-gas is made and distributed, we may well be surprised
that the agreement is as close as it is. For illuminating gas is
sold in Massachusetts by many companies and under a great





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Chart 3.

variety of conditions. Some companies distribute only coal-gas
and some only water-gas, but most distribute a mixture of the two.
And this mixture may vary widely from time to time in the per-
centage of the two gases. Again, there is, as we shall learn beyond,
a marked seasonal variation in the deaths from illuminating gas,
and there is good reason to believe that the mildness or severity of
Massachusetts winters may cause annual as well as seasonal varia-
tions in the mortality from gas poisoning. These various factors
naturally forbid any absolute correspondence between the amount



Digitized by LjOOQ IC



394



W. T. Sedgwick and F. Schneider, Jr.



of water-gas made and the deaths from gas poisoning. When we
consider this great variety of circumstances, the wonder is, not
that the two curves occasionally differ, but that they run so
nearly parallel.

THE USii OF ILLUMINATING GAS IN MASSACHUSETTS FOR PURPOSES

OF SUICIDE.

Since 1890 illuminating gas has been gradually discovered by
the public to be a convenient and effective means of suicide.
Whereas before that time it was very diflSicult to commit suidde

TABLE B.

Deates from Illuminating Gas Poisoning (Massachusetts, 1886-1909).
(Medical Examiners' Returns.)



Years Ending June 30

i886*

1887

1888

1889

1890

1891

1892

1893

1894

189s

1896

:ISI:::::::::::::::::::::

1899

1900

1901

1902

1903

1904

190S

1906

1907

1908

1909

I 909t

Totals

* First six months.



Accidental Deaths



Suicidal Deaths



Total Deaths



4
7
2
S

18
9
7

^4



47
48
35
35



9
47
29
41

35
41
55
43
23



9

15
17

13
16
29
35
15

26
39
30
35
23

39
SI
93

71
31



26
29

45

33
63
77
70
50

37
48
77
64
64

74

92

148

114

54



624



607



1.231



t Second six months.



by the use of illuminating gas, and probably very few would-be
suicides resorted to its use, it has come of late years to be one of
the easiest and surest agents of self-destruction. The reports of
the Medical Examiners contain ample evidence of this fact.

Table B, prepared by us from the returns of the Medical



Digitized by LjOOQ IC



Illuminating Gas and Public Health



395



Examiners, shows not only the use, but the increasing use; of
illuminating gas for purposes of suicide. At the same time this
table is a sufficient answer to those who have the assurance to
proclaim that, excepting as it is used by suicides, water-gas is no
more dangerous to life than is coal-gas.

Of the 1,231 deaths by gas poisoning reported by the Medical
Examiners in the years 1 886-1 909, 607, or 49.4 per cent, were



table 4.

Death Rates frok Poisoning by Illuionating Gas and from Accidental and frok Suicidal

Poisoning by Illuionating Gas, (Massachusetts, 1887-1909).

(Medical Examiners' Returns.)



Year Ending June 30

1887

1888

1889

1890

1891

1892

1893

1894

189s

1896

1897

1898

1899

I9C»

1901 ,

1902 ,

1903

1904

190S

1906

1907

1908

1909



Gas Deaths (Totals)



Gas Accidents



Gas Suicides



0.251
0.381
0.180

0.31
0.831
0.690
1.034
1. 184

1.804
1. 129
2.40
2.87
2.SS

1.78
1.30
1.66
2.63
2.16

2.13
2.41
2.92
4.60
3 46



0.19
0.33
0.09

0.22
0.79
0.33
0.71
O.S7

1. 12
0.78
1.79
1.79
1.28

1.25

0.39
0.31
1. 61
0.98

1.36

1. 14
1.30
1. 71
1. 31



0.5

0.0s

0.09

0.09
0.04

0.51
0.38

0.61

0.68
0.51
1. 61
1.08
1.27

0.54

0.91

1.3s
1.03
1. 18

0.77

1.27
1.62
2.89
2.16



reported by them to be suicides and the remainder accidental
deaths. Table B gives these data in detail for the separate years.

We have also computed, for the same period, the death rates
from illuminating gas and those by illuminating gas from acci-
dental sources and from suicidal sources, as reported by the Medi-
cal Examiners (Table 4 and Chart 4). It is hardly necessary to'
repeat that these, while obviously open to the objection that they
represent merely the opinion of the Medical Examiners, are the
best data we have and are probably on the whole not far wrong.

It may, of course, be urged that it is often difficult even for
expert medical examiners to discover whether or not a particular



Digitized by LjOOQ IC



396



W. T. Sedgwick and F. Schneider, Jr.



death was suicidal or accidental. But even if this be granted and
if some deaths reported as accidents were really suicides, the reverse
may likewise be true, and there is no good reason to doubt that in
a large percentage of cases the Medical Examiners' returns are
correct. If any reasonable doubt could exist as to the fact that
many accidental deaths do occur from poisoning by illuminating









































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Chart 4.

gas it would be dissipated by an examination of the data shown on
the following table (Table s) and its corresponding chart (Chart s).
This table and its corresponding plate shows how sudden was
the increase in 1891 of deaths from illuminating gas, an increase
much more reasonably explained by increase in accidents than by
increase in suicidal use of the new and as yet generally unknown
poison, especially when we observe that this increase was accom-
panied by a decrease in the whole number of suicides for the year.
Again, in 1895, with no increase in the whole number of suicides,
there was a very large increase in the number of deaths from poison-



Digitized by LjOOQ IC



Illuminating Gas and Public Health



397



ing by illuminating gas; in 1904, while the whole number of suicides
was increasing, deaths from illuminating gas decreased; while in
1906 the reverse was the case. Undoubtedly, there is on the whole



TABLE s.

Deaths from Siticide by All Methods, Deaths from Illuminating Gas, and Population

(Massachusetts, 1887-1909).

(Medical Examiners' Returns.)



Year Ending June 30



Suicides by All
Methods



Deaths from

n U^mii^ft tin g GaS



Population of the
SUte



Z887
1888
Z889
1890

1891
1892
1893
1894
189s

1896
1897
1898
1899
1900,

1901
1902
1903
1904
190S

1906
1907
1908
1909



152

196
202

194
231
270
284
282

269
304
321
323
312

347
350

369
366

338
390
494
476



•4
7

19
21
26
29
45

33
63
77
70
50

37
48
77
64
64

74

148
114



2,238,943



2,500,183



2,805,343



3,003,680



a striking correspondence in the forms of the two curves, such as
ought to exist when we remember that (as shown in Table B)
about one-half of all the deaths in the lower line are an important
factor in the upper.

A STUDY OF THE SEASONAL DISTRIBUTION OF DEATHS FROM
ILLUMINATING GAS IN MASSACHUSETTS.

We had not been studying the general subject of illuminating
gas poisoning very long before it became plain that such poisoning
bears a close relation to the seasons. And this relation proved to be
almost precisely what might have been anticipated. Deaths from
illuminating gas are comparatively few in summer and compara-
tively many in winter, as is shown by the first column in the follow-
ing table, and by the heavy black hne on the corresponding chart



Digitized by LjOOQ IC



398



W. T. Sedgwick and F. Schneider, Jr.



(Chart 6) based upon it. The reason is, of course, because in
summer, with open windows, short nights, and outdoor life, people in
Massachusetts are much less exposed to gas poisoning than in
winter, when they are housed most of the time, often in apartments





Deaths from Qa5 PoisoMmq,

MtTH0D5,AhD POPULATIOM.


Deaths from Suicide by all
Massachusetts leez-isor


5CALt,

Aesc.- Years endinq Jume 30.
















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Online LibraryMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Sanitary ReContributions from the Sanitary Research Laboratory and Sewage Experiment Station → online text (page 2 of 21)