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Dr. Geo. Lunge, of Zurich, had to admit that "inevitably there must be a certain amount of safety by raising the flashing-point," and Dr. Carl Engler, of Karlsruhe, confessed that Kaiser oil of 124° Fabr. was, safer than low-flash oil. Even Mr. Boverton Redwood, the leading representative of the trade, was constrained to make this damaging admission (Select Committee, May 1896):
"I may say at once that in my opinion a considerable proportion of the lamp accidents which occur would not happen if only oils of 100° or over 100° Abel test were used."
Sir Frederick Abel stuck to his theory that the present test of 73. Fahr. is perfectly safe for general use, yet he recommends oil of 105° to ensure safety in barracks. And the conditions of things in barracks, where the oil and the lamps are carefully watched, naturally ensure greater security than in the crowded and over-heated homes of
The oil which the Government use in lighthouses is 140° Fahr., and Sir Frederick Abel was asked:
“ Does that not really establish the fact that raising the flash-point is always in the direction of greater safety to the community ?”
His reply was: “In the abstract it certainly establishes that point." Unfortunately, lamp accidents or outbreaks of fire do not happen "in the abstract,” but in grim and deadly reality.
It is hardly necessary to refer to the contradictory and selfdestructive evidence given to the Committee by Dr. Chandler, of New York, who appeared on bebalf of the Standard Oil Trust. His evidence was directly in opposition to the conditions which he had laid down and carried out on behalf of the people of New York. He then held that “the higher the flash-point the safer the oil, and that while no lamp is safe with dangerous oil, every lamp is safe with safe oil.” He bad the flash-point raised to above 100° in New York, and said he would make it a crime to sell unsafe oil.” He tried to explain away these and other disparities with the evidence he tendered by saying that in those days he was a "reckless reformer,” and that he “had been led to consider the question from a somewhat different point of view from what I considered it when I simply acted as a sanitary officer."
We may be pardoned if we prefer the view of the sanitary officer to that of the witness for the Standard Oil Truet. *
* The evidence given before Committee attracted little attention in the press. It was only very briefly reported at the time, and only recently has its importance been recognised. To the Star belongs the credit of popularising the subject, by publishing last year the only analysis of the evidence which has appeared in the press. Since then it has advocated reform with mnch persistency, and has used every fatal lamp accident as an object-lesson. It is still agitating vigorously.
Low-FLASH OILS AND LAMP ACCIDENTS.
As a great deal of evidence was given to show that the lamps were to blame, it is necessary to connect low-flash oils with lamp accidents. Naturally, faulty lamps will make accidents more numerous, but in Glasgow and Edinburgh, where Scotch paraffin with a flash-point of over 100° Fahr, is generally in use, only 1 per cent of the fires is due to lamp accidents. In London, where American Tea-Rose oil of between 73° and 80° Fahr. is most largely used, an average of 400 fires a year arise from lamp accidents. Over a fourth of all the deaths from fires in London are due to lamp accidents, and the official statistics of the Fire Brigade do not show the full extent of the fatalities. Small fires at which deaths may occur are not always reported, as Mr. Alfred Spencer, chief of the Public Central Department, London County Council, whose daty it is to enforce the Petroleum Acts and inquire into lamp accidents, says : “Daring the past three years our Fire Brigade only reported seventy-eight deaths from lamp accidents, whereas 115 deaths from this cause in London came to my knowledge from various sources, and were the subject of investigations by officers of my department.” We must rely upon Mr. Spencer for the most valuable evidence bearing on lamp accidents. The subject is one which has caused mach anxiety to the London County Council.
In 1895 Mr. Spencer conducted experiments with lamps, and had no difficulty in showing that defective lamps were a contributory cause of accidents, although he recognised that the prime evil was in the oil. The County Council has for years issued hints to lamp manufacturers and advice to lamp users, without any apparent effect. In a Report issued this year * Mr. Spencer gives details of experiments with oil in various types of lamps, and the result of investigations into overy lamp accident which took place in London in 1896 and 1897. This evidence is more important than any official evidence which was submitted to the Select Committee, as it is supported by irrefutable data. A total of 689 accidents were investigated. Of these, 576 were due to escape of and ignition of the oil, and 113 were caused by explosions of the vapour. These accidents caused nearly 100 deaths. The details show indispatably that the danger lies in low-flash American Tea-Rose oil. In his experiments Mr. Spencer found that this oil flashed when it reached a temperature of 77° Fahr., and ignited when it was 87°. On the other hand, Russian oil which bad been tested to 100° (Abel test) did not flash until the temperature was beyond that point, and much higher than it would be in a lamp in ordinary use. The low-flash oil was equally dangerous in lamps of ordinary construction, whether they cost 15s. or 1s. 4d. These experiments, combined with investigations into the causes of lamp accidents
* “ Petroleum Lamp Accidents." Westminster: H. S. King & Sons, Bridge Street.
in London, and his review of the evidence submitted to the Select Committee, led Mr. Spencer to say that "the whole difficulty has arisen from the lowering of the flash-point to 73 Fahr. The evidence is conclusive that if the higher flash-point had been retained
very few of the long series of fatal and other lamp accidents in London and elsewhere could have occurred. It is also conclusive that the mischief was originally caused by the Government allowing the fallacious test suggested by the petroleum trade to be substituted in the Bill of 1868 for the trustworthy test which had been recommended by three chemists."
He adopts the suggestion of the Lamp and Stoves Trade Association that the importation of the more dangerous lamps should be prohibited, but says that “it is obviously better never to have danger present at all than to attempt to prevent the mischief afterwards. If oil is burnt which never reaches its flashing- or igniting-point danger is never present; but, if other oil is burnt, even in a lamp of good construction, danger may arise from many causes, for even the best lamps wear out or get injured by accidont or neglect.” He concluded his Report by recommending that “raising the flash-point fixed by the Petroleum Act to 105° Fabr. (Abel test) will be effectual in preventing lamp accidents if the sale and use for illuminating purposes of oil below that flash-point is prohibited,” and this recommendation has been adopted by the County Council.
I have not yet referred to the witness whose evidence was regarded as of greatest importance by the Committee. I refer to the late Sir Vivian Majendie, whose sudden death occurred before his crossexamination was completed. He was the Home Office official whose duty it was to advise the Committee. Sir Vivian had been concerned chiefly with regulations for the storage and transport of petroleum, and was not disposed to attach much importance to the flash-point, or to admit that it requires any alteration. He held that the present flashpoint was never intended “ to govern the sale of oil as an illuminant," which is not altogether inaccurate; but this omission was due to the neglect of Parliament to take the advice of such scientists as Lord Kelvin and Lord Playfair, who foresaw the dangers which would arise from the increasing use of low-flash American oil as the poor man's light. Sir Vivian Majendie's statement was intended to magnify the difficulties of regulating the sale of oil. He said the demand for & higher flash-point introduces a "novel object,” and that:
“ The precedent of laying down statutorily the description of petroleum which might or might not be sold for a particular use might have dangerous extensions and lead to most inconvenient consequences in its possible or advocated application to the sale of oil for other purposes. It is obvious
that whatever may be laid down as regards the sale of the oil, it is impossible to really regulate its use, unless an inquisitorial right of entry into every private dwelling is to be established."
Petroleum-oil is only used for illuminating purposes, so that the complications which Sir Vivian Majendie feared with regard to "oil for other purposes ” would not arise. Petroleum or mineral spirit, used in connection with many manufactures and trades, is already under regulations. There is nothing novel or revolutionary about the proposal to prohibit the use of oil c.hich does not come up to the standard of safety. It is simply an extension of the present system. Petroleum which is under 73° Fahr. flash-test is regulated now. It is the figure and not the law which requires alteration. And there is no necessity for an inquisitorial house-to-house inspection. The administration machinery is already at work. Oil is now tested, when imported or where stored. There are not a hundred kinds of oil, and it is not imported in small quantities, or at many ports. It would be just as easy to test the oil were the standard fixed at 100° as at present. There would be more tests taken and more storage-places inspected. The standard of free trade in oil would be raised, and any dealer who chose to keep oil under the new flash-point would require his premises licensed, and would be put under similar regulations as now exist for oil below 73°. In order to get his freedom he would prefer to keep safe oil. And several oil dealers who gave evidence before the Select Committee said that consumers preferred safe oil when they knew they could get it, and were prepared to pay a little more for it. As a matter of fact, an increase in the flash-point to 100° would only affect part of the oil supply, as some of the Russian and Scotch oils have a higher flash-point than the ordinary American oil, although sold at the same price. In several Continental countries, and also in America, a higher test is imposed, and wherever the law is enforced fewer accidents occur.
BLAMING THE LAMPS.
While Sir Vivian Majendie saw insuperable difficulties in regulating the sale of oil, he had no scruples in recommending restriction in the manufacture and sale of lamps. He advocated protection which would be exceedingly difficult to apply, and would have a disturbing influence on industry. English lamp manufacturers favour a protective measure against foreign competitors, but Sir Vivian Majendie's proposal applies to all lamps. As experiments have absolutely demonstrated that the best of lamps is not without danger if low-flash oil is used, it will be an impossible task to make lamps safe by regulation regardless of the oil, and were it possible it would involve the creation of now administrative machinery and cause endless irritation. He invited the Committee to make the sale of “unsafe lamps ” & penal offence, and leave unsafe oil alone. His plan is a very roundabout and excessively difficult way of reaching an extremely uncertain result. It would be much easier, cheaper, and simpler to strike the danger at the fountain-head—in the oil; and tbis plan bas the advantage that it would only affect, to any extent, one agency—the Standard Oil Trust.
THE REAL REMEDY,
The late Mr. Mundella, Chairman of the Select Committee, shrank from the suggestion that the flash-point should be raised, as he feared it would increase price. It also was opposed to kis ideas of Free Trade. The Committee received very little evidence on how the price would be affected. Scotch oil manufacturers and American refiners, other than the representative of the Standard Oil Trust, say the increased cost would be infinitesimal. Lord Kelvin held that the rise of a halfpenny per gallon—and it would not be more than a farthing Gif it gives greater safety would be a great boon to the poorest
Refining oil to a higher flash-point does not, of course, mean waste or much loss, as the residue-naphtha is a commercial product which sometimes brings as high a price as oil. It suits the Scotch and Russian refiners to produce safe oil, but the Standard Oil Trast seeks to obtain cheapness of production. It helps it to maintain its monopoly in America if it can send its poorly refined oil to Europe. Mr. Henry D. Lloyd, who has thoroughly mastered the suhject, says on this point :
“Out of every hundred barrels of various kinds of products from the distillation of petroleum, forty are of an illuminating oil not good enough to be burned in this country (i.e., the United States). It must be sold in Europe or not sold at all, and a manufacturer who cannot get rid of 40 per cent. of his product must give up manufacturing."
It is certainly to the profit of the Standard Oil Trust to send its low-flash oil to this country. Until recently it had a working arrangement with the Russian oil producers for supplying England. The quantity of Russian oil imported was to be restricted : the work of distribution was mainly in the hands of the Trust's Anglo-American Oil Company. The Russian oil was always the safer, although the price was the same as the low-flash Tea-Rose oil, but the quantity imported greatly decreased. In 1890 1,357,122 barrels of American petroleum were imported into the United Kingdom, and 787,529 barrels of Russian oil. By 1897 the American imports had increased to 2,755,486 barrels, and the Russian dropped to 494,278. The understanding between the Russian dealers and the Trust came to an end at
* “Wealth against Commonwealth."