Like a Canary in a Coal Mine

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Like a Canary in a Coal Mine

Did you know…..

It might seem strange, but Canaries were used in coal mines up until as recently as the 1980s. An early version of an advance warning system, these bright yellow little songbirds were sent down with the miners to monitor poisonous gas levels, as well as keep them company. Miners would treat them as pets, coaxing them and whistling to them as they worked away. Explosions and mine fires could cause swift rises in these dangerous gases; without modern technology, people were unable to detect them on their own. Particular gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which were colourless, odourless and tasteless, put the miners at serious risk.

From 1911 to 1986, it was traditional to send two canaries down to each pit. More susceptible to toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, the canaries warned miners by growing more distressed when the gas levels were rising too high, allowing the human miners to escape safely. Hence the phrase “like a canary in a coal mine”, is used to indicate a whistleblower or indicator of danger.

It was only on the 3rd of December 1986 that Canaries were phased out in favour of electronic gas monitors. Though the loss of their cheerful little pets saddened the miners, the electronic monitors provided far more precise results and were ultimately cheaper.

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