My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government, in view of the fact that celluloid is a highly inflammable and sometimes explosive substance, manufactured chiefly from gun-cotton, and that it is used freely in 9 articles of attire, such as combs and collars, if they will cause such modification to be used in its manufacture, or place such regulations and restrictions upon its sale, as will render impossible the recurrence of the many serious burning accidents which have already resulted from the unrestricted sale of this article. I may mention that a member of my family suffered severely from the ignition of a comb of this material while she was sitting at a distance of about 4ft. from an ordinary drawing-room fire. Her head was enveloped in flames, and she suffered a severe scalp wound and the destruction of a portion of her hair. This, I think, will explain the interest I take in the matter, and the anxiety which I feel that the public should be protected from this danger. I understand that there is a preparation of soda which, when mixed with the solution of gun-cotton, which is the basis of celluloid, renders it incombustible. If all articles of this kind were so treated, there would be no necessity to call attention to this subject, but I believe celluloid is sold under various names, and that many articles are not rendered incombustible. Professor Ogston, of Aberdeen University, who has, I think, been employed in South Africa by His Majesty's Government, and whose name will be familiar to your Lordships, took several portions of the comb which was worn by the member of my family referred to for experiment. He subsequently wrote an article, which appeared in The Lancet on 22nd February, 1902, on the subject of "Burns from Celluloid." In that article the following appears—I may mention another fruitful source of danger—the celluloid collars which many Children wear, and some adults, too. They are fearfully inflammable. The hot ash from a cigarette, cigar, or pipe falling on them sets them in a blaze at once, and as they are tightly fastened round the throat it is almost impossible to remove them before serious injury has been inflicted. A leading medical journal some time ago cited several accidents which had arisen from this cause.In his article Professor Ogston quoted the following three references to celluloid burns which have appeared in the leading English medical journals during the past ten years—1. The Lancet, March 26, 1892. Experiments with articles made of celluloid. Portions 10 placed 18 inches in front of a fire swelled and gave off dense fumes at 110ºC. (230ºF.). Artificial ivory acted similarly at 145ºC. (261ºF.). The writer suggests that celluloid should be made non-inflammable by the addition of some chemical.I believe that suggestion has been tried, but I do not think it has been found to act over the whole of a piece of celluloid.2. The Lancet, May 16, 1897. A boy wearing a collar made of celluloid, tied with a string, having no knife to cut the string, attempted to remove the collar by burning the string. The collar ignited, and lighted drops of the composition fell on his clothing. His throat and face were badly burned.3. The Lancet, May 29, 1897. Fires in Paris due to kinematograph films igniting.Having received information, about the same time as his attention was called to the case which occurred in my family, of several similar accidents where women's and children's hair was set on fire by celluloid combs while they were seated, perhaps drying their hair, in front of ordinary fires, Professor Ogston requested the assistance of Professor Japp, Professor of Chemistry in the University of Aberdeen, as to the ignition points of articles sold as celluloid, and generally as to what was known on the subject. After his experiments, Professor Japp stated that he had ascertained, as nearly as it could be done, the ignition temperatures of the two specimens of celluloid—the specimens of the particular comb which caused the accident in my family—but could not detect any difference in their behaviour on heating, but they were both unduly sensitive to heat. Professor Japp continued—On dropping small pieces into a test tube heated to a perfectly constant temperature of 270ºF., they began to swell up and froth, and within one and a half minutes from the beginning of the experiment they suddenly decomposed with a puff of smoke, leaving a charred residue. On one occasion I succeeded, by gradually raising the temperature, in inducing this sudden decomposition as low as 264ºF., but this difference is very slight; moreover, in this way of performing the experiment much depends on the rate at which the temperature is raised.Professor Japp gave the following data with regard to the action of heat on celluloid, taken from the "Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry," which show that this substance is expected to exhibit greater stability than the specimens which he had been experimenting upon—At 194º F. it becomes very plastic, further heat softens it, and at a temperature of 285º F. 11 it decomposes into pyroxyline and camphor aldehyde. At 383º P. the decomposition in instantaneous, the nitro-cellulose inflames, and the camphor is vaporised.Professor Japp pointed out that the specimens which had been submitted to him for examination, therefore, exhibited this sudden decomposition more than 100º lower than properly manufactured celluloid. I would point out to your Lordships that, from an ordinary drawing-room fire, the radiant heat is often as much as 400º F. Professor Japp went on to say—It is a matter of common observation with unstable and explosive substances that they occasionally explode, or ignite, as it were by mere chance, and when they are not wanted to, under conditions that, when one is experimenting with the substances, would appear to insure perfect safety. In the case of sub, stances like celluloid this is readily explicable, as they are mixtures of variable composition, and they give way at the weakest point. A badly manufactured piece communicates its instability to the whole.That is the point of my Question. Professor Japp wrote to Professor C. V. Boys on the subject of the ignition of celluloid, and Professor Boys's reply contained the following additional point—The curious thing about the celluloid button smoulder (it is, under the usual circumstances smoulder rather than burn) is, that with all the smoke, and fluster, and stink there is nothing that cannot be put out by blowing sharply upon the place so as to cool it. The instinct, on the other hand, to squelch it by squeezing it all up in the surrounding material, is just the one thing to make it go all the more, as it is then made warmer, and, what is more important, the hot gases have no free egress, so they envelop the button and a kind of unstable state is engendered, which results in a kind of deflagration, or slow explosion, burning, possibly severely, the enveloping hand.I venture to think that is an extra danger, because the first thing one would do in the event of finding a person on fire would be to envelop that person in something, and in that way endeavour to extinguish the flames.
Professor Ogston went on to give the results of experiments he had conducted. He found that a steel pin further increased beat and ignited celluloid. A portion of the same comb, placed against the steel on a hat-pin, the steel likewise touching the thermometer, ignited and left a black ash at the moment the thermometer registered 200º F. The thermometer and a third portion of the comb were then enveloped in a small lock of black 12 hair, and the celluloid burnt when the thermometer marked 180º F. But when the thermometer and a fifth portion of the comb were enveloped in a lock of fair hair, the celluloid burnt at 167º F. The variability of the igniting point of celluloid is proved by the fact that when the experiment with the lock of hair was repeated a fourth piece of the same celluloid comb ignited only at 220º F. A control experiment under exactly the same conditions gave 170º F. as the burning point of a sixth fragment of the comb when exposed naked, without being enveloped in the hair. A piece of properly manufactured celluloid, exposed under identical conditions with the latter experiment in order to control it, only became softened at 170º F. Celluloid articles of uncertain composition and dangerously explosive quality are everywhere sold and are in constant use, and I wish to ask His Majesty's Government whether steps cannot be taken to control the sale of all such articles which do not sustain, without ignition, a temperature equal to that sustained by well-manufactured celluloid. At the time of the accident in my family I received a number of letters mentioning similar accidents which had occurred to the writers' friends and relatives. I quite recognise the cheapness and usefulness of celluloid, and I do not wish to restrict its use; but at the same time I do think something ought to be done to protect the public from such accidents as those to which I have referred. In his article, Professor Ogston states that badly-manufactured celluloid ignites at variable temperatures, too low for it to be safely used, and he suggests that it is worthy of consideration whether all celluloid articles of personal wear and such others as might give rise to fires ought not to be compelled to have the word "ignitable" conspicuously imprinted upon them. He concludes :If the suggestion of the writer in the Lancet to render celluloid incombustible by the addition of some chemical should be practicable, it would be the best solution of the difficulty, and such an addition ought to be made compulsory by legislative enactment.I have ventured to bring this subject before your Lordships because I regard it as a really serious one. I have not relied on my own evidence, but have waited for some two years until Professor Ogston was able to go thoroughly 13 into the subject, make various experiments, and come to a practical conclusion. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name.
§ LORD BELPER
My Lords, I feel sure that your Lordships are not surprised that the noble Lord should have brought this matter before the House, seeing that a member of his own family has suffered so severely from the ignition of this substance. I do not know that I shall be able to give the noble Lord all the satisfaction he asks for, but perhaps I can give him such an assurance as will show him that more care than he supposes is taken in the manufacture of celluloid. I am informed that if it is properly manufactured and free from impurities it will not take fire except at a very high temperature indeed—that is to say, it would only smoulder at a temperature of 440ºF., and would not burst into flame until a temperature of 550º F. was reached. I think it is perfectly clear that the accidents to which the noble Lord has referred must have been due to the impurity of the materials used in the manufacture of the celluloid. The substance, as he has stated, is made from low-grade gun-cotton, and this material, if not entirely free from acid, is liable to decompose and explode spontaneously. Factories in which celluloid is manufactured have been brought under the Explosives Act, they are under licence, and their work must be carried on under the authority and inspection of the Home Office. The result is that far greater attention is now paid to the purity of the material used than has bee the case formerly. But it is not possible to extend that supervision to the manufacture of celluloid articles which come from abroad, and it may be that the articles which have caused the accidents to which the noble Lord has referred have been imported. Celluloid is now used in the manufacture of an enormous number of articles of all kinds, and the Home Secretary feels that in the circumstance it would be a matter of great difficulty to interfere with the sale of it. It would take almost an army of inspectors—particularly when the difficulty of seeing whether the articles are made of pure celluloid or not is considered—to regulate its 14 sale. Therefore the Secretary of State, having very carefully considered the matter and feeling the greatest possible sympathy with those who have suffered from the accidents in the way described, does not see his way to interfere by legislation with the sale of celluloid.
I quite recognise the great value of the substance for many articles, and have no desire that its manufacture should be interfered with; but I would suggest that some restriction might be placed upon the use of celluloid in the manufacture of articles of attire, or that they should have the word "ignitable" conspicuously printed upon them.