When the new criminal courthouse in New Orleans was under construction in 1929, an atypical situation occurred. The refrigeration plant’s lowest bidder lost the contract to a company with a higher bid, reportedThe Newsin the Oct. 9, 1929 issue.

The Commission Council awarded the job to Wittenmeier Machinery Co., Chicago, IL, which turned in a bid of $15,895, and an alternate bid of $14,895. The United Iron Works had submitted a bid about $4,000 lower than any of the other bids.

United Iron Works had stipulated the use of methyl chloride as the refrigerant in its proposal. James M. Todd, the consulting engineer on this project, did not sanction methyl chloride as a safe refrigerant. Wittenmeier Machinery Co., on the other hand, included as part of its proposal the use of carbon dioxide. The council decided against the low bidder after Todd made his decision.

H.H. McKinnies, as representative for United Iron Works, stated that the safety of methyl chloride was not to be questioned. He then went on to explain how even in an accident where the entire amount of methyl chloride in the system was released into the building, there was more air space than would be needed for safety’s sake.

The council conducted an open hearing on the safety of ammonia, carbon dioxide, and methyl chloride as refrigerants. H. J. Kelly, representing the Wittenmeier Co., maintained that methyl chloride was poisonous, whereas carbon dioxide was safe, inflammable, and was the prevalent choice for use in cooling movie theaters.

Immediate exception was taken to this by Jerome W. Davis, the then sales manager for A. Baldwin and Co., Ltd., of New Orleans. He said he had made frequent demonstrations before conventions at which he put methyl chloride on food and ate it, and also put it in water and drank it, without the slightest disagreeable effects. Davis pointed out that there were at least 800 installations of methyl chloride refrigerating equipment in New Orleans alone.

Specifications originally prepared by the courthouse commission required a carbon dioxide plant. However, after powerful protest by electric refrigeration plant manufacturers, bids were permitted on three varying sorts of equipment.

Looking back, it appears that Todd and the council made the correct decision by not installing a methyl chloride plant at the courthouse. Methyl chloride is no longer used as a refrigerant. Nowadays, it is generally accepted that methyl chloride, a colorless gas, is very toxic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, “acute (short-term) exposure to high concentrations of methyl chloride in humans has caused severe neurological effects including convulsions, coma, and death. Methyl chloride has also caused effects on the heart rate, blood pressure, liver, and kidney.

“No information is available regarding the chronic (long-term) effects of methyl chloride in humans. Chronic animal studies have shown the liver, kidney, spleen, and brain to be target organs in mice, and the testes to be target organs in rats and mice.”

Publication date: 10/08/2001