In the last several years, I have heard a lot of news about the term “gaslighting.” The term to me means to use gas lamps for lighting streets or yards or, in a few cases, for use in older buildings with piped natural gas. I had heard the term used a few times, but I did not understand the negative context when someone said: “He is gaslighting them,” so I brushed it off as slang and not important.
Based on my scientific and plumbing design background, I thought gas lighting must have something to do with the poor performance of gas lighting compared to electric lighting, where “gaslighting” was used in a negative context because gas lighting was not as bright as electric light bulbs.
However, the term seems to have been used a lot in recent years. Various people recently have used the term gaslighting to describe what some politicians were doing: attempting to tell us that what we were seeing is not really what we were seeing and then telling us what we should be seeing.
This prompted me to do some research to find out what the term means in the dictionary. To my surprise, most dictionaries only give one definition for the term “gaslighting” and do not mention the actual usage of gas as a lighting method. As a plumbing design professional, I’ve had more than 44 years of experience designing plumbing systems, including some historic preservation projects using gas lamps for lighting systems around historical buildings or for nostalgic purposes.
I had to research “gas lamp” and “gas lighting,” with a space between the words, to find a definition that explained how gas was used for lighting in a plumbing and mechanical context.
The following are definitions I found for various terms:
From Wikipedia, the following is a condensed version of the definition of gas lighting (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_lighting):
“Gas lighting is the production of artificial light from combustion of a gaseous fuel, such as hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide, propane, butane, acetylene, ethylene, coal gas (town gas) or natural gas. The light is produced either directly by the flame, generally by using special mixes (typically propane or butane) of illuminating gas to increase brightness, or indirectly with other components such as the gas mantle or the limelight, with the gas primarily functioning as a heat source for the incandescence of the gas mantle or lime.
“Before electricity became sufficiently widespread and economical to allow for general/public use, gas was the most prevalent method of outdoor and indoor lighting in cities, suburbs, and areas where the infrastructure for distribution of the gaseous fuel was practical ... Early gas lights were ignited manually by lamplighters, although many later designs were self-igniting.
“Gas lighting now is frequently used for camping, for which the high energy density of the hydrocarbon fuel, combined with the modular nature of canisters on which camping lights are built, allows for bright and long-lasting light to be produced without complex equipment. In addition, some urban historical districts retain gas street lighting, and gas lighting is used indoors or outdoors to create or preserve a nostalgic effect.”
When searching for the term “gas lamp,” I found this in the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “gas lamp: a lamp burning illuminating gas, especially one on a public way.”
The use of natural gas (methane) for indoor lighting is nearly extinct. Besides producing a lot of heat, the combustion of natural gas tends to release significant amounts of carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas that is more readily absorbed by the blood than oxygen and can be deadly. I have seen these gas lamps in my travels in Europe and older cities, such as in Berlin and Dusseldorf, Germany; Prague, Czechoslovakia; London; and in railway stations throughout Europe.
In the United States, we have the gas lamp district of San Diego, Boston, New Orleans, New Jersey, amusement parks and many other older cities.
A small percentage of more affluent homes had piped gas systems to the lights to provide a gas flame for lighting at night.
However, if I remove the space between the words “gas” and “lighting,” the search turns up a definition that seemed out of context (Medical News Today):
“Gaslighting: Verbally abusive behavior, specifically when an abuser manipulates information in such a way as to make a victim question what they are seeing or question his or her sanity.”
The Movie Explains
This definition was not logical without some context as to why it means to deceive someone. It prompted me to do more research into how the term became something other than a plumbing and gas piping issue.
The term gaslighting can be traced back to 1938: a play called “Gas Light,” written by British playwright Patrick Hamilton, premiered as a mystery/thriller in London. A few years later, there was a movie adaptation of the play “Gaslight,” premiering in 1944. Ingrid Bergman played the female lead character; she won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the film.
The plot of the movie begins when a world-famous, wealthy opera singer takes in her niece after the opera singer’s sister dies. A few years later, the niece, returning from Italy, witnesses her aunt’s murder.
Years later, in Italy, the niece marries a man after a whirlwind romance. At her husband’s insistence, the niece returns to London, where she has no friends, to live in her late aunt’s long-vacant London townhouse. It is here where items begin to disappear and reappear, she hears footsteps in the attic, and the gas lights keep dimming and flickering. Her husband says she is imagining things and begins to keep her isolated at home.
I won’t spoil the rest of the plot for you, but this is where the term gaslighting comes from. They could just have easily named the movie “Picture Moving,” and that would have meant trying to deceive others.
As for the gas pressure and the dimming gas lights issue in the movie, turning the gas lights on and off in the attic would affect the gas pressure in the home’s gas system. As the gas flows increase, there would be more pressure drop and, ultimately, a change in gas pressure. All the flames at all of the lamps would drop proportionally.
To have an ideal flame for proper lighting, the gas valve at each lamp would need to be slightly adjusted. With too much gas pressure, there would be a rich flame, and the flame turns more yellow, where smoke and soot can develop. With the flame adjusted too low, the flame may not put out enough light and could flicker, or the flame could go out, allowing gas to leak into the building.
If the niece had some training in science and engineering, she would not have been easily deceived. With today’s codes, we cannot have fuel-burning appliances or fixtures like the old indoor lighting inside homes or in sleeping rooms because of the carbon monoxide hazard. In addition, there is an increased explosion and fire hazard if the flame goes out and the gas stays on.
Also, gas lighting adds heat to a building and makes a room more uncomfortable on hot summer nights. Therefore, new construction typically does not have gas lighting. Mostly gas lighting is used for nostalgia.
Now I want to see the “Gaslight” movie.
IAPMO Solicits Public Comments
The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), publisher of the Water Efficiency Standard (WE•Stand); the Uniform Solar, Hydronics and Geothermal Code (USHGC); and the Uniform Swimming Pool, Spa and Hot Tub Code (USPSHTC), is calling for public comments on the 2022 Report on Proposals (ROP) for the 2023 and 2024 editions of these model codes.
The public comment form, as well as instructions and background on IAPMO’s ANSI-accredited consensus development process, can be found at:
• WE•Stand: https://bit.ly/3NoZbOx
• USHGC/USPSHTC: https://bit.ly/3zz8WEi
All comments should be submitted using the exact wording that the proponent wants to recommend to the technical committees for review. Each comment must include one recommendation of the following: accept as submitted, accept as modified or reject. Additionally, each comment must state the problem the recommendation will resolve and any technical justification for making the comment.
IAPMO will not accept comments after the 5 p.m. PST deadline on Jan. 13, 2023. All public comments will be distributed to the technical committee members on April 3, 2023, and reviewed at their meetings, May 15-18, 2023, in Ontario, Calif.
For specific questions about submitting comments for the USPSHTC, contact Enrique Gonzalez, 909-230-5535 or email@example.com.
For specific questions about submitting comments for the USHGC or WE•Stand, contact Taylor Duran at 909-218-8126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO’s Global Call to Action
on Lead in Drinking Water
IAPMO participated in developing a global guideline addressing lead in drinking water. Lead exposure from drinking water systems is a major challenge facing countries around the world, but it is solvable. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued global guidance addressing this critical situation that focuses on specific steps countries can take to reduce the threats lead presents to public health in their systems and to prevent the future use of lead-containing parts from water systems.
The guidance emerged from a nearly two-year effort by a working group that included the University of North Carolina, World Vision International, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the WHO.
IAPMO served as a Technical Advisory Group member, contributing technical assistance to support the assessment and management of lead contamination in drinking water supplies.
“We know the potential dangers that arise by having lead and other contaminants in drinking water; however, we also know it is solvable in communities around the world,” said WHO Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health Technical Officer Jennifer De France. “This technical brief takes an important step to show communities around the world what needs to be done to remediate lead in their drinking water and how to do it.”
Lead poisoning kills about 900,000 people globally every year; the WHO estimates that 30% of the global burden of developmental and intellectual disability of unknown origins is because of lead. Water systems are just one source of overall lead exposure.
Children and pregnant women are most vulnerable to unsatisfactory health outcomes from even low levels of lead exposure. Among the risks cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.
“The technical brief is an important step forward,” said Dr. Aaron Salzberg, director of the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It represents years of work by the WHO with technical experts, governments, stakeholders and many other partners to bring together the best guidance on how we can provide lead-free drinking water services.
“The guide shows how this can be done. It’s not rocket science. The next step is to get donors, governments and community leaders to step up and commit to taking action to prevent and remediate lead and other toxic metal exposures in their communities — especially in drinking water.”
Given these high stakes, eliminating lead in all ways possible is urgent, as the WHO spells out in the guidelines, titled “Lead in drinking water: Health risks, monitoring and corrective actions.” The WHO provides six steps that should be taken if elevated lead levels are found in drinking water.
It recommends measures that stakeholders — regulatory agencies, water suppliers, operators and installers of hand pump supplies, plumbers, and property owners and consumers — can take to reduce exposure to lead from drinking water. Notably, the guidance includes sections on the importance of certified plumbing products and the need for more trained plumbers. For more information, visit www.iapmo.org.
IAPMO urges its members and other interested parties to get involved in the code development process to ensure effectiveness in preserving public health, safety and welfare through fair and balanced development of the uniform codes. Installers, plumbing and mechanical officials, the construction industry, engineers and manufacturers all benefit from a cooperative effort in developing codes.