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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/680

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the cemetery of Montparnasse, the water of which is shown by chemical analysis to be of excellent quality.

With respect to the inferior organisms which some persons believe may be conveyed away by water that has traversed the soil of cemeteries, we may say that M. Pasteur has shown that the waters of springs issuing from the ground even at a slight depth, are so destitute of germs that they can not fertilize the liquids which are most susceptible of change. Such waters, says M. Pasteur, "are at the base of lands which have been traversed incessantly for centuries by streams, the effect of which has been constantly to cause the finest particles of the superposed soils to descend to the springs. The latter, in spite of these favorable conditions for polluting them, remain indefinitely of a perfect purity, a manifest proof that a certain thickness of earth arrests all the finest solid particles."

The wells in Paris being hardly ever used, they ought to be infected by the nitrates which, supposed to be introduced into them, are not drawn from them. It is, however, far from being proved that the cemeteries contribute materially to the excess of nitrates in the well-waters, for the analyses we have made show no sensible difference from those which were made by M. Boussingault twenty years ago. The mean quantity is the same, and our partial results show sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more, saltness than those of M. Boussingault. Now, people have continued to bury, and the ultimate products of decomposition have become more and more soluble; and, if the excess of nitrates that has been observed was due to the cemeteries, it would of necessity have increased.

Besides the precise points which we have reviewed, more general and indeterminate accusations are made against the cemeteries. Such charges are connected with the prejudice, often ill-founded, under the influence of which we a priori attribute injurious properties to everything that smells badly. This error arises in part from the repugnant associations which are commonly attached to the substances and places from which bad smells emanate; but, while we admit that effluvia which offend the sense of smell are not agreeable, it is not true that such emanations are generally injurious to the public health.

The facts of this order, which have long served as the foundation of the accusations directed in the name of hygiene against the cemeteries, date from the last century, when chemistry and hygiene were still in the rough. No modern observation enforces them. On the contrary, contemporary scientists, who have studied the effects of animal putrefaction, are almost unanimous in regarding it as innocuous. Such is the opinion of the most authoritative modern authors, Dr. Warens, Bancroft, Andral, Parent-Duch√Ętelet, and, more especially with reference to cemeteries, Professors Depaul and Bouchardat.

It is hardly necessary to mention that a number of occupations expose those engaged in them to putrid exhalations, without producing