Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/14

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W. K. Burton, Resident Engineer to the London Sanitary Protective Association, writing for "The Sanitary Record" for March 15, 1882, when speaking of the iron drain-pipes of London houses, says: "Either practically every house in London should have its drain unreservedly condemned, or a certain small amount of leakage must he allowed to pass. I do not propose to enter into the question as to what extent an inspector is justified in passing slight defects; but would point out that such faults as are small in extent, are almost universal, and are generally passed by inspectors, do not come strictly under the head of sins of the plumber."

These statements, made by acknowledged experts, render unnecessary any further evidence in support of the belief that we are at present, and have been for a long time, wholly unprotected against sewer-gas. They confirm an almost universal public sentiment also. Whatever may be the explanation, whether this defective condition of our plumbing is due to the ignorance or wickedness of plumbers, architects, or sanitary engineers, or to other causes, the fact is undoubtedly as has been stated, and this is sufficient for our present purpose.

What has been the effect of its admission into our dwelling-houses upon human life and health?

Formerly, medical men and hygienists seemed never to entertain a doubt upon this question. Not until very recently has it been intimated, from any source, that sewers were not, from their very nature and contents, vast reservoirs of noxious gases and vapors. Receiving, as they do in this city, and in many other large cities, the excreta, and more, or less of the offal, animal and vegetable, of almost the entire population, and these masses of filth being often detained in these receptacles to undergo putrefaction in a warm and humid atmosphere, it would seem impossible that their exhalations should not be dangerous to life.

Dr. Fordyce Barker, President of the New York Academy of Medicine, in announcing the pending discussion on the subject of sewer-gas and plumbing, spoke as follows:

One of the avowed objects of this Academy, as expressed in its constitution, is the promotion of the public health. Strictly speaking, all of our scientific work is in this direction, but this meeting is, in a larger sense, devoted specifically to this object. There is not a physician in this city, engaged in active practice, who is not frequently called upon to see disease of various degrees of severity, often resulting in death, which has been caused by a poison. If we can see our patients early enough, we can successfully meet such poisons as arsenic, as corrosive sublimate, as aconite, and all of this class, because we have antidotes which will prevent their effect. But where the poison is introduced into the system so insidiously that the subject is unconscious of its absorption until its effects are produced, then it is not a question of antidotes, but the problem is, How shall we counteract its consequences, and how shall we keep our patients alive until the life-destroying agents have ceased to put in jeopardy the vital powers?