The special poisons to which I now refer are the gases resulting from defective plumbing, to which all classes—the poor occupants of tenement-houses, those who are able to command the necessaries and many of the luxuries of life, and those who live in the most expensive houses, and whose riches can buy everything but health—are alike exposed. None but physicians can know how general this poison is, and how positively it explains much of the disease that they are called upon to treat, and of the many sad deaths which follow.
When I assert that it is a daily experience with me to see persons whose general health is suffering from this poison, as manifested by malaise, loss of appetite and strength, slight febrile symptoms, diarrhœa, physical and mental depression; and that I have seen infants, children, and adults suffering from diphtheria, scarlet fever of a mild type, complicated with this disease and destroying life; those in vigorous health, students in colleges, ambitious and active young men in the professions or in the commercial or financial world, stricken down by typhoid fever, some struggling through the disease and others dying; and that the cause has been demonstrated to be this poison—I only state facts which are common in the experience of all physicians in this city. In some cases this has been the result of ignorance of the very unsanitary conditions which environed them. For example, two young men were stricken down with typhoid fever, one of whom died. They were not acquaintances, but occupied offices in the same building, in the vicinity of Wall Street. On investigation, it was found that there was not a trap in the whole building. In a house in which, but a few months before, several hundred dollars had been expended to put the building in perfect condition, a young man died of typhoid fever, and others of the family became ill, when it was found that a defective waste-pipe was saturating the house with poisonous gas. But such facts as these are so common and so well known to the profession that I need not dwell upon them.It is the custom of many in this city, whose means will permit them to do so, to take their families for health and pleasure to various summer resorts at the sea-side, the mountains, and other attractive country hotels; but every year, for some time past, some of these places have proved fatal to health, and often to life, by typhoid fever. . . . None but physicians are alive to the fact that many of those living in beautiful and expensive houses in this city are like the inhabitants who dwell at the base of Mount Vesuvius, in a soft, balmy, voluptuous atmosphere, surrounded by vineyards and gardens luxuriant with the olive and the fig and the orange trees, which mask and hide the danger and desolation of the lava and ashes of disease. . . . The physician should never be an alarmist; he never can hoist the signal of danger, except when he sees the forewarning signs of an impending storm. Unfortunately, he never can see the danger from this position until its effects are already beginning to develop as shown by disease.
At tins same meeting Professor Doremus gave us the painful story of the sudden prostration of his two sons, one of whom died, and the other recovered only after a prolonged illness; in both of which cases sewer-gas was ascertained to be the cause of the sickness.
"I would rather," said Professor Doremus, "have exposed my sons to the deadliest poisons in my laboratory, for which we have antidotes, while for the deadly effects of sewer-gas we have no remedy."
But what is the need of multiplying testimony upon this point