Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/25

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SEWER-GAS.

these assurances can be trusted. A generation has come and gone, thousands upon thousands have died, and looking at our decimated households we may well ask, How many more must be sacrificed to this terrible experiment?

The late rapid increase in the mortality of New York city has naturally caused wide-spread alarm. Last year 88,600 deaths were recorded, against 31,937 in 1880—an increase of twenty per cent. While the large additions to the city's population from emigration and other causes may account for some of this increase, it can hardly explain all of it. Careful observers limit the increase in the population of New York to ten per cent, and estimate the mortality of last year as therefore ten per cent greater than during 1880. The percentage is just equal to the increase in deaths from contagious diseases.—(Charles F. Wingate, consulting sanitary engineer, "Practical Points about Plumbing," 1882.)

The writer proceeds to charge this increased mortality to the sanitary defects of our houses, especially in the matter of plumbing.

The death-rate of our city has continued to increase steadily since Mr. Wingate wrote. In 1880 it was 26·47 per 1,000; in 1881, 31·08; and for the two quarters of 1882, ending June 30th, the rate of mortality had increased to 31·11, with a prospect of a much higher rate for the year, inasmuch as, during two weeks of the month of July, the rate was higher than for the corresponding period of any previous year since 1872.

This increase of mortality has occurred notwithstanding the admitted fact that our streets are in a better condition than they have been for many years. It can not, therefore, be attributed to the unsanitary condition of the streets, as has been the usual practice of newspaper writers in previous years.

Nor does it seem proper to attribute it to our vicious tenement house and apartment-house system, which, no doubt, has its effect in raising our death-rate, but which, according to the reports of our city officials, has in many respects been greatly improved during the last two or three years. Meanwhile, everywhere the plumbing, as it has become older, has necessarily become more imperfect.

A member of the Board of Health, for whose opinion I have great respect, has said to me, that "when we consider the unusual prevalence of contagious diseases, and the large amount of immigration during the first half of the present year, we must admit that sewer-gas alone can not account for the increase in the death-rate over last year." Perhaps not; but it will not be pretended that the deaths of immigrants will alone explain it; and as to contagious diseases, these are precisely those which, according to Mr. Wingate, Drs. Barker and Carpenter, with many others, are most likely to be multiplied and intensified, and thus rendered fatal by sewer-gas. The fact that the increased death rate is chiefly due to the increase of contagious diseases justifies the suspicion that sewer-gas is, to a great degree, responsible for this result.