Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/697

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
677
OUR ICE-SUPPLY AND ITS DANGERS.

some more or less attractive name. The name on the ice-wagon, often apparently indicating the source of the ice, may or may not actually do so. A large part of our ice comes from the Hudson River, and, as a rule, whenever and wherever Hudson River ice is more conveniently and cheaply delivered than that from any other source, this is what the consumer gets, no matter what the flaring legend of the cart may seem to imply.

Except the grocer, who visits us in guises as varied as are the wares which he dispenses, the ice-man is that one of the outside ministrants to our wants with whose appearance we are most familiar. Few escape hearing the infernal clatter of the ash and garbage carts, which, under the new regime, leave a trail of murdered sleep behind them in the early morning, or the uncanny whoop and screech of the milk-dispenser. But they do not form such constant features of the street-life as do the ice-carts and their officers after the world gets fairly astir. We have all watched with interest the skill with which the experienced ice-man cracks off his larger and smaller rectangular blocks, and the ingenuity which he exhibits, when it is not carried in-doors, in selecting a sunny place for its deposition on the steps. The never-failing attraction of the ice-cart for peripatetic children is the occasion of many picturesque street scenes, and not infrequently of serious accidents, for every now and then an ice-block falls off behind, and woe to the youngster who happens to be in its way, for ice weighs about fifty-eight pounds to the cubic foot.

There is yet another phase in the story of the ice which we must not overlook. We have been wont to believe that the fragment of ice which forms such a constant and pleasing adjunct to our glass of water is the very ideal of purity. But the common belief that, in freezing, water purifies itself from all kinds of contamination, has been shown to be quite untrue; and, ungraceful as is the task of dispelling so pleasing an illusion, we shall do unwisely if we ignore the revelations of modern science, and for the sake of a momentary mental quietude remain oblivious to a real danger which the indiscriminate use of ice for drinking purposes unquestionably entails.

Nearly all natural water contains considerable numbers of tiny vegetable organisms called bacteria. So small are they, for the most part, that thousands upon thousands of them, if ranged side by side, would scarcely reach across the head of a pin. Most of them are not only, so far as we know, entirely harmless when taken into the system in moderate quantities, but they are among the most important factors contributing to the cleanliness and continued salubrity of our surroundings. Wherever under ordinary conditions a bit of organic matter, animal or vegetable, dies, these tiny structures appear and tear it to pieces, atom by atom, using a very small proportion as food, and furnishing the remainder in suitable innocuous form for the nutrition of animals and other plants in turn. There seems to be at first something