Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/458

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
440
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

vegetable matter proceeds with far greater rapidity during the summer quarter than during other months of the year. Among the early results of summer heat is the damage to food. Milk retailed through the city, the sole or chief diet of thousands of hand-fed infants, undergoes such changes as to render it not only less nutritious but also hurtful to the digestive organs. The vegetables and fruits in the markets rapidly deteriorate and become unfit for food. Meats and fish quickly take on putrefactive changes which render them more or less indigestible. The effect of this increase of temperature upon the refuse and filth of the streets, courts, and alleys, upon the air in close places, in the tenement houses, and upon the tenants themselves is soon perceptible. The foul gases of decomposition fill the atmosphere of the city and render the air of close and unventilated places stifling; while languor, depression, and debility fall upon the population like a widespread epidemic. The physician now recognizes the fact that a new element has entered into the medical constitution of the season. The sickly young, the enfeebled old, those exhausted from wasting diseases, whose native energies were just sufficient to maintain their tenure of life, are the first to succumb to this pressure upon their vital resources. Diarrhœal diseases of every form next appear and assume a fatal intensity, and finally the occurrence of sunstroke (or heat-stroke) determines the maximum effects of heat upon the public health. The sickness records of dispensaries and the mortality records of the Health Department show that a new and most destructive force is now operating, not only in the diseases above mentioned, but in nearly all of the diseases of the period. Fevers, inflammatory diseases, and others of a similar nature run a more rapid course, and are far less amenable to treatment. This is due, in the opinion of eminent medical authority, to the addition of the heat of the air to the heat of the body. Indeed, the only safety is in flight from the city to the country and to cool localities, as the seashore or the mountains. The immediate improvement of those suffering from affections of the city when transferred to the country is often marvelous, and shows conclusively how fatal is the element of heat in its direct and indirect effects upon the residents of the city.

Let us next consider the causes of high temperature in the city of New York. It is a well-established fact that the temperature of large and densely populated towns is far higher than the surrounding country. This is due to a variety of causes, the chief of which are the absence of vegetation; the drainage and hence the dryness of the soil; the covering of the earth with stone, bricks, and mortar; the aggregation of population to surface area; the massing together of buildings; and the artificial heat of workshops and manufactories.