Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Everybody, Except Good Republicans, Poops

Sarah Albee. Poop Happened!: A History of the World From the Bottom Up. New York: Walter & Co., 2010.

The history of human waste control is a delicate subject that more historians ignore. Yet it is an important part of life. Sanitation, or the lack of it, has played major roles in history. It remains important to city planners and sanitation employees today.

Many diseases have been associated with human waste (aka poop). Over 50 communicable diseases can be spread through poop. These diseases can be transferred by air, water, touch, or bites from insects that came into contact with the waste. Humans did not realize this until a few centuries ago. Cholera, typhoid, dysentery, Escherichia coli, polio, schistosomiasis, and polio, related to human waste, have killed more humans than did all wars. Empires collapsed from plagues of these diseases, and contributed to the downfalls of Athens. Rome, and the Byzantine Empire. Athens blamed Sparta for poisoning their water yet they more likely contaminated it themselves. Napoleon Bonaparte may have been defeated by having a half million soldiers living too close together. Typhus killed 220,000 of them.

Poop wasn’t a big problem for humans for about two million years until humans stopped being migratory about 1,200 years ago. Human waste build-up was often a major reason why early settlements moved to new locations.

The Harapans first developed sanitation about 5,000 years ago. They developed public bathhouses away from their private homes. Their sanitation had a complex system of pipes going into sewers. The Cretes developed plumbing around 4,000 years ago, then developed flush toilets operated by gravity, but for the King only.

Babylonia during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzer (circa 630-562 BC) had cisterns and canals. The rich had toilets.

The Dead Sea Scrolls explain why only 6% of Essenes lived past age 50. They burned their poop. Parasites that normally died when poop dries survived burning. These parasites were found in many excavated Essenes.

Poor was a Biblical matter. Deuteronomy teaches that people should carry a shovel, dig, and cover one’s poop.

Chamber pots were a home staple for several centuries. Alexander Cummings patented the modern toilet, the water closet, in 1755. Smells were trapped in the U bend. The first toilets still had smells, leaked, and filled homes with flammable sewer gas, which was a problem as homes used candles for light and fires for heat.

A major boost to the Roman Empire was piped sewers. The Romans were the first to use lead, rather than wooden, pipes. They had 144 public toilets for a million people in 315 AD. There were even a few heated toilet seats. The sewers and aqueducts were constructed so well that some continue being used. Rome had a Goddess of Sewers, Cloacina.

Christianity during the Middle Ages halted sanitary advances. Washing was denounced for creating impure thoughts. People used to think smells in the air carried disease. By removing waste and dumping it into rivers, they reduced the smells but polluted the drinking water, causing more disease. Early toilets did not help, as they moved waste into the rivers.

Toilet paper first appeared in China in 1391, but only for the Emperor. Toilet paper for consumers began in 1857. It took awhile to gain acceptance and people were embarrassed to purchase it.

Paris built a wall around itself for defensive purposes. Human waste was dumped outside the walls. The walls were raised several times for fears that invades could climb the piles of waste and enter over the walls.

In ancient Europe, water was contaminated with sewage and rarely used for drinking. Fermented drinks tasted better and the fermentation process destroyed germs. Wine, ale, and beer were drunk by all, including children, at an average rate of a gallon per day per person. People then were likely constantly intoxicated. Tea and coffee weren’t popular in Europe until the 17th century. In 1771, 9,000 children died from gin poisoning.
American colonists continued the European tradition of avoiding drinking water. They drank rum, beer, whiskey, hard cider, and, in some southern colonies, peach brandy.

The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) began with an angry crowd that two Catholic ministers and a servant from a Prague castle window 50 feet above ground. The three survived when they fell into a large pile of poop.

About 100,000 of London’s 400,000 residents died of the plague in 1665. The plague resulted from crop failures driving starving rats, infested with fleas, into the city where waste piles allowed the population of rats to expand. London’s Mayor incorrectly surmised dogs and cats were causing the plague and had them killed, thus removing predators to rats. A fire erupted and destroyed four fifths of London, Only give deaths were officially noted. The five ironically killed most of the rats. London was rebuilt with brick and stone structures replacing the destroyed wooden ones. Streets were widened. London became a healthier city in which to reside.

The plague erupted almost annually in some part of France throughout the 17th century. 96% of the French in the 18th century lived in poverty with deteriorating sewage and drainage systems. This helped lead to the French Revolution.

Venice in the 18th century had no toilets.

China in the 18th century collected human waste. A building residents’ poops and urine were the building owner’s property. They were sold and the poop was used for fertilizer.

Benjamin Franklin realized there may be connections between foul water and disease. He created the first street cleaning in America in 1757. His will left money to create freshwater piper in Philadelphia.

Easy chairs in the 18th century which could transform into cushioned seats with chamber pots.

As London expanded increasingly into farmland, it began taking longer, and thus it became more expensive, for night soil men, who since Medieval ages emptied cesspools and then sold the sewage to farmers, to operate. This led to cesspools reaching their limits more often and many new cesspools being created. Many threw their waste into London’s creeks and rivers while ultimately polluted the Thames River. New homes were built over cesspools and streams. Sinkholes resulted which sunk homes, carts, and people, often killing them.

Many 18th century residents kept their windows closed to avoid the stench of the outside air. This unfortunately led to methane and hydrogen sulfides, often emitted from decaying sewage, to remain inside rooms and build-up. People died from breathing these poisons.

By the early 1800s, there were over 6,000 water closets in England.

Trade with China introduced tea. Boiling water to drink tea killed germs in the water and saved lives. Tea drinking also led to lowered intoxication levels amongst the public.

Pigs were used as garbage collectors in New York, London, and Paris in the 18th century. A problem was pigs left their own manure behind. People, usually children, collected animal manure, using their bare hands. What they collected was sold to tanners for tanning hides.

Water companies in the 19th century provided running water to working class London neighborhoods only three times a week, for one hour. One neighborhood received only ten minutes of running water. When this water was reduced to five minutes, a riot erupted.

Cholera erupted in England and France in 1832. Cholera is spread by microbes in human feces that enter the drinking water. 20,000 died in Paris and 18,000 died in London that year. Passengers spread cholera to Montreal and Quebec and then beyond. It would kill 3,500 in New York City.

Sanitation Commissioner Edwin Chadwick, beginning in 1848, began a movement in London that made streets cleaner, water carried away, and sewers flushed.

Dr. John Snow, observing cholera attacked the intestines and not the lungs, theorized that cholera was spread through water, and not through the air as people then thought. Snow’s theory was widely doubted. Snow later observed people drinking from a water pump fill ill while their neighbors, who breathed the same air but drank from a different water pump, did not contract cholera. Further, brewery workers in the same neighborhood, who drank ale and no water, did not contract cholera. It was discovered that a cesspool was leaking into the well of the pump that sickened people. Louis Pasteur in 1870 would discover microbes and helped prove the causes of many diseases.

New York City built a reservoir in 1832. Piper did not reach the poorest neighborhoods of southern Manhattan. A cholera epidemic hit there in 1832. In 1842, the Croton Aqueduct was completed connecting the Croton River over 30 miles to a receiving reservoir at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, holding over 180 million gallons of water.

Paris began constructing sewers in 1852. Paris continued putting raw waste into the River Seine until 1899.

By 1857, 200,000 flush toilets existed in London. All took waste to the river. By 1858, the Thames River smelled so bad that Parliament, situated over the Thames, could not meet. Chief Sanitation Engineer Joseph Bazalgette led construction of 82 miles of new sewers that led to a most distant river. The last cholera epidemic in London happened in 1966, which hit a poor neighborhood where the sewers didn’t reach.

Soldiers in the Civil War lived in unhealthy conditions. About 60% of soldiers died by typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhea.

Florence Nightingale was a nurse who saved the lives of many British soldiers. She may have saved the most lives by insisting upon sanitary living.

Dr. Herman Biggs fumigated rooms of cholera victims and burned their clothes and bedding in New York City. This reduced the city’s cholera deaths to nine in 1892.

George Waring, beginning in 1894, led 2,000 New York City employees in marching in white uniforms to clear over 2.5 million pounds of manure daily. Prior sanitation employees were much less efficient and, as part of the city’s corrupt political system, seldom worked.

When President James Garfield was shot, he became sicker while attempting to recuperate in the White House. He left the White House yet died later. The new President, Chester Arthur, was convinced sewer gases in the White House had harmed Garfield. Arthur fought living in the White House and asked it be torn down. Garfield settled for plumbing improvements.

The flushomter toilet was invented in 1907. This operated by pressure instead of gravity.

Plumbing became an important but dangerous profession. Before valve traps were invented and used, gases or explosions form gases killed some plumbers. Peppermint was put into pipes and leaks in pipes discovered by smelling for peppermint, as well as observing the presence of dead rats killed by leaking gas.

Sanitation and water laws passed under President Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Era. About half of U.S. homes had indoor plumbing in the 1930s.

A baby uses about 5,000 diapers.

Sanitation remains a problem in many countries. The costs of creating proper sanitation is more than many can afford. A solar powered sewer than will cost far less is in development at Pennsylvania State University.


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