Term Paper: History of Sanitation

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[. . .] Western medical specialists claimed that bathing could balance the humors and digestive disorders. Hot water (thermal) baths were thought to promote respiration, relieve fatigue and cure headaches, while cold showers were used to relieve painful joints. A very warm bath was used to bring down a high fever by making the bather sweat. "Bathing is about the sensuality of warm and cold thermal sensations that heighten your sense of awareness, destabilize your mood, generally rearrange the contents of your mind. The experience of extreme opposite temperatures back to back (hot to cold or cold to hot) is particularly revelatory" (Koren 28).

In the west, the medical benefits of bathing were forgotten during the Middle Ages, but recovered once again during the Renaissance in France, Germany and England. Doctors and chemists convinced users who visited the spas to drink the water, because it contained minerals that that fought against illnesses.

Today, luxury spas offer numerous treatments for relaxing stressful bodies and minds. Mud baths, enzyme baths, salt scrubs and seaweed body wrapping are popular ways of detoxifying the body and softening the skin. The type of mud used by most American spas is a combination of volcanic ash and peat mixed with water from hot springs. Dry sauna and steam baths are also thought to be a healing power for the overworked mind and body. This developed from Scandinavian traditions and relates to the Turkish bath. The warmth and sublime pressure of the water encourages the body to relax and the skin to become softer, and more sensitive. It might also be a good idea to add some herbs or essential oils, so bathing can become an alternative therapy for a variety of discomforts.

Today's small baths do not require a lot of space. Most often, they contain a toilet and sink, with perhaps a vanity and some small storage space. In other words, they primarily serve a functional purpose.

II. Evolution of Sanitation

People are living much longer now than in the past, not only because cures have been found for many illnesses. Changes in sanitation must also be considered a factor in the drastic difference between this and earlier generations. Between 3000 and 1500 B.C. across the Mediterranean Sea from Mesopotamia, the ancient people of Crete were leaving their mark on the early annals of history. Their early engineers plumbers had laid elaborate systems of sewage disposal and drainage that resemble those of today. In fact, archaeologists have discovered underground channels that have remained virtually unchanged for several centuries, except for extensions that include structures built over the original ones. Some remains of the pipes still carry off the heavy rains. However, it was not until much later that this type of sewer system would be seen in other parts of the world (History of Plumbing).

Sanitary sewers have been found in the ancient Assyrian cities. Storm-water sewers that were constructed by the Romans are still usable today. Although the primary function of these was drainage, the Roman practice of dumping refuse in the streets caused significant quantities of organic matter to be carried along with the rainwater runoff.

In the city of Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 B.C.), a well-to-do person's bathroom was about 15 feet square and built at the south end of the house. The lower parts of the wall and floor were lined with baked bricks. However, the floor was also overlaid with a bitumen composition and powdered limestone. It sloped to the center of the room, so that the water could drain into small rivulets. Most likely, the bathrooms consisted of a hole in the floor with a cesspool underneath.

However, in other instances there was a more elaborate arrangement. For example, the palace of Sargon the Great had six privies. These toilets had high seats that raised the latrine off the floor in the western style. Here, archaeologists say they have found connections to drains, which discharged into a main sewer. According to their findings, the sewer was 3.28 feet high and 16 feet long. It ran beneath the pavement next to the outer wall of the palace and then sloped downward to wash out the sewage. Other bathrooms, which could not be connected with the sewer systems, had individual cesspools.

The earliest recorded laws concerning disposal of human waste are noted in the Old Testament. Circa 1500 B.C, the Jews were instructed to dispose of their waste away from the camp under the earth or sand. Of course, in crowded cities, more ingenuity was required.

Jerusalem's sewers developed in stages from the ancient days before the reign of King David in 1055 B.C. Drains removed sewage from homes and streets and excess waste and refuse were carted out through the city's gates.

Because the temples required their own "pure water arrangements, there were two individual waste water systems. Sink water was channeled into ponds or large cesspools or directed into a settling basin, where the wastes would be held in suspension and later used as manure for crops. Excess water was used for growing gardens. More elaborate sewer systems were found in smaller towns of the area, snaking under the homes.

In the Middle Ages, most people died in their teens or early 20s in large part due to the unhealthy milieu of filth, poor hygiene, and nearly non-existent sanitation. Diseases such as the bubonic plague, typhus, smallpox, and tuberculosis decimated large populations of young and old.

In fact, until the mid-nineteenth century, streets were used as refuse dumping grounds, domestic animals roamed the streets and rodents ran rampant. Cesspools were located near houses and buildings, reeking and spreading germs. The Industrial Revolution and discoveries such as the germ theory brought about major changes in approach, raising the standard of living and ending serious epidemics. By 1900, improved nutrition, better sanitation, and, especially, contributions from bacteriologists increased life expectancy at birth by almost six years to age 47.3.

The impact of these measures was enhanced by education and promotion of personal hygiene and communal sanitation, including the use of potable, running water and the proper disposal of wastes.

The word sewer comes from the Old English "seaward." London's sewers were open, slanted ditches that channeled human wastes toward the River Thames and into the sea. These sewers rapidly filled with refuge that overflowed onto streets, into houses and the marketplaces of the city.

By the late 1500s, King Henry VIII passed a law that made all property owners responsible for clearing the sewer passing by their dwelling. He created a Commission of Sewers to enforce this rule.

By the early 18th century, nearly every home had a cesspool beneath its floors, and strong obnoxious odors even filled the most affluent properties and were sometimes worse than the garbage and manure-filled roads. In the summer of 1858, London was experiencing what was aptly called the '"great stink'." Because the population had grown considerably during the first part of the nineteenth century, the cesspools were brimming through cracks in floorboards and down alleyways. Three cholera epidemics swept through the city, leaving over 30,000 people dead. Engineer Joseph Bazalgette proposed to build an underground network of sewers beneath the city streets. The main sewers for London have to be big. Bazalgette's problem was to know where to put them without having to dig up vast areas of the city. His solution was to run the largest sewers along the banks of the Thames and then to cover them over to create the embankment. Although it took much hard word and was delayed by the underground railway and new roads, the system was eventually put into place and set a standard quickly copied across the world.

It is interesting to look at the development of sewers in Chicago, because it demonstrates how engineers and designers have to consider different means to a solution. This is also true when considering the design of bathrooms for the future, as noted later in this paper. Cholera struck Chicago in the summer of 1849. One in 36 residents died: 450 in 1850; 630 in 1852. In 1854 the disease took 6% of the population and Chicagoans died at the rate of 60 a day. By July the streets were lined with coffins. Hundreds fled. The exact cause of the disease was unknown. Some believed it was air borne and sealed their houses against the "death fogs" (Chicago Public Library)

Six successive years of cholera and dysentery epidemics convinced the Illinois Legislature to establish a permanent Board of Sewerage Commissioners in February 1855. William B. Ogden was appointed to head the three-member commission and brought Boston engineer Ellis S. Chesbrough to Chicago to design the first comprehensive system of underground sewers in the United States.

Chesbrough's report of December, 1855 to the Board of Sewerage Commissioners offered four options for sewer drainage: Discharge sewage directly into the Chicago River; into Lake Michigan; into artificial reservoirs to be used a manure; or, dig a deepened steamboat canal along… [END OF PREVIEW]

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