Monday, December 19, 2011

Environmental Problems of Days of Yore

And you think we have environmental problems.... from Scientific American, June 1860:
"Last year during three months of very dry weather, old father Thames, that once-classic stream, became a huge sewer sending forth fetid odors over all the British metropolis. A report recently presented on the subject contains the statement that about $88,000 worth of deodorizing materials, $88,000 worth of deodorizing material was thrown into the Thames during the months of June, July and August, chiefly chloride of lime, of which 478 tons were used, and chalk lime, of which 4,280 tons were used. These were chiefly thrown into the sewers [and while] the temperature of the river remained high, from 69 to 74 degrees, the river remained proof against all efforts of deodorization. Great preparations have been made this year to provide a sufficient supply of the perchloride of iron in order to modify the pungent powers of father Thames's snuffbox."
£88,000 then is either £6 million or £53 million today, depending on how you calculate it. In either case, the stink must have been an extremely urgent problem.



John Fleck said...

Steven Solomon, in his book "Water" tells the story of this episode, which became known as "the Big Stink", and which was one of the milestones in the development of modern urban sewage treatment.

David Appell said...

You'd think the British would have a more elegant name, even for that....

Dano said...

This incident also helped precipitate the strength of the Temperance Movement, which can be argued started the City Beautiful movement in the U.S., which begat suburbs, which begat the American classes living separately, which begat modern zoning and land-use planning. Also began the modern forensic medicine discipline, public health...a wonderful start to the discussion of how we got where we are today from the point of view of many disciplines (including John's point about infrastructure engineering). Great conversation starter.



Word verif agrees: honesti