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The truth of this cannot be questioned. In the same year there were 46,907 deaths from diarrhæal diseases, the great majority of which were due to disease germs and the various organic contaminations contained in water used for drinking and cooking. There are many other diseases produced partially or wholly by impure water, so that I feel I am fully justified in stating that more than one hundred thousand deaths annually are caused by taking impure water, in one form or another, into the system.
Let us stop a moment and consider what this means. It means two full regiments, of one thousand men each, marching quietly but painfully down to death each week in the year, and from a cause which is known and wholly preventable. During the entire Spanish war our loss in battle, and deaths from wounds and accidents, amounted to less than one regiment of men, while, by the use of impure water, we are losing two whole regiments of our citizens each week, and still how few people ever give a thought to its prevention.
It is calculated that about ten times as many persons have typhoid fever and survive, though they never fully recover from its effects—and many of them are seriously injured for life—as there are who die from it. So it is with diarrhæal, dysenteric and other water poison diseases, though the proportion of recoveries to deaths is much greater than in typhoid. From this it will be seen that more than twenty thousand people, besides the two thousand who die, are made ill each and every week by impure water.
Just think of it. Ponder it well. Do not forget it. Look at the 2,000 coffins stretching out in an unbroken line for nearly three miles, and another line of beds of sickness extending almost thirty miles. Beside these coffins, see the crowds of sorrowing ones, mourning the loved and lost, and beside the long line of the sick and suffering see the anxious friends, the nurses, and the doctors, And all this is repeated every week in the year. All this, and more, is caused by disease germs and organic and mineral impurities in the water we drink and eat. Is it any wonder we require the services of 130,000 physicians in the United States ?
As an element of destruction the most deadly war is a complete failure compared with the terrible results of swallowing the silent, invisible foes of human life and health which lurk in innocent-looking water.
Diarrhea and Dysentery. Prof. William T. Sedgewick, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and biologist of the Massachusetts State Board of Health, in the “Journal of the New England Water Works Association” for March, 1896, gives an interesting account of the city water supply of Burlington, Vt., and its effect upon the public health, which is very instructive, and from which the following information has been gathered :
The natural conditions, location and surroundings of Burlington are exceptionally favorable to health. From 1870 to 1894, a period of twenty-four years, there existed a “mild epidemic of diarrhoea,” gradually growing worse year after year. The same was true in a lesser degree of dysentery, and, while the deaths from typhoid fever were not considered excessive, they far exceeded what they should have been.
This long-continued and excessive prevalence of diarrheal and dysenteric diseases was attributed to organic impurities in the water supply, which was taken from Lake Champlain, into which the sewage of the city was discharged.
In 1894 the in-take pipe of the water supply was extended three miles from the sewer outlet into the lake, with the result that, to use Prof. Sedgewick's own words, “the peculiar diarrhæal disturbances that had so long prevailed in Burlington have, since the extension of the in-take pipe, wholly ceased; and the physicians are enthusiastic in their recognition of the salutary change, which they attribute entirely to the improved water supply.”
This was written in 1896. In answer to my recent letter of inquiry, I have received the following reply from Dr. Watkins, the present health officer of Burlington:
“BURLINGTON, Vt., November 21, 1901. “Dr. A. L. WOOD, Brooklyn, N. Y.:
"DEAR SIR—In reply to your letter of inquiry relative to the diarrhæal disturbances which at one time prevailed in Burlington, will say that the conditions which followed the change of the intake of water from the lake have continued to the present time. Burlington is very free from such troubles. Sincerely yours, (Signed)
“H. R. WATKINS,
“Health Officer.” Thus it will be seen that the remarkable, and for a long time unaccounted-for, twenty-four years' reign of diarrhæal disorders, from 1870 to 1894, ceased suddenly and absolutely upon the change for the better in the city water supply. Not only this, but for seven years past the same freedom from these intestinal diseases has continued.
Does not this conclusively prove that this large class of diseases which cause the death of nearly 50,000 people a year in the United States, in addition to the 35,000 killed by typhoid fever, are caused by the use of impure water ?
City Water Supplies Unsafe. The question naturally arises, What water shall we drink? What water shall we use in the preparation of the various articles of food and the different liquids, other than simple water, which we introduce into our stomachs to nourish the body, or for other reasons? I will say here that there are thousands of intelligent people who would not think of drinking our impure city water, who allow their cooks to use it in the preparation of all their food, tea, coffee, etc., without once thinking that it is more important to use pure water for cooking than for drinking. But more of this later.
Where shall we obtain pure water ? Certainly not from city water supplies. They are rendered impure and dangerous to life and health by the drainage from cultivated fields, where the rains wash the fertilizers, both animal and commercial, into the streams, and by pollution from shops, factories and other sources, as will be shown further on. That such conditions exist can be seen by any one who will take the time to investigate, as I have done.
The Ridgewood water of Brooklyn contains an immense number of bacteria and animalculæ. At one time, a few years since, there were as many as six millions of a kind of vegetable starfish named Asterionella in one glass of this water. This is all the more interesting from the fact that each one of these bacteria contains a minute globule of oil. There would have been a good opening for the Standard Oil Company. The decomposition of these bodies naturally produced a decidedly unpleasant taste and smell. There are more or less of these bodies present at all times.
What a vegetable garden the Ridgewood reservoir must have been when a single glass of its water contained six millions of vegetable ornagisms. This Asterionella, be it remembered, is but one of over 200 different forms of animal and vegetable life contained in our city waters. They are all fully illustrated by George Chandler Whipple, the present biologist of Brooklyn's water supply, in his recent book, “The Microscopy of Drinking Water.” Five minutes spent in examination of these illustrations ought to be sufficient to cure any one of the desire to either eat or drink Ridgewood water, whether its inhabitants are living or dead.
I would refer any one desiring to investigate the condition of the city water to an article in the May, 1901, number of the “Brooklyn Medical Journal,” by Dr. Hibbert Hills, now director of the bacteriological laboratory of the Boston Board of Health, but who a few years since was chief biologist of the Brooklyn Health Department with sanitary supervision of the watershed. Also to the annual report of the New York State Board of Health for 1898, which contains definite statements of the condition of hundreds of farms, residences, shops and other places bordering the streams and ponds of the Brooklyn watershed, where the drainage from horse and cow stables, barnyards, pig pens, hen houses and yards, rabbit pens, duck yards and ponds, stagnant and filthy water pools, piles of manure, ashes, garbage and all kinds of animal and vegetable refuse, together with actual sewage from houses, slop sinks, cesspools, urinals, privies and water closets, empty into and form a part of the delicious Ridgewood water which the people of Brooklyn have been accustomed to brag about and drink in its natural state or in the form of mineral waters, ginger ale, soda water, tea, coffee, etc., and to eat in all kinds of food prepared from it; in their bread, cake, pies, puddings, cooked fruits and vegetables, soups, fruit ices, etc., etc.
Any one who can drink the city water or any beverage made from it, or eat anything cooked in it, or prepared with it, after reading these articles, must have an exceedingly strong stomach.
These articles, be it remembered, refer to the Brooklyn water, which, in the past, has enjoyed the reputation of being one of the purest of city waters.
For the delectation of the inhabitants of Manhattan Island I will say that their Croton water is much more impure and unwholesome than Brooklyn's Ridgewood. I think it is superfluous to say anything more about Croton water.
The only way to avoid this pollution is to keep the watersheds which gather the water used entirely in a state of Nature, that is, free from cultivation and population. This may possibly come in the next generation, but probably not in this.
Many people who realize the danger of using the impure city water, boil it and feel happy; others filter it and rest secure. Let us see if they have remedied the trouble.
Boiled Water. Boiling impure water, aside from the destruction of the life of some of the disease germs, the elimination of some of the gases and the deposit of a portion of the carbonate of lime, always makes it more impure. Boil a gallon of water until there is but a quart left and the quart will contain all the impurities of the gallon, except as above stated, and be nearly four times as impure as before. Continue the boiling and all the impurities, animal, vegetable and mineral, except the gases thrown off, will be reduced to one solid mass. The water which is evaporated and passes off as steam is very nearly pure. But, you will say, it kills the dangerous germs. We will suppose it does, but their remains furnish material for bacterial life to feed upon. Do you relish the idea of eating in food, or drinking, their dead and decomposing bodies, which poison the water by their decomposition? The fact is, scientific investigation has proved that boiling only kills the feeblest, the least injurious germs.
Prof. Percy Frankland, Ph.D., F.R.S., the noted English scientist, and a recognized authority on water, says:
“The germs which propagate epidemic or zymotic diseases may be boiled three hours and yet not be destroyed.”
Try a simple experiment. Put unboiled city water in one bottle, and the same that has been boiled for half an hour or more in another, cork tightly and keep in the sun or in a warm place for a week or longer, and note the difference. The unboiled water will show a marked depreciation in looks, taste and smell, but that which has been boiled will be so much worse in these respects that no one would think of using it. In comparison with these you can submit a properly sealed bottle of pure distilled water to the same conditions, and at the end of a year it will be found to be as pure, sweet and perfect as when first bottled.
The domestic filter is a dangerous article of the worst description. People rely upon it in fancied security, while in 99 cases out of every 100 the water is more dangerous to health and life after passing through it than before. All soluble mineral salts and all impurities of every description, including the deadly poisons from disease germs, which are held in solution, pass through the very best filter at all times as freely as the water itself, and, unless the filter is cleaned and sterilized several times a day, which is rarely if ever done, the germs of typhoid fever and other diseases multiply with great rapidity within the filter itself and pass