The Evolution of Sanitation
Due: October 4th, 2010
The Evolution of Sanitation:
How 19th Century Decision Makers Influenced Today’s Innovation
By: Ryan Parkinson
I. Introduction By the late 1800’s, the method of sewage treatment became a heated issue of debate among members of political parties. At the time, the belief was that poor health was a matter of fate. Health promoters, however, argued that, “disease arose from correctable environmental causes.”[i] Until the mid 1800’s, disposal of biological waste was unsanitary and left in the hands of manual street sweepers. With various diseases becoming epidemics, governments were forced to develop a new method of disposal. Both Harold L. Platt and Vijay Prashad use historical evidence to compare the evolution of sanitation in three key urban centres. Platt’s “Clever Microbes” contrasts the advancement of sanitary technology in Manchester and Chicago, where as Prashad’s “The Technology of Sanitation in Colonial Delhi” looks solely at Delhi, India. Through these writings, it is clear that it was up to society to embrace science and facilitate reform. It can be said that the degree of societal pressure exerted in Manchester, Chicago, and Delhi resulted in three different rates of sanitation progression, leading to contrasting environments today.
II. Manchester – United Kingdom In Manchester, the government’s purposed solution was to channel the waste into a large septic tank and dispose of it rather than develop a proper filtration system. This, however, was not cost-effective and lead to contaminated drinking water. At the time, chemists largely embodied the scientific community, while infrastructure responsibility was assigned to engineers. The sanitation issue initiated the movement towards Bacteriology, and as Balfour Browne states, “only recently that this [sewage] matter has passed out of the hands of the chemists and passed into the hands of the biologist … the only method, of