Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/57

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47
DRINKING-WATER FROM AGRICULTURAL LANDS.

water-basins through the application of organic manure to their gathering-surfaces, for agricultural purposes, and the consequent pollution of the water derived therefrom.

It is well known that many years ago the pollution of the watercourses began to excite public attention in England, and the labors of the several "Rivers Pollution Commissions," and other sanitary committees organized by authority of Parliament, bear testimony in their elaborate and invaluable reports to the truth that humanity can no longer afford to ignore that foul water will breed disease. The dense population of England, and the resultant mass of concentrated filth, have there compelled attention to those laws of health that we, with our enormous area of comparatively thinly-settled country, and the consequent high dilution of foul water and foul air, have felt safe in disregarding. This feeling of safety is, however, fallacious; for, as facts attest, "filth-diseases" are as liable to break out in an isolated house as in a crowded city, if the fundamental hygienic laws are violated. The distinguished labors of the State Board of Health of Massachusetts, as well as those of various other similar boards, bring the subject home to us in a forcible manner, and the sooner we know what sort of water we are drinking the better for us and for those who succeed us.

As fair water is at once a prime necessity and a priceless blessing, so foul water is a scourge and curse; nor will any but a sewage-rectifying enthusiast hesitate for an instant which to choose, provided he has the means of knowing one from the other. Gross pollution is sensible to the sight, the taste, the smell, and we instinctively revolt; lesser pollution, though perhaps not apparent to any of the senses, yields its secret to the chemist's skill; while infinitesimal pollution eludes all, even the art of the chemist himself, revealing its presence only in its fatal effects, the mortality statistics proving the presence of that subtile poison chemical analysis is powerless to detect. Special stress should be laid on this latter point, because the popular cry generally is, where water is suspected, " Let's have it analyzed! " whereas the truth is, beyond a certain point, the chemist can tell us nothing at all about it. Sir Benjamin Brodie, in speaking of the detection of infinitesimal pollution, says:". . . I think you have a much better chance of getting at these relations through accurate medical statistics, properly applied, than you have through chemical analysis, because chemical analysis is one of the poorest things possible to reach those delicate quantities. You cannot get at those small quantities at all; chemical analysis must be limited by our power of weighing and measuring. We can only do those two things. We can weigh and we can measure, and we can do that with certain accuracy, and there we stop; but that accuracy is not capable of being multiplied ad infinitum. It may go on to a certain point, but we cannot go beyond that point."

Having once determined in what pollution consists, then any suspicious water should be unhesitatingly condemned. Colonel Adams