Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/60

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50
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Sewage-Farming" as stated by the First Rivers Pollution Commission of England, and reprinted, with much other valuable information appertaining, in the "Report of the Massachusetts State Board of Health for 1876" (pages 276-408), in a paper by Dr. C. F. Folsom, on "The Disposal of Sewage." Many modes of "disposal" are herein described, but such "disposal" as this—sowing pestilence broadcast—was never contemplated by any one. Of course it can be prevented, but it is not proposed to discuss that matter now.

Now, these organically manured slopes are, many of them, very steep, varying, by actual measurement, from one in seven to one in fifty, and flatter. When the heavy rains of spring and fall occur, the effluent water from those slopes is dilute sewage, dilute human excrement, and, especially if the land has been recently ploughed, a large quantity of the surface-soil, and with it the freshly-applied human excreta, and the remaining noxious parts of the previously-applied batch of filth still present in the soil, must necessarily be, and is, washed down-hill and into the water-supply of the town. The English scientific periodical Engineering records that, early in the spring of 1876, "the piers of Vauxhall Bridge were coated with a covering of upward of a foot deep of soil, brought down from the upper portion of the Thames during one tide, and this minor instance is but a slight indication of the enormous deposits cast into our (British) rivers through the washing of the surface-soil from the adjacent fields. . . . The water, before being drawn into the Thames companies' reservoirs, was loaded consequently with soil, manure, sewage, and every imaginable abomination that newly ploughed and manured fields and towns could supply."

Of course, this pollution was on a larger scale than could occur in the case here treated. Nevertheless, if the quantity of polluting matter be less, so is the volume of water polluted, hence the proportion of foulment may be approximately the same. At any rate the fact remains that the water is contaminated, and, as has been already shown, infinitesimal may be quite as fatal as profuse pollution.

The elements that go to make dilute sewage unfit for assimilation in man, especially fit it for plant-food, a fact well known to every gardener. Dr. Folsom says that "a celebrated horticulturist in Brighton, England, dilutes his manure until it has neither taste nor smell." If such attenuated "barn-yard coffee" can have manurial effect on vegetation, what physiological effect—pathologic and hygienic—would it be likely to have when employed as a beverage? This very question is answered in a report to the English "General Board of Health" in 1856, the substance of which is as follows: ". . . It is now generally admitted that the substances which constitute the organic matter of water act injuriously, by no means (necessarily) in consequence of being poisonous themselves, but by undergoing those great processes of transformation called decay and putrefaction, to which all vegetable and animal matter is subject, when no longer under the control of vi-