Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/351

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337
SANITARY RELATIONS OF THE SOIL.

live must exercise a very great influence upon them; and, so far as this medium is the soil, we have to investigate the conditions which it offers for the growth of these organisms and the communication of them to men. It must be admitted that mycology has so far given us very little light on this point, and many problems respecting it are still waiting to be solved; but it is already well established that hygiene as well as agriculture has much to do with the ground.

Some advance had already been made in the investigation of the hygienic relations of the soil before molds were mentioned as causes of infectious diseases. The simple observation that such diseases occurred or did not occur under certain conditions of the soil was enough to provoke this. It had already become possible, without knowing the more immediate causes, to make an unhealthy soil healthy. The best known examples of this kind are given in the cases of intermittent fevers and malarial soils, in which the deleterious properties have been wholly or partly remedied by drainage and the drying up of the subsoil, and the fertilization and cultivation of the surface. Tommasi-Crudeli has a remark of the highest interest in his recent work on the malaria of Rome and the former drainage of the Roman hills, to the effect that the ancient Romans suffered much less from fevers than the Romans of after-times and of to-day. The archaeologist De Tucci having called attention to some underground canals of a peculiar kind, called cuniculi, in the Roman hills, Tommasi examined them, and found that they were designed exclusively to drain the hills, and that they were now choked up and inoperative. Formerly, he thinks, they were so familiar that the ancient Roman writers did not think it worth while to speak of them; they passed into forgetfulness during the irruptions of the barbarians and the middle ages, and have now had to be discovered anew.

Measures directed against other infectious diseases that depend on the soil have not been without results, although the specific causes of the diseases are not known.

What are the conditions of soil favorable to epidemics?

It is an old experience that certain infectious diseases have their favorite seats in the so-called alluvial soils, in lands subject to overflow. Alluvial soil consists chemically and geognostically of substantially the same mineral matters as the compact mountain-masses, from the disintegration of which it has originated—except that its physical aggregation is essentially different; and it is distinguished from rock soils by the great permeability for air and moisture arising from its great porosity, that is, from the spaces in which air and water, as well as organic matters, can find place. There are also kinds of rock which are very porous, and their behavior is not materially different from that of alluvial soils, as is shown by the cholera-epidemics in the Island of Malta.

In common life we can hardly conceive the extent of the porosity