Don’t go near (or swim in, or drink) the Water!

I worked for quite a few years on projects associated with Sewage and Clean Water Treatment. Not many people in this modern world realise that the true birth of modern cities and towns, namely the ability to live free from dread disease and plague whilst living in crowded urban conurbations was brought about by the work and investigation of a single London vicar named Dr. John Snow, allied to the genius of an Engineer named Joseph Bazalgette.

Snow deduced that a large number of cholera deaths on the immediate vicinity of the Broad Street public pump could be directly associated with the use of the water from that pump. He wondered why certain men, and their families, seemed to be immune from the dread disease, whilst living next door to those who had died from cholera. Once he deduced that all the men worked for the same company, which brewed beer; he then realised that the men and their families drank water which came from a different source; which had also been boiled. It took a huge battle to make the authorities understand that the pump had been contaminated with human sewage, but once the pump was padlocked, the cholera ceased to spread. Water treatment has come a long way from the efforts of Dr. Snow, but he was the one man who figured out where death was lurking.

Bazalgette accepted the challenge of removing and controlling the huge amounts of sewage, formerly dumped straight in the open sewers and streams which fed into the Thames; thus creating the ‘big stink’. This genius built huge sewage tunnels right along the banks of the Thames, covering them with rocks and bricks; when the new sub-sewage channels were connected to the main tunnels, and the resulting mess of toxic effluent was pumped towards the Estuary and there treated before being pumped into the Thames, the ‘stink’ subsided, Londoners could once more breathe, and Bazalgette gratefully bowed before his Sovereign as he was knighted.

From initiation, through hydraulic analysis, planning and construction, a modern Main Sewage Treatment works complex, suitable for a city, can take six-seven years to complete, and can cost a lump of cash. I have been involved in the planning, construction and commissioning processes, and it can be complex, but: it is worth the effort!

So I do wonder why the Brazilians, despite having seven years to plan, develop and build the much-needed sewage complexes necessary to clean up the bays, the beaches and the waters, have done virtually nothing to protect the sailors, the swimmers and the tourists who will, very shortly, be engulfing the crowded facilities of Rio, the possibly plague-born Olympic City?

7 comments for “Don’t go near (or swim in, or drink) the Water!

  1. Mudplugger
    July 26, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    It is also said that, in addition to the engineering infrastructure, much of the reason that Britian could develop and sustain its large industrial-revolution cities may be attributed to the coincidental growth of tea-drinking, as the mild antiseptic effect of tea helped to prevent many communicable diseases from taking hold in those close, working-class communities.

    • FrankC
      July 26, 2016 at 9:25 pm

      Boiling the water to make tea also helps to keep you healthy.

  2. July 27, 2016 at 8:13 am

    Certainly gives one pause hankering after the good ole days. Should we also go back to limes on boats?

    • DaveK
      July 27, 2016 at 9:56 am

      James, since TB and Rickets are making a comeback you may be right.

      • July 27, 2016 at 11:57 am

        And even today, they have told us that our water must now be dirty for a month. They call it working on the pipes but the water has now become third-world this morning, whereas last evening it was fine.

  3. Andrew Duffin
    July 27, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    @James – actually lemons are better. They contain more Vitamin C, even though their juice is less acidic so doesn’t taste as “powerful”. This wasn’t understood for many years, because nobody at the time knew exactly why these juices prevent scurvy. It’s whole interesting story, which involves the ebb and flow of trade around the Empire, and other stuff – far too long for a blog comment.

    • July 27, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Yes, in fact it wasn’t Cook anyway and what it was was lemons, as you say. Not a lot of people know that. 🙂

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