Puslapio vaizdai

contrary to the grade of the street, and the orders given were by no means generally controlled by the obvious engineering requirements of the locality. The greatest improvement undertaken during this period was the adoption of the egg-shaped section (four feet high, two feet eight inches wide), which contracted the ordinary flow into a smaller and better flushed channel.

Through the absence of a comprehensive system, and by the action of unfaithful contractors and equally unfaithful inspectors, the early work was of the worst character. Much of it still exists, buried out of sight beneath the streets, and really doing more harm than good. The discredit of work done under its direction is by no means chargeable to the Croton Aqueduct Department, which was little more than the agent of the Common Council in executing its separate enactments. Its annual reports for the years 1863 and 1864 contain frequent and emphatic appeals for the necessary authority to execute much-needed reforms.

In 1865, the Legislature passed a Sewerage Act, which was the first attempt at systematic work. At this time the population had increased to three-quarters of a million; the extent of the sewerage was estimated at nearly two hundred miles; and there were two thousand eight hundred and forty receiving basins to collect the water of the street gutters. A corps of engineers was now organized; the city was divided into drainage districts, and plans were prepared for those parts of the city into which an extension of the system seemed of most immediate importance; but the two hundred miles of old work in narrow and crowded business streets constituted a most troublesome problem. Many of the more serious existing defects were gradually improved; but their condition to this day leaves very much to be desired. In 1868, an intercepting sewer was constructed in Eleventh avenue, between Twenty-third and Thirty-second streets, which delivers the outflow of the sewers of this district at the foot of Twentythird street. The effect of this work was most advantageous, and it led to a considerable extension of the system.

In 1870, the city government was reorganized, and the new charter provided for a Department of Public Works, under which a bureau was formed having charge of the sewerage and drainage of Manhattan Island. It was one of the early acts of this bureau to construct, in compliance with the recommendation of the Board of Health, the


system of under-ground drainage (above Fifty-fourth street) to which reference has already been made. It has also greatly extended the use of vitrified pipe in the construction of sewers, and has done important work in the construction of intercepting or collecting sewers at certain places along the river front.

The statistics of the existing sewerage works are as follows: sewers, 341 miles; under-ground or land drains above Fiftyfourth street, 14 miles; culverts, 18 miles; receiving basins (gutter catch-basins), 4540. Total cost (estimated), about $10,000,000.

As above stated, the average quality of this work is much better than is generally supposed. Some of the later constructions especially reflect credit on the skill and ingenuity of the engineer directing them. The chief fault to be found with the sewerage and land-drainage system relates especially to the defective condition of the older work, and to the inherent vice of the methods pursued. In many places land has been left undrained which ought to have been drained the sewers, nominally tight, are far from being really tight, for even the pipesewers leak at nearly every joint, and the whole system is an enormous source of soilpollution. The land drains cannot be trusted to remain permanently serviceable; the sewers are constantly pouring into the rivers a mass of street dirt and decomposing organic matter, much of which is permanently lodged in the slips between the piers; and, worst of all, the whole net-work of sewerswhich is brought into communication with every house through its connecting drainis a vast, foul, and unventilated gasometer, wherein organic matter of the worst description, and always more or less infected with the dejecta of the sick, is undergoing the worst form of decomposition, and producing resultant gases of the most pernicious char


These defects are mainly unavoidable in any method of sewerage by which stormwater and household wastes are delivered through the same channel, and they are universal in all works of combined sewerage. They manifest themselves not only in American cities, but quite as much elsewhere, even in London, where the outcry against them is constant and increasing.

It is by no means all parts of the sewers, even in the lower portions of New York, that are especially foul; but the foulness in many places is excessive, and it certainly would be a moderate statement to say that

no half-mile of the brick sewers of the city is entirely clean; the aggregate deposit, especially during the dry and hot summer months, is simply enormous. An inspection of the pipe-sewers shows them to be in much better condition; but even here considerable accumulations exist; and not seldom, where the sewer is laid in a rocky embankment, the escape of the liquid portions of sewage at the joints leaves the most offensive solid matters stranded along the line.

Worse even than the sewers, though fortunately not in direct communication with the interiors of the houses, are the thousands of catch-basins at the street corners. Even in a city the streets of which are decently paved and decently kept, the catch-basins always retain along with their mud a great amount of decomposing organic matter. In New York, the streets of which are filthy beyond description, this condition is correspondingly worse; so bad, indeed, that the only reason why they are not so dangerous as the interior of the sewers themselves is that their exhalations are exposed to atmospheric dilution.

With an incomprehensible fatuity, engineers in charge of city sewers have accepted as a means for ventilating them the entirely trivial device of covering their infrequent man-holes with slightly perforated covers. That some immunity is thus secured against the pressure given to the atmosphere of the sewer by a rapid increase in the volume of its flow, and otherwise, is doubtless true; but these perforated covers can have no more effect upon the enormous production of foul air within the sewers than had the small vent of the Black Hole of Calcutta upon its poisonous atmosphere.

To say that the sewerage system of New York is especially bad, according to the world's standard of such work, would not be true. To say that it is tolerable, as an element of the improvement of a great city, would be equally untrue. It is as good as such sewerage is apt to be; but all such sewerage is quite unsuited to the sanitary requirements of a city.

It is a popular notion that New York has an almost unequaled advantage of site, in the fact that it is washed on each side by a great river, by which its drainage is at once removed. This is not the case. The East River is not a river at all; only a constricted tidal gut, through which the ebb and flow are very strong-the ebb, owing to the greater height of the tide of Long


Island Sound entering from Throgg's Neck, being much the stronger of the two and so effecting a certain preponderance of outflow at Sandy Hook. The North River is a broad and deep estuary, of which the ebb is greater than the flow by the amount of the fresh water of the Hudson (sometimes insignificant in summer), and of the small creeks and "kills" which drain the very narrow water-shed of the lower valley. This comparatively slight excess of outward current has but a limited effect on the removal of discharged sewage, as the great tidal basin inside of Sandy Hook has very wide area, where the movement is so slight as to permit deposits to form. In considering the effect of the surrounding water on the disposal of matters discharged by the sewers, we are therefore met by the probability that only an insignificant proportion of them ever crosses the bar at Sandy Hook. In one form or another, nearly the whole contribution-and it is enormous-is deposited, consumed by fishes, or evaporated between Sing Sing and Throgg's Neck on the north, and Coney Island and Prince's Bay on the south. Under the action of the winds much of the coarser refuse is stranded on the shore.

Bad though the public sewers are, as a source of sewer-gas and as a means for furnishing a foul and often infected taint to the atmosphere of dwelling-houses, they are, doubtless, a less important factor in influencing the public health than are the drains by which they are connected with the houses, and the soil-pipes and waste-pipes by which the wastes of human life are conveyed to those drains.

"Sewer-gas" is, perhaps, entitled to all the blame that it receives, as a source of disease and death. Its name, however, is a misleading one, for the foul emanations given off by the outlets of our sinks and basins, and baths and water-closets, is more often due to processes whose seat is in the housedrainage pipes themselves than to the decomposition of filth in the more distant sewers. It is, therefore, advisable to withdraw attention somewhat from defects in the public sewers, which the community is probably powerless to overcome, and to direct it to defects of house-drainage, which are much more completely under individual control.

The whole system of interior housedrainage has grown up since the introduction of a public water-supply;-it has really "grown" up. Its methods are purely the

creature of circumstance, and their development has been guided by the desire for close economy on the one hand, and by the desire for profitable work on the other. The art of house-drainage is one of the many arts which the world is disposed to intrust to "practical" guidance. In this department, the plumber still rules supreme. Architects, with rare exceptions, being already overtaxed with the artistic and the commercial elements of their profession, are glad to leave the prescription of plumbing-work where it has always remained-in the hands of those who are to carry out the work. Specifications for plumbing are usually drawn up by plumbers, or copied from previous plumbers' specifications. Physicians, with equally rare exceptions, while recognizing the influence of defective drainage, cannot pretend to master the details of an art so different from their own, and now undergoing such rapid development. Householders, while relying solely on the plumber's advice, have not ceased to regard him as a plundering enemy, and to shun every occasion for his services. If extravagant, and given to the multiplication of costly luxuries, they are apt not to look beyond the obvious advantages of copious water-supply and its ready removal. Among plumbers themselves there are many honorable exceptions to the general rule,—many men who are earnestly striving to discover and to remove defects in the established processes of their trade; but the great mass of those engaged in that handicraft have no conception of the principles by which their work should be guided, and no respect for any suggestion looking to a radical modification of what they have been taught to do.

Here, more than anywhere else, lies the great danger to the health of the people of any city. A well-built house may be almost entirely protected against the unwholesome influence of its surroundings, and may, undoubtedly, if reasonably well located, be made a safe habitation; but a city house, however well built, which contains the inherent defects very rarely absent from the best houses, and which are almost universal in all except the best, seems so subject to the infection of disease that one can regard the robust health of its occupants only with the sort of wonder with which we contemplate the ruddy vigor of bone-boilers and scavengers. It is one of the beneficent mysteries that characterize our existence that we so often face dangers unscathed,

and lead, in health and happiness, long lives, which ought, according to all sanitary rules, to be short and miserable. But it is only the many fortunate ones who do escape the dangers by which they are menaced. That these dangers are fatal to more than a few of our race is shown by the enormous aggregate mortality from preventible diseases which are always present among us, and which burst into such frequent epidemic explosions. There is every reason to believe that diphtheria, cerebro-spinal meningitis, malignant diarrhoea, and many other zymotic diseases, are either directly occasioned or greatly fostered by what is known under the general term "defective drainage." It is perfectly demonstrated that typhoid fever and Asiatic cholera, whatever their ultimate origin, find their channel for extension solely in certain infected substances which are discharged from the diseased body. We know, absolutely, that by a proper regulation of the drainage of any house (and of course a proper care of the dejections of inmates sick with the disease), we can render the origin of another case of cholera or typhoid fever in that house impossible. Its occupants may receive infection elsewhere, but if the house-drainage and the care of the sick are what they should be, they cannot receive it there.

To secure such a result as this, it is necessary to improve the standard of housedrainage work, not only to the point to which the Board of Health of New York has thought it prudent to demand improvement, but radically and absolutely.

It would extend this paper beyond its assigned limits to attempt anything like a complete description of the almost universal faults of our soil-pipes and waste-pipes and traps. They are quite generally wrong in principle and bad in execution. Especially in the older houses, the perforations of lead soil-pipes are an unsuspected but often serious source of trouble. In old houses as well as in new, the absence or insufficiency of soil-pipe ventilation is another. In old houses as well as in new, the discharge of the drainage through earthenware pipes laid under the cellar floor, the joints almost always leaking, is another. The siphoning or emptying of traps by the flow of water through the waste-pipes to which their outlets lead, is another. The separation of the house-drains from the foul street-sewer by a simple water-seal trap, with no means for the admission of fresh air to the house sys

tem, is another. There are others still, of minor character, but of great aggregate influence.

The cardinal fault of all, not even surpassed by the unventilated soil-pipe, is the water-closet which is in almost universal use all over Christendom. This is known as the "pan" closet. It probably is not, but it certainly might be, the invention of the devil. The principle of its construction is shown in the accompanying diagram. It consists of an earthenware bowl closed at the bottom by a planished copper pan, arranged to hold water to a certain depth in the bowl. Seen from above, it has a most cleanly and innocent appearance. Immediately below the copper pan there is a chamber of horrors known to the trade as a "container," and a container indeed it is! It contains what it pretends to remove, until no other utensil of human economy is one-half so foul. It is of cast-iron, and has its outlet through a bent pipe (a trap), which shuts off its atmosphere from that of the drain beyond, as the sealing water





of the pan shuts it off from the atmosphere of the room. This container becomes splashed, and soiled, and coated, and furred with an accumulation of focal matter and urine, which the mere tilting of the pan, with its cupful of water, is powerless to remove, and much of which remains in adhesion to the iron until wasted away by

the slow processes of a foul and dangerous decomposition, made still more foul and dangerous by the entire absence of fresh air.

In this container, day and night, year in and year out, this decomposition is ever going on. The gases produced penetrate and infect and escape from the sealing water of the pan, and the bacteria originating in fermentation in the sewer and soil-pipe, spreading through the foul contents of the unflushed trap, find a fresh field for their activity in the coating of the container. When the pan is thrown down, after use, the pent-up gases escape through the seat with a stifling whiff familiar to all who have been subjected to it,—as who in a modern city has not been! The movement of the pan is actuated by a spindle which passes through a hole in the iron wall of the container, which often has sufficient windage for the constant escape of the contained air. The bowl is attached to the container by a seating of putty, which in time becomes corroded and leaking. These closets generally getting their supply of water by the operation of a valve, and an escape being needed for the leakage of this valve, a hole for its passage is made through the wall of the container, and this furnishes another means for the unobstructed escape of foul odors.

The popularity of the pan closet is largely due to the fact that an enormous demand enables it to be manufactured very cheaply, and to the fact that it is," after all, the most reliable," that it "does not get out of order," which means that whatever is dumped from its pan is hidden from sight, and that it has a large outlet which is not liable to become obstructed. A moment's consideration of the diagram and description here given must convince any sane person that it is radically unfit to be used within the walls of any dwelling-house.

During the past few years earnest efforts have been made to produce something less objectionable, and two substitutes have attained considerable popularity: one of them is of the class known as the Jennings, which holds water in the bowl and discharges through a valved outlet placed at the side. This closet at first commended itself to all sanitarians, but experience with it has developed a considerable tendency to foulness in connection with the valve, and in the restricted space between the valve and the trap below. The other substitute holds its water in the bowl by a weighted valve closing tightly against its

outlet in place of the pan. This also has a second trap below, and the intervening space, while undoubtedly far preferable to the container of the pan closet, is still unclean and unventilated, and the closet is by no means free from serious objection. These three classes of closets are practically the only ones in use in New York City, if we except a very common kind of hopper closet, which is so foul as to be quite unacceptable for family use.

In a very large majority of cases, waterclosets are flushed, not as they should be, from independent cisterns containing water drawn upon for no other purpose, but through valves connected with the main water-supply of the house. The use of such "valve" closets on the cellar or basement floor is not open to serious objection; but their use should be prohibited on all higher floors. All who are accustomed to use stationary wash-basins will have frequently noticed that when the faucets are opened for drawing water there is a strong inward suction, caused by the emptying of the pipes by the opening of faucets below. This same suction occurs under corresponding circumstances when the valve in the water-closet is opened. When it does occur, the foul atmosphere of the closet-bowl-and too often the foul smearing of its walls-are drawn directly into the pipes, to mingle with the supply from which drinking-water is taken. Serious epidemics of typhoid have been directly traced to this source of contamination. Its undetected agency in producing disease has probably been very great.

Under the water-closet, for the protection of the ceilings below, it is a common practice to introduce a "safe"-a leaden tray to receive leakage and overflow. In a large In a large majority of existing work, the outlet to this tray is directly into the main trap below the water-closet, and furnishes an escape for its exhalations. To make a water-closet "first-class," it is usually considered necessary to inclose it with tight ornamental carpentry, whereby the space under the seat, more often than not fouled and stained by slopping and leakage, becomes another unventilated seat of foul decomposition, whose gaseous products find ready access to the spaces within partitions, and diffuse themselves behind walls and between ceilings and floors, tainting the atmosphere of the whole house, until an unaccustomed nostril detects the closet odor at the first opening of the street door.

The defects in house-drainage enumerated

above are not confined to houses of the worst, nor even of the medium class, but are prevalent in the very best houses in New York,- almost without exception. They are defects in the presence of which even the best house is far from being a safe residence. Other faults-such as the unclean condition of waste pipes-might be enumerated, which are almost as common, and the influence of which, while less marked, is still most serious.

Add to the above, wet cellars, damp foundations, the use of the cellar as a source of the air to be heated for the warming of the house, and the general lack of ventilation, especially when steam heating is resorted to, and some idea may be formed of the reason why this great city is subject to a death-rate which, in the light of what is now known, is the disgrace of its authorities and the shame of its intelligent citizens.

Nor is it alone to the condition of the houses and their drainage, nor to the public sewerage, with its accompanying soil saturation and contamination, that we are to look for the causes of such wide-spread insalubrity. The worse than defective paving of the streets, the utter neglect of superficial cleanliness, the vast, unsolved problem of garbage removal, and the universal license concerning the fouling of the streeets and gutters, are no mean factors in the problem.

Even those New York readers of this magazine who are chiefly familiar with the great thoroughfares, and with streets which are kept comparatively unfoul by private subscription, will readily concede the justice of the above allusion. Let them but walk a little way out of the usual course of their daily routes, and they will realize that no description could portray the horrible state of the streets. Almost the whole region south of Fourteenth street, west of Fifth Avenue and West Broadway, and east of Second avenue; nearly the whole of the bordering streets of the city; and that great foul center of crowded population between Broadway and the Bowery, are simply vast areas of indescribable filth which can hardly be equaled outside New Orleans and Constantinople. That a population can be so healthy as it should be amid such filthy and rotting surroundings is not to be believed by any one who accepts the necessary relation between cleanliness and healthfulness.

The prevalence of offensive industries in certain parts of the city, and in its vicinity, on Long Island, is another factor to be

« AnkstesnisTęsti »