July 13, 1916: Using Lead Pipes and Polio Connection to Clean Streets

Lead service line attached to a household water meter

Lead service line attached to a household water meter

July 13, 1916: Municipal Journal articles.

Enforce Use of Lead Service Pipes. “Philadelphia, Pa.-To preserve the water supply and to help keep the streets of the city in proper condition, chief Carlton T. Davis of the bureau of water has announced that all private pipe carrying water from the public mains in the streets to buildings must be of lead from the main to the stop at the curb. The issuance of the order is possible because of the enactment of a recent ordinance by councils. At present, according to Chief Davis, about two thousand service pipes develop leaks under the paved roadways each year. This means that the water bureau loses water, the householder is subject to annoyance and the public is inconvenienced by the digging up of the streets. The bulk of service pipe leaks are caused by the use of improper material which is quickly corroded. There are more than 350,000 service pipes in use. A great many of these are of lead and give no trouble. The ordinance just passed gives the chief of the bureau of water the power to enforce the use of proper pipes.”

Commentary: I was unaware of such an ordinance in Philadelphia. It is possible that such a requirement also existed in other large cities. What a calamity for drinking water consumers. We are reaping the whirlwind of such decisions 97+ years later.

Infantile Paralysis and Clean Streets. “Children of all classes have been leaving New York by the tens of thousands during the past week to escape the dreaded infantile paralysis, which has already attacked considerably more than a thousand of them and carried off about quarter of a thousand to date. These known facts are alarming enough, but probably what gives the exodus almost the nature of a panic is the unknown-the fact that no one understands how the disease is communicated from one to another. The germ is believed to enter through the noze [sic] or mouth or both; but how it is carried is a matter of surmise. Furs and furry animals, flies, the sneezing of human beings and even contact with them are considered to be possible causes.

It is noticed that most of the cases are found amid surroundings that are below the average in cleanliness, and therefore many suspect that dirt is in some way connected with the origin of the disease. As a result, housewives are being arrested and fined by the hundred for violations of city ordinances relative to uncovered garbage cans and other collections of putrescible matters, for they rather than the street cleaning and refuse collection forces are to blame for these conditions, although these forces are being increased in number and stirred to greater activity and thoroughness; the aim being to get and keep the city as clean as possible.

Commentary: While this article is not about water directly, it tells a lot about how society was dealing with the unknown during this period. If anyone doubted that the miasma theory of disease (bad smells from decaying organic material makes people sick) was still alive and well in 1916, all they have to do is read this article. While passing mention is given to the germ causing the disease, the author falls back onto filth and dirt being the ultimate breeding place for such germs—just as in the 19th century. Parents must have been terrified that such an epidemic of unknown cause was taking away their children.

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