November 30, 1917: U.S. Public Health Service Sanitation near Army Camps

1130 Sanitary Privy ConstructionNovember 30, 1917: Municipal Journal article. How the U.S. Public Health Service Endeavored to Secure Healthful Conditions and Surroundings at Camp Bowie, the Aviation Fields Nearby and the Adjacent Area. “When a million men were ordered into military training in the summer of 1917, it was thoroughly realized that intensive health work would be necessary to adequately protect them from disease. It was also realized that to sanitate only their actual camping sites would not be sufficient. Disease germs will not stop at the camp border; the soldier is bound to mingle with the civilian population. The same restaurant, the same barber-shop, and the same movie attract the soldier and the civilian.

To protect the one it is necessary to protect the other. Insanitary conditions a hundred yards, or a mile, from the camp border may produce an epidemic as quickly as similar conditions within the camp limits….

Though anti-typhoid inoculation has practically eliminated typhoid from the army, it is still rife among the civilian population. Moreover, typhoid is but one of the filth-borne diseases, against most of which there is not a preventative inoculation. The control of these diseases demands a safe method of excreta disposal, whereby infectious material will be prevented from access to food and water supplies and protected from the fly.

In Fort Worth, as a beginning, immediate steps were taken to enforce the ordinance relative to sewer connections, and since work began in May, 2,000 sewer connections have been made. To reach those homes not accessible to the sewers, an ordinance was passed requiring the installation of a sanitary privy, the type of privy being specified. This consists of a fly-proof, tight wooden box with a screened opening in front and a connecting flue pipe behind, which extends above the top of the old privy house for the purposes of ventilation. Tight metallic cans, 15 inches in diameter and 15 inches high, are placed in the box for the catchment of excreta. The boxes and can are uniformly made according to specifications and installed in the old houses. This work has been done under the direction of the city, the installation costing $8.50. The privies are scavenged weekly at a cost of $1.50 per quarter, the full cans being removed and clean cans placed in their stead. The cans to be scavenged are hauled to disposal stations, which are large concrete risers built over sewer mains, and there thoroughly washed and deodorized. Nearly 4,000 of these privies have been installed in Fort Worth, while the incorporated towns of Niles and Polytechnic, adjoining Fort Worth, have also installed the system.”

Commentary: In 1918, influenza killed over 650,000 in the U.S. However, epidemics of typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases were avoided by sanitary conditions such as described in this article. The famous sanitary engineer, George Warren Fuller played a role in the prevention of waterborne disease during WWI. “During the World War, he was a member of a sanitary committee at Washington regulating the engineering planning and sanitation of the various Army camps in this country. As consulting engineer to the U.S. Public Health Service and the to the Construction Division of the Army, he was responsible for a considerable part of the practices which resulted in the unprecedented low typhoid fever death rate in the Army camps.”

References: Hardenbergh, W.A. 1918. “Extra-Cantonment Zone Sanitation.” Municipal Journal. 45:22(November 30, 1918): 423-4.

“Sad Milestone in Sanitary Engineering Progress.” 1934. American Journal of Public Health. 24:8: 895–6.

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