London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Deptford 1913

Annual report on the health of the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford

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House Refuse and the Dust Bin.
The importance of sufficient and suitable dustbin accommodation
cannot be over-rated. It is important also that the dustbins should be
uniform in size and possess a tightly fitting cover. The provision of
these would be best carried out by the local authority, but if this is
not possible, then the local authority should empty them at least twice
a week in the summer months.
Many inhabitants give no indication of a knowledge of dangerous
microbes in house refuse, for no pretence is made of covering it up
and imprisoning in the receptacles any microbe-infected organic
matter. Every facility is given, on the other hand, for additional
microbes to alight and breed upon it—the open exposure to rain
favouring such breeding.
Further, in addition to standing exposed close to the houses, these
receptacles are taken from their places and exposed in the street or
mews for removal, in some cases for hours, still without covers, and
open to wind, flies, cats, dogs, vermin, and other germ distributing
Many dustbins seem more dangerous when empty than when full,
by reason of the rain-sodden mass at the bottom.
To my suggestion that this state of things is dangerous to health,
it may be said that these things are merely eyesores and untidy, but
trifling and unimportant from a practical sanitation point of view, and
there are those who may term them mere sanitary experiments and
To those with these beliefs I wish to say that it is now common
and well proven knowledge :—
(1) That microbes of various kinds exist. Some directly cause
fatal disease: others cause an infinitely greater amount of nonfatal
disease; whilst others contribute to disease. Again others
produce decay in food and even more or less deadly toxins, and
are thus dangerous to health, causing diseases which may be a
mere temporary inconvenience, a chronic trouble, or a speedy
(2) Such microbes breed and develop, in natural sequence, only
in organic matter, such as is found in animal and vegetable tissue,
whether living or dead, and such as occurs commonly in house
refuse, whether it be rejected food scraps (cooked or raw), personal
cleanings, sputum, dejecta of the domestic animals, or of mice, rats,
or birds. They cannot breed on slates, bricks, flags, paving stones,
or other inorganic matter. The house with its sweepings and its
refuse is an important cause of the perpetuation of microbes in

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