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

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St James's 1898

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for St James's, Westminster]

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fire, it is impossible to draw any line at which the absolute
disinfection of an infected house would be secured.
Bedding, clothing, and other removable articles which
have been infected by cases of disease are disinfected with
high-pressure steam by means of a Washington Lyon's
patent steam disinfector at the stoneyard in Dufours Place.
This steam disinfection is safe, easy, and effective. But
boots, hats, and some other articles are spoiled by high-pressure
steam, and when necessary such articles are burnt.
The ordinary use of disinfecting chemicals is to be discommended
except in special cases. As a general rule,
properly constructed drains and plumbing arrangements
require nothing but proper flushing and the application of
the squeegee in order to insure the highest level of sanitation.
Inside a house the chronic use of disinfectants
spells bad drainage, unsound plumbing apparatus, want of
ventilation, or bad housekeeping. Here the proper remedy
is to correct one or all of these causes. The putting disinfectants
down water-closets corrodes the metal pipes
and sanitary appliances. These corrosive substances also
eat away the Portland cement which joints together the
stoneware drain-pipes, and thus produce leakage of foul
drainage-water into the subsoil of the basement of the
house. Such leakage into the subsoil is the cause of damp
basements; and with a foul, damp basement, no house can
be sweet. Broadly, it may be said that no house in
which disinfectants need be used is fit to live in. It is
not too much, also, to say that to put chloride of lime
daily down the closets is to corrode and ruin the most
costly and perfect system of plumbing in a year. It is to
this use of disinfectants chiefly that we owe the perforated
soil-pipes through which foul air is drawn into houses.
Many houses are ventilated only by air currents coming
in through the water-closets and drains, and down the
cold chimneys. It must be realized that each fire carries
up its chimney an average of 40 cubic feet of air per

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