London County Council.
NUISANCE FROM PLIES.
Report by the Medical Officer of Health presenting a report by Dr. Hamer, Medical
Officer (General Purposes), on the extent to which fly nuisance is produced
in London by accumulations of offensive matter.
(Ordered by the Public Health Committee to be printed, 23rd January, 1908.)
For many years the Sanitary Authorities of London have been engaged in endeavouring to
perfect the arrangements for removing offensive refuse from close proximity to inhabited houses.
The standards laid down by the Public Health (London) Act, 1891, and by the by-laws of the London
County Council, made in 1894, under sections 16 and 39 of that Act, have been gradually but steadily
applied. Many difficulties were encountered at the outset, both from occupiers who claimed a right
to enjoy the privilege of keeping house refuse upon their premises for indefinite periods, and from
contractors who, in defiance of the by-laws, deposited house refuse, street sweepings, stable
manure, etc., within the prohibited distance of houses. These have been for the most part overcome,
but there still remain difficulties with regard to the depots at which refuse is manipulated. In some
instances such refuse is burnt, and the furnaces employed for this purpose do not always give wholly
satisfactory results ; in others, it is carried away in barges or in railway trucks, and if it be transferred
direct, from the cart to the barge or truck, complaint is much less likely to arise than if the refuse
be temporarily deposited. In a few instances, however, the refuse is deposited at the depot and
allowed to remain for a time either in order to enable sorting operations to be carried on or for some
other reason, and in neighbourhoods where this practice obtains, in addition to annoyance from smell
and dust, fly nuisance is apt to be experienced, especially in the summer mnoths. The question of fly
nuisance has been before the Committee on various occasions in the past fifteen years, but recently
complaints have been more frequent, in part, no doubt, owing to the fact that attention has been
pointedly called of late to the possibility that flies may act as carriers of infection.
Last year a striking instance of fly nuisance came directly under the notice of the Committee, and I
was instructed to have some general enquiries made. A scheme was accordingly formulated by which
study could be made of the influence exerted by collections of house refuse, stable manure, cow
manure, etc. Twelve sets of premises were chosen for the purposes of the experiment, and some
dozen or more places of observation were selected surrounding each centre. In these places fly papers
were exhibited, and careful records were made of the number of flies caught.
During the hot weeks of 1907 nearly a million flies were thus captured, and Dr. Hamer's report
summarises the results deduced from examination of the figures relating to the several premises under
the varying conditions obtaining.
One lesson clearly emerges to view. On no account should the practice of depositing manure
or house dust at depots and of allowing such deposits to remain, even for a few hours, in the
neighbourhood of houses, be tolerated in an urban community.
Dr. Hamer, in the concluding portion of his report, deals with the evidence adduced, in this
country, in support of the view that flies transmit diarrhoea and enteric fever. As to this, more information
is undoubtedly needed before any definite conclusion can be arrived at. In the meantime, the
facts ascertained indicate that, even apart from any question of disease-transmission, the physical discomfort
extending even to loss of sleep, caused by flies, is sufficiently great to warrant further effort being made
to deal effectively with fly nuisance. Moreover, even in the absence of direct proof of disease dissemination
the well-known habits of flies justify their being regarded with disfavour. A visitor in an hotel
at an American health resort, in which the dry method of disposal of excreta was adopted, is said to
have complained of the plague of flies in the sanitary offices. He was advised that experience showed
the condition of the offices was less open to objection during hours when meals were being served, as the
flies were then attracted to the hotel tables. Considerations of this sort suffice in themselves to carry
conviction as to the need of dealing with fly nuisance.
SHIRLEY F. MURPHY,
Medical Officer of Health.
To the Public Health Committee,