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

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St James's 1860

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

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as ample provision is made by the water supply
for carrying off all the solid matter that ought to
be deposited in the sewers. Unfortunately, the
sewers and drains in many districts are so badly
constructed, that they allow of a deposit of solid,
animal, and vegetable matter, which, during its
decomposition, especially in the summer time, give
off not only the most disagreeable effluvia, but also
poisonous matters, destructive to the health of those
who inhale them. It is on this account most
desirable that these gaseous poisons should not
escape into the streets or opposite houses, thickly
populated with human beings. At the same time
the trapping gullies and the closing ventilating
shafts, is attended with two evils. The first is,
that, by confining the gases in the sewers, they
become so foul as to render it dangerous for the
sewer-men to go down into them to clean them.
The second evil is, that the gases thus confined are
more readily conveyed through drains, rat holes,
and other apertures, into the interior of houses.
It has been recently shewn by Dr. Sanderson, that
in the interior of houses where fires are kept,
that there is continually maintained a diminished
pressure of the atmosphere, the result of which is a
continued pouring into our dwelling houses of the
poisonous gases of the sewers. I have reported
to you, during the year, several fatal cases of fever,
erysipelas, and sore throat, occurring in the largest
houses in the parish, and which I could trace to no
other cause than the constant leakage into the