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History of Hygiene
Graphs and Statistics

Public Sanitation


2000 BC: Ancient Indo-Aryan water purification. Sanskrit writings describe the purification of foul water by boiling and filtering.

460-377 BC: The "birth" of "Hygiene"? During the time of Greek physician Hippocrates, “hygiene” became known as the branch of medicine dedicated to the "art of health," (as distinct from therapeutics, the treatment of disease).

Trophy   300 BC-AD 400: The system of aqueducts built in Ancient Rome provided inhabitants with fresh running water, which was piped directly to homes of the wealthy, and to public fountains and baths. This greatly improved domestic sanitation and adequate disposal of sewage.

200-100 BC: "It is more important to prevent illness than to cure the illness when it has arisen" - from The Yellow Emperor’s Treatise on Internal Medicine (Ancient China). Clean water was known to be important in disease prevention so wells were covered, devices were used to filter water and the Chhii Shih (“sanitary police”) removed all animal and human corpses from waterways and buried all bodies found on land.

Thumbs Up   1600s-1700s: Human contact with waste was minimised in Japanese cities because it was collected for use as crop fertiliser. Sewage was not discharged to rivers so pollution of waterways was minimised.

1800s: England’s population increased rapidly but its number of toilets did not. Most human waste made its way into cesspools, dungheaps, cellars or the street. Waste and garbage made its way into rivers, polluting the water and giving rise to foul odours. In 1842 public health reformer Sir Edwin Chadwick published in his Sanitary Health Report:
"only two or three public privies...for the great bulk of the inhabitants"
"the whole area of the cellars of both houses were full of night soil [human excrement]"
"a square court...occupied entirely as a dung receptacle of the most disgusting kind"
"a dunghill in one never removed...the malarious moisture oozes through the wall, and runs over the pavement"

As a result of his report, the 1848 Public Health Act was instituted, followed by the 1866 Sanitary Act, making local authorities responsible for sanitary regulation including sewage disposal, water supply and housing density & occupancy, and introducing penalties for persons suffering from dangerous infectious diseases who endangered others in public places.

1854: Dr John Snow showed that cholera was spread by water.

1860: The first septic tank was invented by Louis Moureas and used by communities to remove solids from waste before the liquid was discharged into a body of water. This design was improved by use of trickling sand filtration from 1893.

1865: New York New York. "Domestic garbage and filth of every kind is thrown into the streets…In winter, the filth and garbage, etc., accumulate in the streets to the depth sometimes of two or three feet."

1800s-1900s: Sewer systems were constructed in many European and US cities, initially discharging untreated sewage to waterways. When discharge of untreated sewerage became increasingly unacceptable, experimentation towards improved treatment methods resulted in sewage farming, chemical precipitation, filtration, sedimentation, chemical treatment, and activated sludge treatment using aerobic microorganisms.

1900: Clean up Sydney! The Plague was brought to The Rocks area of Sydney by rats from ships. This led to one of the first major clean-ups of Sydney: slums were demolished, streets limewashed, 1423 dead animals removed from Sydney harbour, 44,548 rats destroyed, more than 28,455 tons of garbage taken out to sea and another 25,430 tons of garbage burned.

1960s: Garbage compactors. The first patents for residential garbage compactors were filed in the USA.

2004: The National Health and Medical Research Council published Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, providing guidance on what constitutes good quality drinking water. Australia’s drinking water is currently sourced from dams, rainwater, bore water and desalination plants, whilst increasingly treated greywater is being reused for irrigation and for selected household uses.


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