Who was responsible for sewer drainage?
This entry was posted on May 19, 2016.
Since prehistoric times, it seems that man has been aware of the need to get rid of waste. Even prehistoric man classed it as something unpleasant. Archaeologists have discovered pits where waste was left, with early civilisations incorporating a way to bring water up to ground level to flush the waste into a pit.
By the Bronze age, a proper civilisation structure was appearing. People were keeping animals, whose waste needed to be disposed of as well as their own human waste products. Along with the first signs of town planning, it was clear that people at this point in history recognised the importance of water in this process. Not only was the idea of flushing waste away common, the Indus people had worked out that if they could get their waste into a larger body of water, like a sea or ocean, it would be diluted enough to get rid of the smells and nasty bacteria which would make their towns unpleasant.
With this discovery, towns were built with waste disposal in mind. Human and animal waste had to be transported out of the towns and cities to make them habitable, and early builders and engineers started to come up with the first basic sewerage systems for getting waste away from people.
Who adopted it?
The Romans are widely credited as the first providers of a proper sewage drainage system. They created the Cloaca Maxima, which translates as “Greatest sewer”. The Romans had great respect for water and its many uses, designating some streams and rivers as bodies of water which you could drink from, and others for flushing away waste from homes and Roman bath houses. The Cloaca Maxima became one of the latter.
Historians think that they started building it in 600BC, and that it started life as a simple canal. With the Indus theory of waste needing to be diluted and disposed of, the Romans started using the Cloaca Maxima for their waste, as its gentle flow stopped build ups and blockages. In order to hide the unpleasant sight and smell of waste making its way to the ocean, they built a cover over the top of the canal. This then became the earliest real sewer, as we know them today – a covered stream of water, flushing away our waste products.
Which materials have been used in sewer drainage?
Of course, not every city the Romans conquered had a canal and river system, so as they conquered foreign lands, they put in their own sewerage network. When they came to Britain, they used something Britain had a lot of – trees. A hollowed elm log was a popular choice, built with a joint which allowed it to be fixed securely to a neighbouring log pipe, to stop any waste escaping into the soil.
Back in the Indus Valley, where there were no elm trees, the town engineers were developing their own sewer drainage system. In the heavily built up towns, they were laying bricks to form an underground channel, and then covering the channel with a layer of mortar, similar to concrete, to give the waste a smooth channel to travel through. New homes were built with a connection to this drainage system, allowing the waste to exit homes and go straight into the sewerage system.
How has it changed our modern world?
With people finally understanding that waste should be disposed of for health and hygiene purposes, developments such as out houses came about to further ensure that human waste was not allowed anywhere near the population. Typhoid and cholera were a big problem, and when it was linked to contamination of the drinking water supply, people really began to realise how dangerous untreated human waste was. Something needed to be done.
In the 19th century, experiments took place which put the collected waste onto agricultural land, but before this became widespread, students at the University of Manchester discovered a way to treat sewage so that it wasn’t harmful. They called their process “Activated Sludge”, and it relied on friendly bacteria destroying the harmful bacteria found in waste water, grabbing hold of it, and dragging it to the floor of a storage tank at a treatment plant, where it was drained away.
After this discovery, sewage pipes were re-routed so that sewage could be collected at a treatment plant and processed, rather than being dumped into the seas and oceans.
With the harmful waste being treated at the sewage treatment plants, the number of people dying from water borne diseases was drastically reduced, and life expectancy increased.
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