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Sometimes we take many things in our lives for granted. Indoor toilets and safe, accessible drinking water seem like a given for many of us in Hurst, TX, and the United States in general. Approximately 2.6 billion people around the world don’t have access to safe, clean water or indoor plumbing. That is nearly 1/3 of the entire human population. Indoor plumbing and clean water are essential for a healthy modern lifestyle, and we certainly need plumbers to help us maintain this precious resource.
The earliest known plumbing pipes were discovered in Egypt. Egyptian plumbers, or an equivalent profession, made pipes with baked clay and straw. Egyptians also had the first copper pipes and invented water wheels. Wells dating back to the days of Ancient Egypt are up to 400-feet deep, and bathrooms and plumbing features were discovered in several pyramids.
Greece and Rome had plumbers in their empires too. Greek bath houses contained hot and cold running water. Rome built the extraordinary aqueducts across massive distances, and used underground lead pipes to transport water in some places. Scattered segments of the aqueducts remain intact to this day.
Poor Sanitation and Disease
Plumbing, and concern for clean water and waste management in general, declined drastically after the ancient empires fell. Unfortunately, humanity lost a great deal of knowledge between the ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian empires and the Middle Ages. The link between contaminated water and disease was completely forgotten. Occasionally, individual physicians and people of other professions made a tentative connection, but it did not become a recognized fact again until the 1800s.
The black plague is the most famous illness of the Middle Ages, but heavily populated areas experienced almost constant outbreaks of various diseases. City dwellers often threw chamber pot waste right into the streets, and an almost complete lack of sanitation meant most people in cities and large towns lived in filth.
Cholera, diphtheria, and dysentery were rampant. Some large cities, such as London and Paris, devised sewers of a sort. Channels were cut into streets to give wastewater a path to natural water sources. These channels were eventually covered to lessen the terrible odor, but that was not the biggest problem.
Bodies of freshwater were sources of drinking water and waste disposal. Sewer channels guided human and animal waste into the same rivers and streams that provided drinking water. Most cities and towns didn’t even have sewer channels. Waste accumulated in the streets until rain washed it away. Stepping stones were often used so people could walk through streets without slogging through filth.
Several nations in Europe and Asia set up sewage farms around cities. Human and animal waste could be gathered off the streets and transported to soil beds to create richer soil with more nitrates. A similar practice collected wastewater and used it to irrigate fields. Human waste is not used for fertilizer now because we know it can be a source of illness.
Early Clean Water Measures
London’s water was so contaminated that it caused waves of cholera epidemics. The National Public Health Act of 1848 was passed to improve sanitation in London and other cities in the United Kingdom. It eventually became the framework for plumbing codes around the world.
The industrial revolution triggered construction of plumbing infrastructure on a massive scale across Europe and the United States. Cities filled with additional workers and streets became so polluted that the problem could not be ignored or put off.
The first integrated sewer system in the United States was built in Chicago in 1856. It was necessary to stop the flow of sewage into Lake Michigan, which also provided drinking water throughout the city. Construction of Chicago’s sewer system began after an epidemic of water-borne illnesses killed almost 75,000 people.
New York’s first water main was built in 1830, although the first sewers in New York were built in the 1660s. The city’s population grew by leaps and bounds from the early 1800s onward. New York’s water was infamous for its foul, tepid taste until construction of water and sewer mains caught up with demand.
Sewer systems, and eventually water and sewage treatment plants, were rapidly built in cities across the United States. Many rural areas relied on well water and septic tanks until the mid-1900s. Some people in Hurst, TX, still use well water and septic systems, although they must adhere to strict regulations. Installing or upgrading a septic system is a job for professional plumbers.
Plumbers installed pipes and fixtures made from copper, iron and steel until the US entered World War 2. Both ferrous and nonferrous metals were needed for the war effort, so plumbers switched to newer materials, such as plastics and glazed clay.
Plumbers and Human Civilization
Civilization is dependent on relatively large numbers of people living in close proximity. A close-knit population center is necessary for working together and exchanging information regularly. Humanity has made a great deal of progress in modern times. Communication between nations on opposite sides of the world is instantaneous, and information travels vast distances in seconds.
There are still many aspects of modern infrastructure that depend on people living and working together. It is very difficult to create new technology and achieve scientific breakthroughs while worrying about basic needs. Modern life in developed nations solved that problem. People have access to essential resources without spending daily labor hours fulfilling basic needs.
No resource is more essential than water. We absolutely must have water to survive. Plumbers manage public and private infrastructure that delivers clean water to our homes and commercial buildings. In fact, plumbing has such a vital role in health, safety and daily life that it is not an exaggeration to say plumbers are essential to advanced civilization. Call Tioga Contractors for any of your plumbing issues or questions.