Don’t go near (or swim in, or drink) the Water!


I worked for quite a few years on projects associated with Sewage and Clean Water Projects. Not many people in this modern world realise that the true birth of modern cities and towns, namely the ability to live free from dread disease and plague whilst living in crowded urban conurbations was brought about by the work and investigation of a single London vicar named Dr. John Snow, allied to the genius of an Engineer named Joseph Bazalgette.

Snow deduced that a large number of cholera deaths on the immediate vicinity of the Broad Street public pump could be directly associated with the use of the water from that pump. He wondered why certain men, and their families, seemed to be immune from the dread disease, whilst living next door to those who had died from cholera. Once he deduced that all the men worked for the same company, which brewed beer; he then realised that the men and their families drank water which came from a different source; which had also been boiled. It took a huge battle to make the authorities understand that the pump had been contaminated with human sewage, but once the pump was padlocked, the cholera ceased to spread. Water treatment has come a long way from the efforts of Dr. Snow, but he was the one man who figured out where death was lurking.

Bazalgette accepted the challenge of removing and controlling the huge amounts of sewage, formerly dumped straight in the open sewers and streams which fed into the Thames; thus creating the ‘big stink’. This genius built huge sewage tunnels right along the banks of the Thames, covering them with rocks and bricks; when the new sub-sewage channels were connected to the main tunnels, and the resulting mess of toxic effluent was pumped towards the Estuary and there treated before being pumped into the Thames, the ‘stink’ subsided, Londoners could once more breathe, and Bazalgette gratefully bowed before his Sovereign as he was knighted.

From initiation, through hydraulic analysis, planning and construction, a Main Sewage Treatment works complex, suitable for a city, can take six-seven years to complete; can cost a lump of cash, but is worth the effort. I have been involved in the planning, construction and commissioning processes, and it can be complex, but: it is worth the effort!

So I do wonder why the Brazilians, despite having seven years to plan, develop and build the much-needed sewage complexes necessary to clean up the bays, the beaches and the waters, have done virtually nothing to protect the sailors, the swimmers and the tourists who will, very shortly, be engulfing the crowded facilities of Rio, the possibly plague-born Olympic City?

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