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5 Most Important Public Sanitation Breakthroughs



Over the ages, there have been a number of quite significant improvements when it comes to public sanitation. Many of these have occurred by accident, but all have been instrumental in shaping the ways that society guards against the spread of serious diseases. The most important of these improvements are now so ensconced within our daily lives that most people do not give them a passing thought. At the time that they were introduced, however, they were perfectly revolutionary.


Though perhaps not appreciated as much as they should be, toilets perform a number of effective functions that allow human waste to be disposed of without creating undue health hazards. In medieval and early-modern societies, where sophisticated sewage systems were unheard of, biomass had to be carried out of the house and dumped into nearby rivers.

In some cases, outhouses were available, but these were rudimentary structures and served as breeding grounds for filth and disease. Toilets flush waste into a centralized sewage system. In fact, the water that enters these pipes is eventually cleaned in treatment plants before it is returned to the water cycle.

Hand Washing

Germs are spread so easily from hand-to-hand contact that it is now a law for food handlers to lather up after they have used the restroom. In fact, handwashing can prevent the transfer of germs from one person to another, especially during the winter flu season when contagions are especially dominant.

Because individuals usually pick up germs by touching things with their hands, performing a thorough wash job is extremely important. The importance of this particular public sanitation breakthrough can be seen in an examination of many of the poorer countries of the world, where severe disease outbreaks are closely linked with almost nonexistent hand washing.

Garbage Pickup

As long as humans have lived in dwellings with their families, they have produced food refuse on enormous scales. Before trash pickup services were initiated, waste had a tendency to sit around residences for days, especially in impoverished communities. Municipal garbage services ensure that trash is picked up and sent quickly on its way to the city dump, which is usually in a rural area outside of town. Because the refuse is dealt with immediately and efficiently, microscopic insects, along with the germs that they carry, never have a chance to multiply.

Food Examination

In the old days, it was sometimes possible for farmers to produce food in any way they wanted. In many cases, they simply did not know how to properly care for the livestock animals that were being sent to the market. With the advent of the food inspection acts of the early part of the last century, there have been very specific laws put into place to make sure that the food that reaches the dinner table is free of various kinds of bacteria. This has significantly reduced the incidences of food-related illnesses and deaths.

Chemical Treatment of Water Supply

When ready-to-drink water is dispensed from the tap with the turn of a handle, most people rarely are concerned with the details. In fact, the treatment of drinking water is quite a new development. In past societies, a number of terribly maleficent bacteria strains could infect whole communities simply by making their way into a lake or pond. Today, authorities use chemical tablets and other refined techniques to ensure that tap water is drinkable and safe.

Ultimately, the public sanitation breakthroughs that have occurred over the past few centuries have increased life expectancies and protected humans from various awful diseases. Our ability to avoid infectious germs in our daily lives is something to be cherished.