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SANITATION

SANITATION. Progress in Cleveland sanitation followed the classical patterns of those cities in the U.S. that experienced rapid industrial and urban growth, where sanitary reforms were often initiated one step ahead of potential disasters. The city's earliest sanitary measures were based on New England's experiences, which centered around noxious miasmas, filth, and sin as causative agents of disease. Many of the reforms that were adopted were based on fear and faith, supported by insufficient medical knowledge. For a short time after incorporation in 1814, the village authorities relied on individual social concern to keep the community clean. As commerce developed and the community grew, and as social relationships changed, it became necessary to impose legal restrictions in order to reduce the dangers that arose from the more crowded and unsanitary conditions. When the village had reached a population of approx. 600 in 1820, the authorities enacted the first sanitary regulations. Animals were confined, and slaughter was restricted to areas that were to be kept clean and free of unhealthy odors. To ensure compliance, a village inspector was appointed and fines were levied. However, during its formative years the city did little to provide any hygienic amenities. Public works were almost nonexistent; some public water pumps were provided, and streets were laid out, but they were not graded, properly paved, or cleaned. No effort was made to collect and dispose of solid wastes. The cholera epidemics that struck Cleveland in 1832, 1849, and 1854 were attributed at first to sin, and later to the accumulated filth in the city (for the 1832 case, see CHOLERA EPIDEMIC). Recognizing the imminent dangers that could arise from unsanitary conditions, on 10 Jan. 1856, the state legislature granted Cleveland the right to establish a permanent board of health in the city. Sanitary ordinances were enacted to abate nuisances, but it was not until 10 Apr. 1866 that the city council approved a number of regulations that served as the foundation for the city's sanitary code. In spite of its rapid growth, Cleveland remained a provincial city. Efforts to enforce existing ordinances and to build public works were not readily accepted by a population that focused on the cost for civic improvements and saw sanitation ordinances in general as an infringement of civil rights. Despite lack of public support, by the mid-19th century, the city began a series of public works to improve the quality of Cleveland life, including the construction of a public WATER SYSTEM, drainage sewers, and the paving of STREETS.

In 1876 Dr. Frank Wells, the city health officer, argued, as did sanitarians throughout the nation, that pure water, a sanitary environment, pure air, and pure food were prerequisites for good health. Potable water, the primary ingredient for a healthy community, was provided by springs, wells, and cisterns, or in barrels until 19 Sept. 1856, when a newly built public water system supplied unfiltered Lake Erie water to a small portion of the city. Within 20 years, the sewage and filth of the city, which was discharged into the CUYAHOGA RIVER and Lake Erie, transformed the water supply into a health hazard. Intake pipes were moved farther away from the shoreline and sewer outlets several times to curtail the high incidence of typhoid fever and enteric diseases associated with contaminated water, but these changes yielded only temporary results. Progress in the science of bacteriology, the experiences of other cities, and the data on water purification obtained by Drs. Howard Haskins and ROGER G. PERKINS of the Western Reserve Univ. Medical School convinced the city officials in 1911 to chlorinate the city's water supply, and in 1917 part of the supply was filtered. Each improvement produced a notable drop in the incidence of water-borne diseases. The filtration and chlorination of the city's water supply were completed in Oct. 1925, and diseases caused by impure water virtually disappeared. Water for the greater metropolitan area was supplied in part by local communities and the City of Cleveland, but as the area population increased, the city became the principal supplier. In 1990 the system provided water to over 1.5 million users in nearly 70 communities throughout the multi-county Greater Cleveland Metropolitan Area.

The history of pure water in Cleveland cannot be studied without a realistic appraisal of environmental conditions, since Lake Erie served as both a reservoir for fresh water and a depository for the household and industrial wastewater and sewage. Culverts, which were built in 1840 to provide some relief for the removal of ground water, to enhance property values, and to reduce the threat of miasmatic diseases, soon became a health menace when used as sewers. The city's accelerated growth in the 1850s made sewage removal mandatory and encouraged the hasty installation of a poorly designed system. A well-engineered sewage system and wastewater-treatment facilities had to wait until 1896, when funding for a professionally engineered plan was approved. As late as 1914, 50 separate sewer lines continued to pour millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie.

Prodded by the State of Ohio, which became concerned about pollution of the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie at the turn of the century, Cleveland's Department of Public Service was authorized to operate an experimental sewage-treatment plant in 1911. Tests were conducted, and on that basis and positive results obtained in other cities, sites were selected for 3 plants, with the Westerly plant completed in 1922, the Easterly plant in 1925, and the Southerly plant in 1928. Funds supplied by federal works programs in the 1930s were used to upgrade the performance of these plants. Improvement in water quality was limited until the enactment of federal pollution-control and water-quality laws in the mid-1960s. The National Environmental Policy Act, passed in 1969, granted federal and state governments authority to establish environmental-protection agencies to compel compliance with the new more stringent water quality standards being implemented. Although short on funds, the city was forced to make additional expenditures to meet these mandated programs. After contentious negotiations among Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and suburban officials over restructuring the water pollution control system, the Cleveland Regional Sewer District was formed by judicial fiat in April 1972. In the 20 years since the district's inception, over $922 million has been spent to clean up Lake Erie, the CUYAHOGA RIVER, and other waterways. The Cleveland Department of Public Utilities, no longer accountable for wastewater treatment, has been responsible for maintenance of the city's sewer collection system. The problem of supplying drinking water and clean water for recreational purposes remains an ongoing task that transcends state and national boundaries.

For almost 100 years, all manner of solid household and industrial wastes were thrown into the streets and culverts, left to clog the sewer basins, disposed of in the city's waterways, and dumped into the lake. A portion of this eventually entered the area's water supply. In 1860 the private collection and disposal of solid waste was begun, primarily in the commercial areas of the city. In 1895 the city of 208,673 people produced an average of 100 tons of solid waste per day, of which only a small portion was disposed of safely. The problem of solid-waste collection and disposal went beyond aesthetics, and garbage, refuse, and ashes threatened to inundate the city. To help ease the burden, Cleveland contracted in 1897 for the private construction and operation of a reduction plant, which separated the garbage into disposable and salable products, and in 1905 the city assumed management of the operation. That same year the city began the systematic collection of household garbage, and in 1906 the collection of ashes and refuse. In 1923 attempts to activate an additional reduction plant met with neighborhood resistance, and the proposal was abandoned.

In 1935 the first incineration plant was made operative; the following year the reduction plant was closed. Additional incinerators were placed in various locations throughout the county. Incinerators remained in use until the 1970s and were shut down when the plants no longer could meet the required federal air-quality emissions standards. In spite of the sharp increase in solid wastes in the county, they are collected regularly and taken to sanitary landfills in outlying areas. There is competition for landfill space, and increased costs, but there are options open to the city and county: to ship the waste by rail to be used as landfill in abandoned open pit mines, or to employ the more environmentally speculative coincineration of solid waste to produce energy and to reduce the amount of landfill space. Responsibility for the safe disposal of hazardous wastes, the byproduct of a technological society, is under the jurisdiction of federal and state environmental-protection agencies, and county and municipal participation is limited. Progress in Cleveland sanitation is evident, especially when comparison is made to sanitary conditions that exist during periods of labor unrest, or when the city services are curtailed. However, improvement is not evident in all neighborhoods. In 198182, the city spent $3 million to clean up garbage and refuse that had been dumped on approx. 3,500 open lots. Unsanitary conditions in slum areas, aggravated by the garbage and refuse dumping, required the city to provide a full-time staff in the Division of Rat Control of the Department of Public Health & Welfare for rat eradication. In the 1880s and 1890s, garbage was considered a threat to the health of the city. In the 1980s, garbage, according to Cleveland mayor George Voinovich, is a "political bargaining chip and a demagogue's delight."

Clean streets have always been looked upon as an indicator of the sanitary state of a municipality. For most of the 19th century, Cleveland streets remained unpaved or poorly paved, poorly cleaned, and poorly lighted. In 1895 the city began a street-paving program using improved construction materials that made street cleaning practicable. Advocates for clean streets prevailed in their campaign, and in 1902, during the administration of reform mayor TOM L. JOHNSON, the principal streets of the city were cleaned at least twice a week. In 1906 street-flushing machines were employed. In 1913 a Bureau of Street Cleaning was established under the jurisdiction of the commissioner of streets; in 1916 solid-waste collection was transferred to the Department of Public Service. Street cleaning has been vastly improved by the introduction of new technologies and does not present the same problem of 100 years ago. At that time garbage and refuse were ground into the unpaved streets and mixed with overflowing cesspools, and thousands of horses deposited hundreds of thousands of tons of manure on the streets, which served as a breeding ground for millions of flies, each a potential disease carrier.

Pure air has been a long-sought wish of Cleveland health workers since the first load of coal was sold in 1828. Improvements in the design and manufacture of household and industrial equipment, and the expansion of the transportation and power industries rapidly increased the use of polluting soft coal. By 1855 a pall of grime and soot covered the city. Complaints about dirty air, however, were challenged as an attack on industrial progress. State intervention in 1885 and subsequent local ordinances were largely ignored and proved ineffective. Efforts to clean up the air were slow and difficult. By 1900 the air in Cleveland was no longer fit for human consumption, but the lack of will to enforce the law made it impossible to control further pollution. Throughout the 1920s, individuals and civic organizations campaigned for smoke abatement, emphasizing the economic costs to city residents and businesses. A reduction in pollution did occur in the 1930s but only as a result of an economic depression, and not through the efforts of an aroused citizenry. In 1941 it was estimated that approx. 50,000 tons of soot were removed from buildings, at an annual cost of $20 million. In spite of these figures, the CLEVELAND PRESS and manufacturers' associations continued to argue against enforcement measures. It was not until the passage of federal and state legislation in the 1950s and the amended Clean Air Act of 1967 that Cleveland could move to reduce air pollution. The city, funded by federal and state environmental-protection agencies, provides air-pollution services for Cuyahoga County and has the responsibility of enforcing state and federal regulations. Concern about costs, interference with private industry, and the loss of 69,000 jobs between 197983 nonetheless have given way to anxiety about the effect of air pollution on good health. Sewer gas, the great bugbear of the late 19th century gave way to the tons of soot that showered the city, which in turn has given way to the dangers from indoor air pollutants produced by high-energy homes, hazardous gases, and automobile emissions, all of which require attention.

The relationship between disease and unsanitary food has been known empirically for thousands of years. It is not surprising that municipal officials in urban settings attempted to prevent the sale of adulterated or tainted foods. An 1875 Cleveland ordinance required dealers of milk, meat, and vegetables to open their premises for inspection by authorized personnel. However, it was not permanent nor conducted by qualified persons until 1888, when Dr. Joseph Mellor became the city's first full-time milk inspector. For the remainder of the century, the role of the Board of Health was to guard against adulterated and deteriorated foods, with particular attention paid to milk, meat, and bread. The opening of the city bacteriological laboratory in 1901 and the passage of the Federal Pure Food & Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act in 1906 allowed the city to impose stricter sanitary standards on the manufacturing and distribution of food and drugs. Today, the responsibility to inspect food-dispensing and -manufacturing businesses to ensure the sale and distribution of pure and wholesome products lies within the jurisdiction of municipal and county boards of health. Unlike 100 years ago, when inspection was dependent on limited knowledge and unscientific methodology, today the responsible agencies use modern scientific test procedures, employing trained personnel who, within the limits of available technology, can detect noncompliance with the food and drug ordinances.


Sam Alewitz