Germ Warfare – A Brief History Of Sanitation

6.11.2015

Testing chemicalsWritten by: Helen Gale

It seems obvious to us today that good sanitation and good health go hand in hand. It has not always been so. In the great scheme of things, it is only relatively recently that we have discovered the truth regarding the connection between unsanitary conditions and poor health. It has taken us even longer to learn effective methods of effectively combating the germs within our midst. Indeed, we have had to go through some fairly dangerous chemical permutations before hitting on a cleaning solution that does the job both safely and effectively…

The Unwashed Years

Bodily hygiene has long held cultural and religious connotations. Sacred Hindu texts [1] dating back centuries insist upon a certain hygienic code, and Islam demands scrupulous physical cleanliness [2]. This indicates that early societies may well have been aware of the health hazards that a dirty body presented – but it seems that efforts to combat this became lost in the midst of religious ritual, and the health reasons behind the hygienic rituals were lost. Certainly by the middle ages the denizens of Europe were blissfully unaware of the dangers they put themselves in through their living conditions. Pope Boniface I even declared that bathing was ‘unspiritual’, and a monk named ‘Notker the Stammerer’ complained that regular bathing went against nature, and Muslim visitors to Europe were shocked at the general unclean standards which prevailed. People lived cheek by jowl with open sewers, happily drank water from watercourses in which they washed, urinated, and poured their waste. While many people liked to have a ‘tidy’ home, the concept of cleanliness within a domestic setting was not well understood. Medieval Europe was an absolute haven for germs, and the plagues which ripped regularly through the continent [3] stand testament to this.

Industrial Crisis

The Industrial Revolution brought this situation to crisis point. Rural communities did at least have the saving grace of comparative isolation, plentiful space, and access to free-running water. When people were crammed together in great numbers in the new industrial towns, these advantages vanished. Disease tore swathes through the crowded populations of dirty slums – aided and influenced by the fact that the people dwelling therein had no access to clean water, had no sewage systems, and conclusively lacked any knowledge of hygiene. The industrial towns of Britain and later Continental Europe grew at an enormously fast rate, and failed to develop a comparative infrastructure. The newly urban populations lived in absolutely filthy conditions, and it proved fatal for many of them. Germs ran riot, and there was nothing to stop them from festering within the bodies of all but the very fittest. Cholera – a disease borne in dirty water - slew thousands [4], until people began to make the connection between disease and unsanitary conditions.

Fighting Back

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we finally began to gain a working understanding of disease transmission. Louis Pasteur [5] made the crucial breakthrough when he proved the existence of germs. People like Florence Nightingale [6] and Joseph Lister began to apply practical solutions to his ideas. The world, slowly, became a cleaner place. With this new understanding of germs came a zeal for killing them. Now that mankind’s ancient enemy had been identified, people became obsessed with eradicating every last viral specimen. Naturally this drive produced a variety of cleaning products designed to kill germs, many of which lead to the development of excellent products like SMT. However, it proved a rocky road to the clean, safe situation of today. Having for centuries been mown down by germs, many humans now found themselves being inadvertently killed by cleanliness…

Deadly Cleanliness

It is no secret that those things which are good for us in small measures may have very bad effects when used in large measures. Modern pharmaceuticals, for example, are fantastic for curing ailments, but many claim that our reliance upon them is unhealthy, and that our excessive use of them threatens the environment [7]. The same was true of cleaning products for our recent ancestors. People rushed out to buy the products which would rid their home of germs, despite the fact that little was then understood about these chemicals. Dangerous mixes and unsound concentrations caused many casualties. Few people knew about the necessity of diluting high-intensity chemicals, or believed that dangerously high concentrations of these chemicals would do a better job than more dilute mixes. Carbolic acid in particular [8] claimed more than its fair share of lives. Before the law began to stipulate that germ-killing chemicals were packaged in easily identifiable containers, a tragic number of people mistook caustic soda (carbolic acid) for baking powder and died an agonizing death. Other people suffered the opposite effect – fearing that they would be poisoned, they used too little cleaner and left their homes vulnerable to germs. It would take several decades before a product would finally come along which was both safe and effective.

A Bright Future

SMT manages what seemed impossible for centuries. It is so unbelievably powerful that it can kill most dangerous germs even when diluted 200 times. Despite this power, however, it is so safe that the FDA has no problem with you putting it directly onto food should you so wish (although we doubt it would improve your meal). This product will not only keep your home safe, clean, and germ-free – it will also put you and your family in absolutely no danger. Your ancestors would have greatly envied a home protected with SMT.

SMT ChlorineDioxideCTA blog

Sources

[1]Horace Hayman Wilson (translator), “Vishnu Purana”

[2] CPS International, “Islam and Hygiene”

[3] Science Museum, “Diseases And Epidemics”

[4] Cholera And The Thames, “Origins of Cholera”

[5] Patrice Debre, “Louis Pasteur”, John Hopkins University Press

[6] Mark Bostridge, “Florence Nightingale; The Woman And Her Legend”, Penguin, May 2009

[7] KM, “The Environmental Impact Of The Pharmaceuticals Industry And The Way Forward”

[8] BBC, “10 dangerous things in the Victorian/Edwardian home”, Dec 2013