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Sewage sludges

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As shown in section 1.1, a sewage problem arose with only the settlement of the human species. Since that time repeated endeavours have been made to gain control of the waste water problem. Subterranean sewage water systems go back to the ancient cultures of Babylon and Syria. In ancient Egypt people were proud of their sewage water systems installed in temples and pyramids. Egyptians as well as ancient Romans maintained public baths and toilets served by complete subterranean sewage systems (such as the “Cloaca Maxima” in Rome, 590 BC). In late antiquity, the city of Rome already owned 144 public latrines, which represented however still no “closets” – see next picture “The public latrine of Dougga”.

The Romans also invented the urinal, which consisted of an Amphora with a broken mouth to enlarge the open top – named “Amphora agiporto”, which means “Amphora in the side alley” – fullers and tanners then used the urine to exercise their trade.

In the Middle Ages, the skill of constructing sewage systems was lost in the overall confusion caused by the migration of the populace (see section 1.1). Not until the cholera epidemic, which spread throughout Europe in the 19th century, was there any improvement. There were exceptions, such as the township of Bunzlau in Silesia (which now lies mostly in Poland). This was the first European community to install sewage and sprinkler systems; as early as 1543. Sprinklers supplied mechanically treated waste water as fertiliser for the fields and meadows. Then in 1760 the same principle of sprinkler systems appeared again in Edinburgh – supplied from the canals of the town.

As mentioned in section 1.3, until the mid-19th century, the so-called “Ehgräben” (narrow alleyways between the houses) were used to flush away municipal solid waste and faeces.

As a consequence of the cholera epidemic which reached Switzerland in 1854, Zurich introduced the 1863 building act which sought to redevelop the city's sewage system. The new system for Zurich's 17'000 inhabitants resembled the bucket system already successfully established in Paris. Household faeces were collected in buckets with sieves which retained the more solid components and only allowed liquids to enter the new canalisation drains. The “Ehgraben” were covered with a vault which allowed the passage and the buckets were placed in lateral niches of this passage. The new canalization drains were lined at the bottom of the “Ehgraben”. Council employees collected the buckets from the residential areas and transported them on horse carriages to a bucket washing site located in Hard (suburb of Zurich). Buckets were emptied, washed and disinfected with lime milk. Farmers came to the bucket washing sites to collect the excrement for manuring their fields.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2008

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