“What Would the World Be If There Is No Sanitary Revolution?”

Elnaya Mahadevi Pillian – Environmental Engineering International Study Program

Today, most people view sanitation and health as “normal” results of progression in medical, surgical, and pharmacological fields. However, a century ago they were unimaginable practices that are quite unpopular amongst the public. Besides the common environmental issues of pollutions and the likes, presently we are lucky enough to live in an era where it is a society’s norm to be clean, making it difficult for us all to imagine how life might be had sanitary revolution never happened. Therefore, where, what and how would we be had mankind never witnessed a sanitary revolution?

All around the world, activists and advocates declare campaigns for public health and environmental as well as wilderness protection because today, clean air and water are considered to be a civic right. While individuals are responsible for their own personal hygiene, we all, as members of a society, demand litter-free streets and garbage disposals, which we trust in the hands of the government. Yes, it is very uncommon to find a household without a single trash can, dishwasher, washing machine, and other cleaning tools, but take a moment to question when did we reach today’s accepted standards of environmental and personal hygiene?

The first progression history recorded of sanitary revolution was the set of policies and actions implemented in the Western hemisphere, which happened at the 1800’s when cholera epidemics took over and the miasma theory began to popularize. People, of course, tried to handle the wipe of illnesses by fixing the source: water, sewage, homes, industrial buildings, and factories. Installation of sewage disposal system was a breakthrough in the advancement of sanitation, and it broke the cycle of cholera epidemics. Ever since, we had witnessed numerous improvements and progression through the passing of countless health laws, technological advancements that lead to findings of new diseases and the science behind them, social and political movements that push the public to acknowledge a common enemy, and an increasing awareness in personal hygiene. However, I personally believe that the highlight of the entire timeline is Lemuel Shattuck’s, a pioneer of the sanitary era, outline of controls of public health in his remarkable documentary, which includes vital-statistics gathering, tuberculosis control, alcoholism control, air pollution control, mental health care, education reform, housing development, public bathhouse availability, and lastly, routine physical examinations (1). All this sparked and marked the beginning of the sanitary revolution, which leads us to where we are today.

Without constant progress and technological advancements in the medical field, the world would not have seen a rise in mortality rates and life expectancy. As a society, we might still condone public bathhouses, dirty sewage, and rodents living among us. However, with awareness and constant search of knowledge due to continuous learning, we can fear less on the spreading of epidemics, new and re-emerging. Because it is so common to us today, most of us might not feel lucky enough to not be living in constant filth, but if sanitary revolution had not occurred we would, in unity, be living in the dark age for the rest of time. You might question why sanitation is incredibly essential for the productivity and recovery of mankind, and the answer is that you can simply imagine yourself, for example, having to do your daily chores or whatever it is that you do on a daily basis but in a filthy environment with a foul smell haunting you wherever you go. Would not that just lower the quality of your life, physically, emotionally, and mentally?

It is beyond crucial that we appreciate the changes we have gone through these past centuries in sanitary advancements because it had led to innumerable other discoveries and progressions such as mental health awareness, which is slowly becoming a global concern.



Hidden heroes of the health revolution Sanitation and personal hygiene by Allison E. Aiello, PhD, MS,a Elaine L. Larson, RN, PhD, FAAN, CIC,b and Richard Sedlak, MSEc

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