Urban Pollution – Many Long Years Ago

Urban Pollution – Many Long Years Ago is a masterpiece written by Joel A. Tarr addressing the issue of urban pollution many years ago before the invention of automobile. Tarr also compares pollution caused by automobiles to that caused by horses, putting into consideration the promises that came with automobiles with respect to creating cleaner and safer streets. Finally, Tarr comments on the optimism that people have towards nuclear power plants as substitute to fossil fuels.

By 1970s, Americans were grappling with the reality of automobiles with respect to urban pollution with many claiming that it would be better if horses were still used as form of transport. However, though unknown to many people, horses caused the same pollution problems that automobiles were causing at that time.

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As early as the 14th century, people were decrying foul due to sanitation problems caused by horses. According to Tarr, by 1907, some cities like Milwaukee had a population of 12,500 horses translating to 133 tons of manure daily (13). This manure offered rich breeding grounds for flies, which are disease carriers.

The great number of horses in the streets of American cities caused air pollution. Combination of hay, harness oil, urine and manure produced a strong stench making the streets filthy. Swarms of flies were all over. Ironically, steam engine did not replace horse transportation because horses had to ferry people to and from their residential areas.

Dwellers of American cities around this time were constantly faced with the challenge of cleaning streets of horse manure and urine putrefaction. This forced authorities in New York and Boston to set aside money to facilitate cleaning of streets.

Fear of disease drove many urban residents to come together, backed with the authorities to clean streets to “divest the city of that foul aliment on which the pestilence delights to feed” (Tarr 15). Typhoid, small pox, and cholera among other diseases emanated from these filthy conditions in the streets. Nevertheless, in the mid nineteenth century, these efforts were scuttled by corruption and reluctance to engage in this unsatisfying task.

Noise pollution was also rampant from clopping iron horse shoes to clanking wagon wheels. This led to banning of horse drawn wagons in some cities to avoid interfering with important matters like deliberations of General Court. The scene of horses in streets was also disturbing to the eye given that many were drudges spending the whole day being overburdened.

This led to death of many along the streets and as they putrefied, they added another problem to urban pollution. Others broke their legs and lied by the streets to nurse their wounds making the scenery pathetic.

Then the automobiles came as people ushered in the twentieth century. Optimism was high hoping that elimination of horses from the streets would create a safer and cleaner environment with automobiles offering this antidote.

Eventually, many cities banned use of horses from their streets giving way to automobiles. This move came with not only efficiency and time saving, but also with its setbacks. It did not take long for people to realize that noise pollution from automobiles was more than that of horses and wagons. Automobile emissions nettle eyes and causes lung infections just like horse manure.

Automobiles are causing greater environmental challenges that will soon dwarf those emanating from horses if unchecked. Nuclear electricity looks promising but the repercussions may be far reaching. To recap this, automobiles cause urban pollution just like horses; moreover, nuclear electricity will come with its demerits, urban pollution is here to stay.

Works Cited

Tarr, Joel. “Urban Pollution – Many Years Ago.” American Heritage. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co. 1971.


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