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The Typhoid Epidemic of 1890-91

On the afternoon of December 23,1890, William Sedgwick appeared before the Lowell Water Board. Because of statements made by him concerning the condition of the Merrimack River, as shown by microscopic examination, it was voted that Sedgwick be authorized "by the Lowell Water Board to continue his scientific research.  To employ all means at his disposal to ascertain if any danger of any kind existed in the water of Merrimack River at Lowell. "

     Two weeks later, on January 9,1891, Prof. Sedgwick appeared before the Water Board and "..expressed the fear that he would find germs in the water... based upon the fact that typhoid fever had been prevalent to some extent at North Chelmsford, dating from August 24th to November 24th.  There was positive evidence that three girls and one man at North Chelmsford, before finally leaving work for their sick beds, had used priveys that connected with Stoney Brook.  Thus he held there could be no doubt but that typhoid excrement had been in the river; that it passed down the river and over the falls was probable, but there was a danger that it might have contaminated water drawn through the inlet pipe."

     A warning was issued by both state and local Boards of Health, directing all city water to be boiled for at least 15 minutes before using.  On January 15, it was also discovered that the sewage from the main wards of the corporation hospital on Pawtucket Street, (where many typhoid patients had been treated), was entering the Northern Canal.  Water from this canal was pumped into service pipes in mills throughout the city.

     The Tremont and Suffolk, Merrimack, Carpet, Hamilton, Middlesex, Appleton and Lowell Machine Shop all pumped this canal water directly into their buildings for washing purposes.  The Tremont and Suffolk emptied their sewage into canal water that was then used by the mills of the Lawrence Corporation.  The Carpet, Hamilton, Appleton and Lowell Machine Shop poured their sewage into the canal whose water supplied the Boott and Massachusetts mills.  Even though this water was not supposed to be used for drinking purposes, many mill workers did use it because it was cold and accessible.

     On January 19,1891, a special meeting of the Board of Health was called, where it "was voted that the Lowell Hospital Association be notified to connect all sewerage from their premises with the public sewer within 30 days from the time of notice." It was also "voted that the agents of the different corporations be notified to place a placard over each faucet on their premises where canal water is drawn saying that it is canal water and unfit for drinking purposes."

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