While advances by physicians and new medical technologies often make for front page news, public health interventions have likely been the major cause of the significant health improvements throughout history. For instance, creating a system of waste disposal and maintaining clean water has greatly increased the expected longevity of urban residents. The 14th century Black Death in Europe was likely caused by bacteria carried by rodent-borne fleas; burning specific areas of the city greatly help to stop the spread of the disease since it removed rodent infestations. John Snow identified polluted water as the cause of a 1854 cholera outbreak in London.
In contemporary America, our public health interventions are world class and we have nothing to worry about…right? Not according to the National Resources Defense Council. Medical News Today reports that beach closings increased 5% compared to last year. The NRDC believes these closings are likely due to human and animal waste; the organization is suing the EPA in order to compel it to enforce more stringent clean water laws. The Chicago Tribune reports (“Beach closings…“) that bacteria from sea gull waste in Lake Michigan beaches has lead to numerous closings. And in San Diego, the Healthcare Economist is frequently annoyed that he is not able to surf due to beach closings. After even moderate precipitation, pollution from all over San Diego flows into the ocean and thus beaches are often closed. I hope a cost-effective solution will be found to clean our nation’s precious beaches.