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WeatherTalk: The summer of the Great Stink

Many people hung sheets soaked in lime in their windows to mask the smell wafting off the river.

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One of history's most devastating heat waves occurred in England in 1858. Not only was that summer unusually hot, but technology of the time led many Londoners to replace their chamber pots with water closets. Unfortunately, London’s sewage disposal consisted of more than 200,000 cesspits connected by more than 350 sewers. By design, London sewage either was meant to evaporate or flow into the Thames River, which was the drinking supply for all but the wealthiest Londoners.

That summer became known as the Great Stink. Many people hung sheets soaked in lime in their windows to mask the smell wafting off the river. Thousands of Londoners died that summer from cholera and typhoid. A civil engineer by the name of Joseph Bazalgette was tasked by the British Parliament to develop a better system of waste removal, some of which is still in use today.

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