Pollution has been with us for a long time. In the fourteenth century a royal document complained about the ‘abominable and most filthy stinks’ generated by the activities of London butchers in Seacoal Lane. In the sixteenth century laws were passed prohibiting the use of coal fires in London, and in the 1850s perfumed sheets were hung over the House of Commons’ windows to try and reduce the smell of the Thames. In the United States a magazine commented in 1881 that ‘no dumping ground, no sewer, no vault contains more filth … [than] the air in certain parts of [New York] City during the long season of drought’. Chicago’s air was described by Rudyard Kipling in 1880 as ‘dirt’ and its river by another visitor as ‘coated with grease so thick on its surface it seemed like a liquid rainbow’ (quoted in Bettman, 1974).
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