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Water quality was issue in ancient Rome, says University of Toronto scholar

December 11, 2001

Can the great technological feats of the early Romans still inform urban planning today? University of Toronto Professor Christer Bruun of classics says they can in the area of water conservation.

Bruun, who has been studying the ancient water systems of Italy and the Roman empire in the eras spanning 300 BC to the 1600s, says the many aqueducts built to transport water to Rome were technological and environmental marvels even by today's standards.

"The Romans were master builders and administrators and they managed to bring water into a city of over one million people from sources as far as 90 kilometres away," says Bruun, who is currently editing a book on historic water technologies.

The Romans separated high-quality water used for drinking and cooking from water for flushing sewers by accessing different sources. "In much of the world today, including Canada, we still don't separate water according to quality so what we use to flush our toilets is of the same high quality as the water we drink."

Bruun also believes the clean mountain water used in many of the aqueducts in Rome was high in calcium which, over time, created a protective coating inside the lead pipes. "This mineral coating may have protected much of the population from lead poisoning," he says.
-end-
Bruun's research, which has been partially financed by the classics department and the office of the dean of arts and science, will be published in 2002.

CONTACT: Professor Christer Bruun, Department of Classics, 416-978-5477, christer.bruun@utoronto.ca or Michah Rynor, U of T public affairs, 416-978-2104, michah.rynor@utoronto.ca

University of Toronto

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