October 23, 1993: Yangtze River Pollution

Polluted Yangtze River

Polluted Yangtze River

October 23, 1993Personal journey through a polluted portion of a reservoir on the Yangtze River. The following is a vivid description of pollution problems in the Gezhouba Reservoir which is located in Hubei province in the central part of China. “On October 23, 1993, I visited the renowned port of Yemingzhu, and to my great surprise I saw a river full of sewage, with garbage scattered everywhere. The surface of the water was covered with oil and drifting lotus plants. Moreover, the smell and color of the water were simply unbearable.

According to an official from the Environmental Protection Bureau (Huanbaoju) of Yichang, the pollution in the Gezhouba Reservoir stems mainly from the following sources: waste, including oil, released from ships lined up to pass through the dam’s locks; seepage from phosphorous (/in) deposits extracted from a local mine that have been piled up on the riverbanks awaiting shipment; sewage released into the reservoir from nearby residential areas and hospitals; and, finally, industrial wastewater.

A major polluter, the Number 403 factory, which produces ship engines, releases waste oil into the reservoir via a network of small brooks. When the accumulation of oil on the surface of the reservoir is particularly heavy, nearby farmers skim off a few jars, pour it into their tractors, and drive off. Fires also frequently break out on the reservoir when matches are carelessly thrown into the water.

As I was completing this study in November 1993, the water quality at Yemingzhu had deteriorated to Class IV, which is unsuitable for drinking. Nevertheless, 50,000 tons of drinking water is drawn daily into a local waterworks from the reservoir. Moreover, nitrate levels in the water have recently increased by 20 percent annually.”

Commentary:  If I didn’t know any better, I would suspect that the description above referred to the Cuyahoga River in mid-twentieth century Ohio, which was also badly polluted with sewage and had a tendency to catch fire.

Reference:  Qing, Dai. The River Dragon Has Come!:  The Three Gorges Dam and the Fate of China’s Yangtze River and Its People. New York:M.E. Sharpe, Inc. 1998, p. 164-5.

October 22, 1914: Trenton Treatment Plant

1022 Trenton Treatment PlantOctober 22, 1914: Municipal Journal feature article–Water Purification at Trenton. “For fifteen years the improvement of the public water supply at Trenton, N.J., which was drawn from the Delaware River without treatment, has been a question that has received much consideration. Johnson and Fuller, consulting engineers, of New York City, who were retained to design a plant, in 1912 presented plans for rapid sand filters with a capacity of 30,000,000 gallons per day. This plant is now practically completed….For several years past, the typhoid death rate in Trenton has shown the need of a modern filtration plant. The average death rate from that cause for the ten years ending 1900 was 28 [per 100,000 people], while for the years 1908, 1909 and 1910 it was 54, 36 and 53, respectively. In 1911 the use of hypochlorite was adopted and was effective in reducing the typhoid death rate, but the unfiltered water is very unsatisfactory, especially in appearance. The plant, which is located at the foot of Calhoun street, just above the present pumping works, consists of covered sedimentation basins, sixteen filters, a clear water basin, a low-lift pumping plant, a head house, conduits and complete filter equipment.”

Reference: “Water Purification at Trenton.” Municipal Journal. 37:17 (October 22, 1914): 589-91.

October 21, 1914: Treasury Drinking Water Standards

Dr. Rupert Blue, 4th Surgeon General of the U.S.

Dr. Rupert Blue, 4th Surgeon General of the U.S.

October 21, 1914:  The first numerical drinking water regulations in the U.S. were adopted. “On October 21, 1914, pursuant to the recommendation of the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service [Dr. Rupert Blue], the Treasury Department adopted the first standards for drinking water supplied to the public by any common carrier engaged in interstate commerce. These standards specified the maximum permissible limits of bacteriological impurity, which may be summarized as follows:

  1. The bacterial plate count on standard agar incubated for 24 [hours] at 37 [degrees] C was not to exceed 100/cc.
  2. Not more than one of the five 10-cc portions of each sample examined was to show presence of B. coli. [equivalent to no more than 2 /100 mL—MPN index for total coliforms]
  3. The recommended procedures were those in Standard Methods of Water Analysis (APHA, 1912) [2nd edition].

These standards were drafted by a commission of 15 appointed members. Among the members of this commission were Charles Gilman Hyde, Milton J. Rosenau, William T. Sedgwick, George C. Whipple and C.-E. A. Winslow, names well known to those who have studied early developments in water treatment.

Though not a part of the standards, the accompanying first progress report is very interesting as it provides insight into the commission’s deliberations on other problems. There appears to have been considerable discussion on whether the standards should also state that the water shall ‘be free from injurious effects upon the human body and free from offensiveness to the sense of sight, taste, or smell’; whether the quality of water required should be obtainable by the common carriers without prohibitive expense; and whether it would be necessary to require more than a ‘few and simple examinations to determine the quality of drinking water.’”

Reference:  AWWA. Water Quality and Treatment. 3rd ed. New York:McGraw Hill, 1971, p. 16-7.

Commentary: Sedgwick, Whipple and Winslow were professors at MIT, Harvard and Yale, respectively. They were also expert witnesses who played prominent roles in the lawsuit between Jersey City and the Jersey City Water Supply Company in 1906-1909. During the second Jersey City trial, they adamantly opposed the use of chlorine by Dr. John L. Leal. The story of the trials and the first continuous use of chlorine to disinfect a U.S. water supply are detailed in The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, which was published in the spring of 2013.

October 20, 1823: Birth of John Rose Leal; 1803: Louisiana Purchase Ratified; 1818: Oregon Territory Acquired

0828 Dr. John ROctober 20, 1823: Birth of John Rose Leal. John Rose Leal was born on October 20, 1823 (or possibly 1825 or 1827) in Meredith, Delaware County, New York. His parents were John Leal and Martha McLaury who were descended from early settlers of Delaware County, New York. There are records that John Rose Leal’s great-grandfather Alexander Leal was born in Scotland in 1740 and immigrated to the British colonies in North America, landing in New York City on April 13, 1774. On John R. Leal’s mother’s side, his ancestors came from Ireland and Scotland.

There is little information on John R. Leal’s early years. According to one source, he received his preliminary education at the Literary Institute, in Franklyn, Delaware County, New York and at the Delaware Academy in Delhi, New York.

John Rose Leal received his medical training under Dr. Almiran Fitch of Delhi, New York and completed his medical degree at Berkshire Medical College. Located in the westernmost regions of Massachusetts, Berkshire County, the medical college was in a remote part of the young country separated from the rest of the state by the Berkshire Mountains. The mission of Berkshire Medical College was to train doctors to serve the sparsely populated rural areas that were dominated by agriculture. Founded in 1822 as the Berkshire Medical Institution, the school had to overcome resistance from Harvard Medical School that objected to the establishment of another medical training facility in Massachusetts. With a student population of about 30 in the 1840s, a medical education was offered to students for the magnificent sum of $140 per year.

John Rose Leal received his medical degree in 1848 and shortly thereafter opened up a medical practice in Andes. Dr. Leal continued his education with a post-graduate course at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City—an institution that would figure prominently in one son’s education.

There is a limited amount information about his wife, Mary Elizabeth Laing, from historical records. Born in 1837, the fourth child of eight children, she was the daughter of Rev. James Laing of Andes, NY. She was born in Andes, NY, after the family moved there from Argyle, NY. Her father was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Andes.

John Rose Leal and Mary E. Laing were married in Andes on August 29, 1855. Mary E. Laing was only 18 when she married the successful country doctor. John L. Leal was born to the couple on May 5, 1868. Census records from 1860 show that another child was born to the couple about 1859 in Andes, William G. Leal. Another brother was born much later in Paterson, New Jersey, about 1870, Charles E. Leal. There are no records showing that William G. Leal survived into adulthood. Charles E. Leal lived to the age of 24 and died in 1894 in Paterson.

The simple rural life in Andes, New York was shattered by the Civil War in 1862 when the 144th Regiment, New York Volunteers was formed in Delaware County and the surrounding area. John R. Leal’s first appointment was as regimental surgeon and over the next three years he was promoted to surgeon at the brigade, division and corps levels. Toward the end of the war he held the title of Medical Director in the Department of the South. According to an obituary, Dr. Leal was wounded twice and was with his regiment at the battle of John’s Island.

The 144th Regiment was stationed on Folly Island in 1863 as part of the siege of Charleston, South Carolina. According to the history of the regiment, “very nearly every man in the Regiment got sick…with bad and unhealthy water to drink.” The only treatment at the time for the debilitating dysentery that overwhelmed the Regiment was the administration of “opium pills” by Dr. Leal. The pills did not cure anything but they made the recipients feel somewhat better. Dr. Leal became so ill that he received medical leave for a time, but it is clear from the records that he never fully recovered.

Dr. Leal was mustered out of the 144th Regiment on June 25, 1865 after which time he returned to his simpler life in Andes, New York. However, he brought a dreadful souvenir of the war home with him and he suffered with it for the next 17 years.

In one obituary, it was stated: “…his death, which resulted from an attack of peritonitis of an asthenic character, sequel to an attack of dysentery, which at the outset did not indicate an unusual degree of severity, but was undoubtedly aggravated by the chronic diarrhea from which he had been a sufferer more or less constantly since his retirement from the army.”

Another obituary was equally clear as to the cause of his death: “He never recovered from the effects of disease contracted on Folly Island, and this induced other complications, resulting in his death.”

Reference: McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.

Commentary: Dr. John Rose Leal was the father of Dr. John L. Leal who was responsible for the first chlorination of a U.S. public water supply—see The Chlorine Revolution.

1020 Louisiana Purchase

October 20, 1803: Louisiana Purchase is ratified. “On October 20, 1803, the Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty by a vote of twenty-four to seven. The agreement, which provided for the purchase of the western half of the Mississippi River basin from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents per acre, doubled the size of the country and paved the way for westward expansion beyond the Mississippi.

Spain had controlled Louisiana and the strategic port of New Orleans with a relatively free hand since 1762. However, Spain signed the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800 under pressure from Napoleon Bonaparte, a secret agreement retroceding [To cede or give back (a territory for example)] the territory of Louisiana to France.

News of the agreement eventually reached the U.S. government.  President Thomas Jefferson feared that if Louisiana came under French control, American settlers living in the Mississippi River Valley would lose free access to the port of New Orleans. On April 18, 1802, Jefferson wrote a letter to Robert Livingston, the U.S. minister to France, warning that, “There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy.  It is New Orleans…”

Napoleon, faced with a shortage of cash, a recent military defeat in Santo Domingo, and the threat of a war with Great Britain, decided to cut his losses and abandon his plans for an empire in the New World. In 1803, he offered to sell the entire territory of Louisiana to the United States for $15 million.

Robert Livingston and James Monroe, whom Jefferson had sent to Paris earlier that year, had only been authorized to spend up to $10 million to purchase New Orleans and West Florida.  Although the proposal for the entire territory exceeded their official instructions, they agreed to the deal. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was dated April 30 and formally signed on May 2, 1803.

The bounds of the territory, which were not clearly delineated in the treaty, were assumed to include all the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, at that time known as the Stony Mountains. Just twelve days after the signing of the treaty, frontiersmen Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on an expedition to explore the newly acquired territory.

The purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the Lewis and Clark expedition marked the beginning of a century of conquest. As explorers, speculators, adventurers, and settlers pushed the territorial boundaries of the United States westward toward the Pacific coast, the notion of America as a nation always pushing toward new frontiers took hold in art, literature, folklore, and the national psyche.”

Commentary:  It is interesting that the boundaries of the land purchase were defined by river basins and not by latitude lines or surveyed limits. The addition of this vast swath of land to the young country brought with it some of the most important water resources that we currently possess. We can thank the vision of Thomas Jefferson for this amazing milestone in the history of water.

1020 Oregon TerritoryOctober 20, 1818: Treaty signed with Great Britain that ultimately resulted in U.S. acquisition of the Oregon Territory. “After the Revolutionary War, the U.S. inherited Spanish claims to the Oregon Territory that resulted in a number of boundary disputes with Great Britain. America and Great Britain agreed to form a joint commission to resolve boundary disputes. One of the results was the Treaty of Occupation of Oregon, signed on October 20,1818. As a result, British citizens and Americans in Oregon lived together peacefully. The joint occupancy treaty was renewed in 1827. Both British and American Commissioners had fixed the border between the United States and Canada at the 49th parallel from the Lake of the Woods (Minnesota Territory) west to the Rocky Mountains. The United States had proposed to extend the border along the same parallel to the Pacific Ocean, but Great Britain insisted that the northern border be drawn west to the Columbia River and then follow that river to the ocean.” (edited by MJM)

Commentary: Through a coincidence of dates, today, we can celebrate the astonishing amalgamation of water resources that stretch across the western U.S. and made the 19th century dream of Manifest Destiny a reality. Many thanks to Evan E. Filby who brought this interesting happenstance of dates to my attention. You may be interested in his blog about Idaho history.

October 19, 2009: Aircraft Drinking Water Regulations

Drinking water fill point on the rear bottom side of the aircraft

Drinking water fill point on the rear bottom side of the aircraft

October 19, 2009: Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR) is adopted by USEPA. “The primary purpose of the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR) is to ensure that safe and reliable drinking water is provided to aircraft passengers and crew. This entails providing air carriers with a feasible way to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and the national primary drinking water regulations (NPDWRs). The existing regulations were designed primarily with traditional, stationary public water systems in mind. Some of these requirements have proven difficult to implement when applied to aircraft water systems, which are operationally very different.  Therefore, using a collaborative rulemaking process, EPA developed the ADWR that is tailored to aircraft public water systems. The final rule combines coliform sampling, best management practices, corrective action, public notification, operator training, and reporting and recordkeeping to improve public health protection.”

October 18, 1972: Clean Water Act is Born; 1812: Birth of Julius Adams; 1799: Birth of Christian Schoenbein

1018 Clean Water ActOctober 18, 1972:  Effective date of the Clean Water Act. Officially called the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972, this legislation is the federal law that regulates water pollution in the U.S.  The original legislation was vetoed by President Nixon on October 17, 1972, but was overriden by the Senate and House the next day. “This Act is the principle law governing pollution control and water quality of the Nation’s waterways. The objective of this Act is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters (33 U.S.C. 1251). The Act has been amended numerous times and given a number of titles and codification. It was originally enacted as the Water Pollution Control Act in 1948 (P.L. 80-845), and was completely revised by the 1972 amendments, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments (P.L. 92-500). The 1972 amendments gave the Act its current form, and established a national goal that all waters of the U.S. should be fishable and swimmable. The goal was to be achieved by eliminating all pollutant discharges into waters of the U.S. by 1985 with an interim goal of making the waters safe for fish, shellfish, wildlife and people by July 1, 1983 (86 Stat. 816, 33 U.S.C. 1251) . The 1977 amendments (the Clean Water Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-217)) gave the Act its current title. Additional amendments were enacted in 1981 (Municipal Wastewater Treatment Construction Grants Amendments (P.L. 97-117)) and in 1987 (Water Quality Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-4).  The Act regulates discharges to waters of the United States through permits issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program.”

1018 Julius W AdamsOctober 18, 1812Julius W. Adams was born. Julius Walker Adams was a noted civil engineer who planned the sewer system for Brooklyn, New York. He was also one of the first engineers who conceived the idea of building the Brooklyn Bridge. For several years he was Consulting Engineer of the Board of City Works, Brooklyn, and also consulted on the distribution of water in New York City. He found time to edit the Engineering News and was President of the American Society of Civil Engineers from 1874-5. Adams was the last surviving member of the twelve founders of ASCE. He was a member of the New York Academy of Science and of the Association for the Advancement of Science.

1018 Christian F SchonbeinOctober 18, 1799:  From This Day in Science:  “October 18th is Christian Friedrich Schönbein’s birthday. Schönbein was the German chemist who discovered ozone while investigating the electrolysis of water. He noticed a distinct smell while the system was operating and traced the source to a new type of oxygen.”

October 17, 2013: NYC Tunnel No. 3; 1982: Toxaphene Curbs

1017 NYC Tunnel No 3October 17, 2013New York Times headline–After Decades a Water Tunnel Can Now Serve All of Manhattan. “Of all New York City’s sprawling mega-projects, the water tunnel snaking beneath the grid — connecting the Bronx to Upper Manhattan, Upper Manhattan to Central Park, Central Park to Queens, and, eventually, Queens to the western edge of Brooklyn — is perhaps the hardest to love….

But as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg turned a ceremonial wheel in City Hall Park on Wednesday, sending waters gushing into a fountain, the city arrived at a seminal moment.

In one of the most significant milestones for the city’s water supply in nearly a century, the tunnel — authorized in 1954, begun in 1970 and considered the largest capital construction project ever undertaken in the five boroughs — will for the first time be equipped to provide water for all of Manhattan. Since 1917, the borough has relied on Tunnel No. 1, which was never inspected or significantly repaired after its opening.”

Commentary: This is a very big deal. Multiple generations of “sandhogs” have worked to construct the tunnels feeding water to New York City. If they had only scheduled it two days earlier, they could have started this new water delivery tunnel on the 171st anniversary of the celebration of the opening of the first comprehensive water supply for the City—the Croton System.

October 17, 1982New York Times headline–EPA Plans to Curb Use of Toxaphene. “The Environmental Protection Agency will restrict the use of toxaphene, which was once the most widely used pesticide in the country but has been identified as a possible cancer-causing substance, officials said today.

The agency’s spokesman, Byron Nelson, said the details of the restrictions would be announced Monday. Toxaphene has been used widely to protect cotton crops in the South, but it has also been detected recently in fish in the Great Lakes, leading scientists to conclude that winds were sweeping the pesticide into far wider areas.

William A. Butler, the Audubon Society’s vice president for government relations, asserted today that the restrictions were being announced now by the Reagan Administration to achieve a political gain for the fall Congressional elections.

‘This is clearly something the E.P.A. is doing just before the election,’ Mr. Butler said.  ‘It is too little, too late,’ Mr. Butler said, noting the use of toxaphene has declined from 100 million pounds a year in the 1970′s to 16 million pounds this year.”

Commentary:  EPA announcing an environmental action to somehow obtain a political advantage? Boy, this was a long time ago.

Toxaphene spraying on crops.

Toxaphene spraying on crops.