July 30, 1894: Jersey City Contaminated Water Supply

Sewer Pipe, Water Pipe Death Spiral

Sewer Pipe, Water Pipe Death Spiral

July 30, 1894: New York Times Headline. Jersey City’s Foul Water; Sewage-Filled Passaic the Source of Its Supply. “Plenty of Good Drinking Water to be Had and Many Syndicates Ready to Furnish It — None, However, Has Influence Enough to Get a Contract — Tremendous Debt a Serious Obstacle, but Public Health Demands a Change. The people of this city are thoroughly satisfied that they have the worst drinking water to be found anywhere in the United States. This is no sudden conclusion of theirs. It is the result of a steady growth, born of an experience extending over eight or ten years.

When the Passaic River was first tapped as a source of supply, the water was pure. Dr. Chilton of New York and Prof. Horsford of Yale University, who made the analysis, pronounced it better than the water supplied to Philadelphia, New York, or Albany. But that was forty years ago, and the Passaic of 1854 was very different from the river of today.

Then the towns on its banks were merely hamlets. Paterson was only a village and Passaic and Belleville were mere dots on the map. None of them had any sewers to empty into the river, there were no factories along the banks to pollute the waters, and the fluid brought to Jersey City was limpid, clear and sparkling.

Paterson and Passaic are cities now, with extensive sewerage systems, and all the sewage of these two cities, with a population, probably, of 60,000, empties directly into the river. [Sewer Pipe, Water Pipe Death Spiral] In addition, there are many factories, mills, and dye works along the banks of the river, and all the refuse from these goes into the river along with the sewage, to further pollute the water.”

Commentary: The article goes on to catalogue the evils of the lower Passaic River as a source of supply. It would not be until 1899 that a contract was signed with Patrick H. Flynn to develop a new water supply 23 miles west of the city by building a dam on the Rockaway River forming Boonton Reservoir. It was to this water supply that Dr. John L. Leal added chlorine for the first time to disinfect drinking water for consumers. The story forms the basis for my book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, which was published recently.

July 29, 1911: Common Cup on New Jersey Trains

1211 Skull Common CupJuly 29, 1911: New York Times headline. Stops Fare Advance on Jersey Roads. “As soon as the rate matter had been disposed of the commission, sitting in the Essex County Court House, Newark, NJ went into a hearing on the question of the railway drinking cup, which the Jersey Legislature recently legislated out of existence. Practically every railroad in New Jersey was represented, and all the roads are fighting the suggestion that individual cups of paraffin or any other like substance be substituted at the railroad’s expense for the outlawed common drinking cup.

State Senator H. V. Osborne was present to urge that the roads be required to meet the situation promptly and practically so that the honest thirst of the traveling public will not go unslaked.

For the Lehigh Valley it was stated that while the public drinking cup had been taken away promptly when the law became effective, no substitute had been found. The company was considering the matter, but had not determined what could be done. The company, however, is still supplying ice water in its coaches.

At this point State Senator Osborne said the roads could very well afford to furnish individual drinking cups since they had not long ago raised the passenger rates, and were now proposing to raise them again. The suggestion did not seem to meet with instant favor from the railway representatives. Mr. Osborne stuck out, though, that the suggestion was entirely reasonable and the plan practicable. The most radical position against the roads’ doing anything seemed to be taken by W. G. Besler of the Jersey Central. At one time he argued so earnestly against giving the public anything to drink from that some present thought he was arguing on the other side. He said he had rarely seen any one drink out of the common cups as if to prove that people didn’t get thirsty on trains whether the weather was hot or not. Some who heard him at once suggested that the reason people didn’t drink was because they preferred to go thirsty rather than drink from the common cup, with its attendant risks of catching disease.

Mr. Besler further argued that while there had been an outcry when the roads first removed the cup little or no grumbling was now heard, and he thought the people were becoming satisfied either to go thirsty or carry individual cups. He said he had heard no complaints from immigrants at all, though he had suspected that this class of travelers would suffer the most. The absence of complaints from immigrants, he thought, was due to the fact that they usually carried all their possessions with them, and found it easy to fish out a cup of some sort when one was needed.”

Commentary: Interesting picture of public service at the turn of the 20th Century.

July 28, 1909: Stream Pollution in America

0728 Stream Pollution in AmericaJuly 28, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Stream Pollution in America. “At a Conference of State and Provincial Boards of Health of North America, held in Washington last June, the Committee on the Pollution of Streams appointed last year presented a report in which it gave some data concerning the extent to which the pollution of streams was being regulated by the various States. Ohio, New Jersey and Kansas have, according to this report, passed laws during the last few years which ”are

especially worthy of note as indicating advancement and the confidence which the Legislatures of these States must feel in these State Boards of Health.” From the reports of the secretaries of the Boards of Health of the several States they abstract a number of statements showing what is being accomplished by them.

In Massachusetts the use of ·the larger rivers as direct sources of public water supplies without purification has practically ceased; but polluted river waters are still used in many factories and mills for purposes other than drinking [however, incidental drinking of these waters was well known]. Of the 92 cities and towns in that State having systems of sewerage, four cities and 19 towns employ some form of treatment for the removal of organic matter from the sewage. This is exactly one-fourth of the total number.

In New Jersey there are 54 sewage purification plants in operation or ready for operation by municipalities and large public institutions. The policy of that State is to allow no untreated sewage to be discharged from new systems into waters of the State. The Board of Health is also compelling municipalities to install purification plants on existing sewerage systems, and 22 are now under orders to cease pollution of the streams, these including all municipalities on the Delaware River.

The Ohio State Board of Health has been asked to investigate 18 complaints under the act prohibiting stream pollution, and has ordered sewage disposal works to be installed in four of the cities before Jan. 1, 1910. The constitutionality of the law under which they act has been questioned, but if decided in their favor they hope to prevent the pollution of all the streams in the State.

In Michigan there are several cities and villages using septic tanks, and the Legislature is being urged to pass laws for the control of water supplies and treatment of sewage. In California the size of the streams affords such dilution as to prevent serious trouble [seriously???], but the State Board of Health is endeavoring to cultivate a sentiment against allowing sewage to enter them. In Florida the reverse is the case, most of the streams being small or sluggish and many of the towns and cities, particularly in the interior, use filtration plants. In Maryland many of the larger towns maintain sewage disposal plants, but about 120 restraining orders have been issued against municipalities and corporations during the past year on account of stream pollution. It is reported that the large rivers of the western shore are polluted, some badly.

In New Hampshire there is not a single sewage disposal plant in operation, but the State Board of Health has prohibited the pollution of several of the lakes and streams from which public water supplies are taken and reports that none of these, except the Merrimac and Connecticut rivers, can be said to be badly polluted. Indiana’s new anti-pollution law, passed this year, forbids the pollution of streams, its enforcement being in the hands of the State Board of Health. The condition there is said to be a serious one, as the ground water supply is giving out, except in the northern part of the State, and all water supplies must be obtained from the streams. In Texas the question of stream pollution is assuming prominence. Houston treats its sewage on 15 acres of sand filters; but, in general, the question is just beginning to assume importance, the centers of population being quite widely scattered. Wisconsin aims to for bid absolutely the discharge of crude sewage into any of its waterways. Septic tanks and filter beds are used quite extensively.

In Vermont the State Board of Health five years ago ordered that no sewage should be discharged into any stream or body of water without its permission. Five cities and villages of the State, which were taking their supply from polluted sources, were directed to secure their new supply from sources approved by the Board. (This seems to be the reverse of the action elsewhere, where the main efforts have been to prevent the pollution of the water rather than the use of polluted water. We believe it is the unquestionable duty of Boards of Health both to restrict pollution and also to prevent the use of unsafe water.)

Colorado reports inability to obtain legislation necessary for preventing pollution. The same condition exists in Minnesota likewise, and two marked typhoid epidemics have resulted in that State from stream pollution. Kansas reports 15 disposal plants in operation, or about to be installed, all of the septic tank and filter-bed type. The State Board there is upheld by a very strong and workable law. In New York many of the streams are very badly polluted and the condition is very serious. There are about 50 sewage disposal plants in operation, and the State Health Department requires cities extending their systems or building new ones to make provisions for sewage purification plants to be in operation at the end of a specified time.”

Commentary: The article is reprinted here in its entirety because it is an astonishing time capsule against which we can measure our progress. The important thread that runs through most of the state reports is that pollution of waterways was prohibited by state law. However, we know from other sources that these laws were seldom enforced or had penalties that were too lenient, so they were ignored.

July 27, 1976: Legionnaire’s Disease in Philadelphia; 1905: Consideration of Owens Valley Water Supply for Los Angeles

Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia

Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia

July 27, 1976: Outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in Philadelphia. “On July 21, 1976, the American Legion opened its annual three-day convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More than 2,000 Legionnaires, mostly men, attended the convention. The date and city were chosen to coincide with America’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia in 1776.

On July 27, three days after the convention ended, Legionnaire Ray Brennan, a 61-year-old retired Air Force captain and an American Legion bookkeeper, died at his home of an apparent heart attack. Brennan had returned home from the convention on the evening of July 24 complaining of feeling tired. On July 30, another Legionnaire, Frank Aventi, aged 60, also died of an apparent heart attack, as did three other Legionnaires. All of them had been convention attendees. Twenty-four hours later, on August 1, six more Legionnaires died. They ranged in age from 39 to 82, and, like Ray Brennan, Frank Aventi, and the three other Legionnaires, all had complained of tiredness, chest pains, lung congestion, and fever.

Three of the Legionnaires had been patients of Dr. Ernest Campbell, a physician in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, who noticed that all three men had been at the Legionnaires convention in Philadelphia. He contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Officials at the American Legion also began getting notices of the sudden deaths of several members, all at the same time. Within a week, more than 130 people, mostly men, had been hospitalized, and 25 had died.”

Commentary: I was in Florence, Italy writing my PhD dissertation when this happened. The only way I could communicate with my advisor, Mel Suffet, at that time was by telegram [no internet, no email, no phone, mail took a month]. Sometime in August I got a strangely worded telegram from Mel that he and some graduate students had gone into the Bellevue Stratford Hotel and sampled drinking water and had taken the activated carbon filters out of the drinking fountains to look for toxic chemicals. The disease was a big mystery at the time. However, the telegram was so weirdly constructed that I initially thought that Mel had contracted the mystery fever. Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case.

Owens Lake before becoming a dust hazard

Owens Lake before becoming a dust hazard

July 27, 1905: Los Angeles Board of Engineers meet to consider Owens Valley supply. “The Board of Engineers who were to make that recommendation met on July 27, 1905. From an engineering standpoint, the project was viable. One of the commissioners had previously met with [Stafford Wallace Austin, the Land Register for the Owens Valley] and made sure discussions about the project gave serious consideration to his protest. However, the economic feasibility of the project was in question. The Board saw Los Angeles’ ownership of the Long Valley Reservoir site and 50 miles along the river as a great impediment to proceeding with a Reclamation Service project.

The Secretary of the Interior, the cabinet member responsible for the Reclamation Service, made no decision until much later.

[William] Mulholland returned from a car trip to the Owens Valley not two days after the Board of Engineers had met. His statement, “The last spike is driven…the options are secure,” was the City’s verdict on the project.

It seemed irrelevant that the Reclamation Service had made no decision when on July 29, 1905 the Los Angeles Times headlines bannered ‘Titanic Project to Give City a River.’”

July 26, 1930: Allen Hazen Dies

0726 Allen HazenJuly 26, 1930: Death of Allen Hazen. “Allen Hazen (1869–1930) was an expert in hydraulics, flood control, water purification and sewage treatment. His career extended from 1888 to 1930 and he is, perhaps, best known for his contributions to hydraulics with the Hazen-Williams equation. Hazen published some of the seminal works on sedimentation and filtration. He was President of the New England Water Works Association and Vice President of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

During a year spent at MIT (1887-8), Hazen studied chemistry and came into contact with Professor William T. Sedgwick, Dr. Thomas M. Drown and fellow students George W. Fuller and George C. Whipple. As a direct result of his association with Dr. Thomas M. Drown, Hazen was offered his first job at the Lawrence Experiment Station in Lawrence, Massachusetts. LES was likely the first institute in the world devoted solely to investigations of water purification and sewage treatment. From 1888 to 1893, Hazen headed the research team at this innovative research institute into water purification and sewage treatment.

Hazen is most widely known for developing in 1902 with Gardner S. Williams the Hazen-Williams equation which described the flow of water in pipelines. In 1905, the two engineers published an influential book, which contained solutions to the Hazen-Williams equation for pipes of widely varying diameters. The equation uses an empirically derived constant for the “roughness” of the pipe walls which became known as the Hazen-Williams coefficient.

In 1908, Hazen was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to a panel of expert engineers to inspect the construction progress on the Panama Canal with President-Elect William H. Taft. Hazen specifically reported on the soundness of the Gatun Dam (an integral structure in the canal system), which he said was constructed of the proper materials and not in any danger of failure.

Hazen’s early work at the Lawrence Experiment Station established some of the basic parameters for the design of slow sand filters. One of his greatest contributions to filtration technology was the derivation of two terms for describing the size distribution of filter media: effective size and uniformity coefficient. These two parameters are used today to specify the size of filter materials for water purification applications. His first book, The Filtration of Public Water Supplies, which was published in 1895, is still considered a classic.

His first assignment as a sole practitioner in 1897 was the design of the filtration plant at Albany, New York. The plant was the first continuously operated slow sand filter plant in the U.S.

One of his early assignments was as consultant to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to determine the best method of providing a safe water supply from the Monongahela River. For decades, the City had been wracked with typhoid fever epidemics. At the time, mechanical filtration (or rapid sand filtration was just beginning to be understood as a treatment process. As a conservative engineer, Hazen recommended that the City install slow sand filters to remove both turbidity and harmful bacteria from its water supply. As early as 1904, Hazen recommended the filtration of the Croton water supply for New York City. As of 2013, a new filtration plant on that water supply is nearing completion.

Hazen received honorary degrees of Doctor of Science from both New Hampshire College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (1913) and Dartmouth College (1917). In 1915, he received the Norman Medal which is the highest honor given by the American Society of Civil Engineers for a technical paper that “makes a definitive contribution to engineering science.” He was selected as an Honorary Member of the American Water Works Association in 1930. In 1971, he was inducted into the AWWA Water Industry Hall of Fame with his friend and colleague, George W. Fuller.”

Commentary: This entry is part of the biographical entry for Hazen in Wikipedia that I wrote in June 2012. I did not know much about him until I wrote the article. He was truly an amazing engineer who excelled at everything that he was engaged in.

July 25, 1698: Thomas Savery Gets Patent for Steam Pump; 1799: Birth of James Simpson

0725 Thomas_SaveryJuly 25, 1698: “Thomas Savery received a British patent for a “New Invention for Raiseing of Water and Occassioning Motion to all sorts of Mill Work by the Impellent Force of Fire”; first application of steam for pumping water, intended for draining mines, serving towns and supplying water to mills; design had major problems containing high-pressure steam due to the weakness of available construction materials.”

 

 

0725 James SimpsonJuly 25, 1799: James Simpson born. Simpson is one of the best-known filtration pioneers. He developed, built and put into operation the first slow sand filter in England. The filter was part of the Chelsea Water Works Co. which served part of London.

Reference: Baker, Moses N. 1981. The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver, Co.: American Water Works Association, 99.

July 24, 1998: Enron Aquires Wessex; 1844: Steam Engine Patent; 1855: Water Meter Patent

0724 EnronJuly 24, 1998Enron Corporation, electricity and gas company in Houston, TX, signed deal to acquire British-based Wessex Water, PLC for $2.2 billion–which was reportedly paid in cash; signaled Enron’s first move towards creating a global water subsidiary—Azurix.

Commentary: The global water business of Azurix crashed and burned just like the parent company. I had some connections with the folks planning the future of their water holdings and it was clear from the beginning that they had little clue about what they were doing. Near the end, I attended a reception hosted by Azurix at the AWWA annual conference in Denver. After a conversation with an attorney for the company over drinks, it was clear to me that the days of the company were numbered.

July 24, 1844: “Henry Rossiter Worthington received a patent for a “Steam-Boiler Water-Feeder” (new and useful improvements in the manner of constructing and governing auxiliary steam-engines for the purpose of supplying steam-boilers with water”); independent single direct-acting steam power pump, laid the foundation of the entire pump industry.

July 24, 1855 – A patent issued for a “Water Metre” (a new and useful Meter for Measuring the Quantity of Flowing Liquids”); one of the first practical water meters in the United States.