October 4, 1921: Death of Hiram Mills

1004 Hiram F MillsOctober 4, 1921Death of Hiram Francis Mills. “Born in Bangor, Maine, in the year 1836 and receiving his early schooling there, the young Hiram Mills moved on to the newly-established Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute to be graduated before he was twenty. When he was in his middle thirties he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Essex Company, the corporate owner of the Merrimack River dam and water power rights at Lawrence, Massachusetts. Ever research-minded, Mr. Mills induced the Essex Company to set up an outdoor hydraulic laboratory on the river bank below the power dam.

In the year 1886 came a momentous change in the direction of Mr. Mills’ scientific interests. In that year he was appointed a member of the recently reorganized State Board of Health. At the first meeting he was chosen by his associates to be chairman of the Board’s Committee on Water Supplies and Sewage; and from hydraulics, Hiram Mills’ chief scientific concern in life turned to sanitation.

The law of 1886, re-creating the State Board of Health, empowered the members to investigate methods for the disposal of sewage, and Hiram Mills lost little time in seeing that the law’s intent was carried out. As the place for his projected studies in the best practical methods for safe sewage disposal, he persuaded the Essex Company to lend to Massachusetts the experimental plant the company had created for his hydraulic researches. With State funds a modest laboratory building was added to the existing structures, and the whole was renamed the Lawrence Experiment Station — the first research enterprise of its kind in our country.

It may fairly be said that the investigations which Mills was to plan and carry through to conclusion in this physically limited and always economically equipped plant laid the foundations for many of the scientific methods of treatment of drinking water and municipal wastes. Instead of investing in elaborate equipment and costly facilities. Mills invested in brains, as frequently he was pleased to point out, To man his researches, Mr. Mills drew upon the faculty and recent graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and thus employing their varied scientific skills, he perfected a unique investigating team whose inventiveness and productiveness are not likely to be seen again.” [editied by M.J. McGuire]

Commentary: Members of the research team included George W. Fuller, Allen Hazen and William T. Sedgwick. MIT professors William Ripley NicholsEllen Swallow Richards, and Thomas M. Drown also played important early roles. Allen Hazen and George W. Fuller were in charge of some of the earliest research on sewage treatment and drinking water filtration.

October 3, 2008: Perchlorate Will Not Be Regulated

1003 PerchlorateOctober 3, 2008: EPA made a preliminary determination not to regulate perchlorate in drinking water. “Perchlorate is the explosive component of solid rocket fuel, fireworks, road flares, and other products. Used heavily by the Department of Defense and related industries, perchlorate also occurs naturally and is present in some organic fertilizer.

This soluble, persistent compound has been detected in drinking water supplies, especially in California. . . .Because of this widespread occurrence, concern over the potential health risks of perchlorate exposure has increased, and some states, water utilities, and Members of Congress have urged the Environmental Protection Agency to set a federal drinking water standard for this chemical.”

October 2, 1933: Death of Philipp Forchheimer

1002 Philipp ForchheimerOctober 2, 1933Philipp Forchheimer, Austrian hydraulic engineer, died. “[He] made significant studies of groundwater hydrology. Early in his academic career, he worked on problems of soil mechanics. Later, he turned to hydraulic problems, establishing the scientific basis of the discipline by applying standard techniques of mathematical physics – in particular Laplace’s equation – to problems of groundwater movement. Laplace’s equation had already been well developed for heat flow and fluid flow. Forchheimer extended the preexisting mathematical theory to calculations of groundwater flow.”

October 1, 1896: Standpipe Failure; 1896: Philadelphia Filtration; 1913: Water Year Start

1001 Stand Pipe Failure at Garden City KansasOctober 1, 1896: Engineering News article. A Stand-Pipe Failure at Garden City, Kan. “Sir: A brief note in regard to the failure of the Garden City stand-pipe, another addition to the already large number of failures of these structures, may be of interest to the readers of Engineering News.

This stand-pipe was built by Palmer & Son, of Kansas City, Mo. It was located about one-fourth mile from the Arkansas River, and a few feet above its bed. It was 10 ft. in diameter, 130 ft. high, and was supported on a masonry foundation on a level with the surface of the ground…

About four years after erection a crack appeared on the west side of the pipe, in the angle iron connecting the bottom to the first course. This was soldered but continued to leak and about 21/2 years before the failure a new piece of angle, about 5 ft. long, was put in. Four of the six brackets had their legs broken about this time, and were repaired by bolting to them a strap of iron which passed down around the anchor bolt.

On April 30, 1896, during a very high wind from the northwest, estimated to have a velocity of 60 to 70 miles per hour, with occasional gusts of 90 miles, and which wrecked many of the windmills in this vicinity, a crack appeared on the north aide of the bottom angle iron. This crack increased in size for 11/4 hours, until it was 5 ft. long, with the water rushing out rapidly. Suddenly the angle iron to which the north guy was fastened gave way and the pipe blew over in the southwest direction. The pipe was about one-fourth full at the time of failure with both pumps delivering into it at nearly their full capacity.

The bottom angle iron broke at the angle all the way around except where the new piece was put in, where the first course failed along the rivets. All the brackets were broken, and the bottom was broken somewhat at its center around the entrance pipe.

It seems quite clear that the failure was due to three causes: (1) The weakness in the angle iron connecting the bottom and first course; (2) to the brackets not being long and strong enough; and (3) to the fastening of the guys being weak.

  1. C. Murphy, Hydrographer U. S. Geological Survey.”

Commentary: Sometimes we need to remember our failures as well as our successes. It was through an analysis of these failures that eventually water standpipes were properly designed and constructed in the U.S.

1001 Philadelphia Water Source ContaminationOctober 1, 1896: Engineering News article. Filtration of the Philadelphia Water Supply. “A vigorous crusade against the further use of Schuylkill River water, without filtration, is being led by the Woman’s Health Protective Association of Philadelphia, and the subject is being actively discussed by the press of that city. All admit that the present supply is impure, and that the water from this river is blackened with coal dust or made yellow by mud at every high stage In the river, and that it is liable to contamination from six cities upon its banks above Philadelphia, whose aggregate population Is 350,000. An entirely new supply, from a distant source of permanent purity, is undoubtedly the most attractive solution to the difficult problem presented, and for years put extensive surveys and investigations have been made with that end in view. But the enormous cost of such an undertaking, coupled with the lack of available means in the City Treasury and the disinclination to permit a private company to control the water supply of Philadelphia, have so far prevented any of the many projects of this sort which have been brought forward from being carried out.

Filtration has been often suggested, in Philadelphia. Several years ago certain parties backed by the city press, seriously recommended the location of filter-beds or filter-galleries In the River Schuylkill itself, an absurd scheme, which was dropped as soon as computations were made of the area required for the quantity of water to be filtered, the cost of construction, and the difficulties and risks of maintenance. But since the success of sand filtration as a means of purification of water has become generally understood, the intelligent citizens of Philadelphia have become strongly in favor of the construction of a system of filter beds. Our readers will recall that an appropriation to build a single filter-bed was before the Philadelphia Councils some months ago, and was only defeated by a close vote.

Recently the agitation for filtration has been started anew by the publication of a report upon the project of filtering the city’s water supply made to the Woman’s Health Protective Association by Mr. Allen Hazen, of the firm of Hazen & Noyes, of Boston.”

Commentary: This article is important for several reasons. It highlights the struggle to choose between finding a “pure” upland source of water versus treating water supplies that were available locally. The fact that a citizens group got involved and hired Allen Hazen is notable. In the late 1890s, hundreds of cities were dealing with the same problem—contaminated water supplies. However, most of them did nothing for a long period of time and many people died. Philadelphia had a lot of trouble getting the political muscle organized to make it happen. An excellent website created by the Water Department historian highlights the struggle over filter construction. “Between 1900 and 1911, Philadelphia built a system of five [slow] sand filtration plants on high ground along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers…Costing $28 million, the filtration system was the largest public works project in the city up to that time and the largest filtration works in the world.”

Reference: Engineering News. 36:14(October 1, 1896): 218-9.

1001 US-GeologicalSurvey-Seal.svgOctober 1, 1913: October 1 is the first day of a water year. “A water year is term commonly used in hydrology to describe a time period of 12 months. It is defined as the period between October 1st of one year and September 30th of the next. The water year is designated by the calendar year in which it ends. (the year within which 9 of the 12 months fall). Thus the 2010 water year started on October 1, 2009 and ended on September 30, 2010. Use of water year as a standard follows the US national water supply data publishing system that was started in 1913. This time interval is often used by hydrologists because hydrological systems in the northern hemisphere are typically at their lowest levels near October 1. The increased temperatures and generally drier weather patterns of summer give way to cooler temperatures, which decreases evaporation rates. Rain and snow replenish surface water supplies.”

September 30, 1936: Hoover Dam Dedication; 1882: First Hydro Power Plant in US

Roosevelt Dedicates Hoover Dam

Roosevelt Dedicates Hoover Dam

September 30, 1936:  Hoover Dam Dedication by U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Click HERE for an audio recording of the dedication.  New York Times headline–President…Speaks at Boulder Dam.  ”Standing on a platform perched high above the Colorado River at the eastern terminus of the great, towering Boulder Canyon Dam, President Roosevelt dedicated it today as a “splendid symbol” of employment-providing public works which he said have already given the necessary recovery spur to private industry while increasing the value of the nation’s resources.” Commentary:  If we could only learn this lesson today. Building and replacing infrastructure would result in a better country and a huge boost to the economy. How can we get Washington to cooperate long enough to make this happen?

First Hydroelectric Power Station, Appleton, WI

First Hydroelectric Power Station, Appleton, WI

September 30, 1882 – Paper manufacturer H.F. Rogers (Appleton, WI) opened the first hydroelectric power plant in U.S. at riverside paper mill on Fox River, in Appleton, WI (later known as Appleton Edison Light Company); powered by water wheel, provided 12.5 kilowatts, enough for 180 lights (ten candlepower each) to light Rogers’ home, plant.

“On September 30, 1882, the first centrally located electric lighting system using the Edison system in the West and the first hydroelectric central station in the world began operation on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. The Vulcan Street plant (the Appleton Gas Light Co.), later named the Appleton Edison Light Company, powered the two paper mills of H. J. Rogers’ Appleton Paper and Pulp Co. and his residence, Hearthstone. Rogers, also president of the Appleton Gas Light Co. had been inspired by Thomas Edison’s plans for a steam-based power station in New York. With financial backing from three Appleton men, one a personal friend of Edison’s, Rogers began building this new venture during the summer of 1882, harvesting the power of the Fox River with a water wheel. The water wheel, generators, and copper wiring took only a few months to install and test. Initial testing of the plant on September 27 was unsuccessful but the Edison “K” type generator powered up successfully on September 30.”

Commentary: Interesting juxtaposition of topic and dates. On the same day only 54 years apart, hydroelectric power generation goes from beginning to one of the biggest in the world.

September 29, 1908: First Day of Second Jersey City Trial; 1987 W.R. Grace Indicted

Trial transcripts for the Second Jersey City trial, 3000 pages

Trial transcripts for the Second Jersey City trial, 3000 pages

September 29, 1908: In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and pipeline and was completed on May 23, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment (except for detention and sedimentation fostered by Boonton Reservoir) was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract.

At the conclusion of the first trial, Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens found that two or three times per year, the water did not meet the standard of “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract. He ordered that sewers be installed in the watershed or that “other plans or devices” that were equivalent to sewering the towns in the watershed could be installed. A second trial was scheduled to test whether the “other plans or devices” met the requirements of the judgment.

The second Jersey City trial started on September 29, 1908. The first order of business on the first day was a request by the defendants to postpone everything. William H. Corbin made a long statement in which he, once again, summarized the opinion and decree by Vice Chancellor Stevens. He also described in general terms the “alternate plans and devices” that the company was installing at the Boonton Reservoir site as, “…an experimental plant for the introducing of oxygen into the flow of water as it comes from the dam.”

Corbin stated that the experimental plant was put into use “last Saturday” which would have been September 26, 1908. He noted that Vice Chancellor Stevens desired daily bacteriological analyses during the first trial but the company had not gathered the data with that frequency. Corbin said that the company had been taking daily bacteriological samples over the summer and wanted to continue the sampling through the next few months to catch rainfall and significant runoff events. He also wanted more time to operate the “works” to demonstrate conclusively that the water that would be delivered to Jersey City from the plant would be “pure and wholesome.” He requested a three-month adjournment in the trial.

James B. Vredenburgh, attorney for the plaintiffs, acknowledged that a delay was needed, but he stated that two months would be sufficient. His position was that if the water was of doubtful quality, the risk to the population of Jersey City for contracting waterborne diseases was too high and no delay in finding a solution should be allowed. He was particularly concerned that a typhoid fever carrier could potentially contaminate the water above Boonton Reservoir. He also mentioned concerns with high death rates from childhood diarrhea which he said was related to the quality of the drinking water.

He also complained that Jersey City was paying the company for water delivered from Boonton Reservoir and that it would be significantly cheaper for the City to purchase the dam, reservoir and “works” rather than to continue to pay the water delivery charge. There were other issues of riparian rights along the Passaic River that needed to be settled which were agreed to by both sides.

Vredenburgh stated that it was his understanding that the treatment that would be applied to the water consisted of passing electricity through air and producing “ozone,” which would then be introduced into the water. There is no mention in the trial transcripts, exhibits, or reports of the company testing ozone or proposing its use. The company’s insistence that they would be adding oxygen to the water to sterilize it may have given Vredenburgh and the City the impression that ozone was the treatment method selected.

Based on his questions and comments, the Special Master for the second trial, William J. Magie, clearly understood the arguments for adjournment by both counsels. Even though he was not up to speed on all aspects of the case, he could rely on Vice Chancellor’s opinion that required him to carefully examine the “alternate plans and devices.” He agreed to a three-month adjournment and scheduled the second day of trial for January 5, 1909.

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

W.R. Grace and Contaminated Wells

W.R. Grace and Contaminated Wells

September 29, 1987New York Times headline–W.R. Grace is Charged with Lying About Waste. A Federal grand jury today indicted W. R. Grace & Company on charges that it lied to the United States Environmental Protection Agency about the use of chemicals and waste disposal techniques at its industrial plant in Woburn, Mass.

Officials at Grace, a diversified company with headquarters in New York, denied issuing any false statements and termed the grand jury’s charges ”unjust and without merit.”

The indictment today follows a lawsuit last summer in which eight families from Woburn asserted that toxic discharges from the Grace plant had contaminated their water wells, causing six deaths from leukemia and numerous illnesses in the families. In July, a jury found that Grace had contaminated the water with two solvents but was unable to determine the date at which the chemicals began to pollute the wells. $8 Million Settlement Reported The case was settled out of court in September. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed, but Grace is reported to have paid the families $8 million, although it denied that its chemicals had caused the diseases.”

September 28, 1891: Bromine Patent; 1895: Louis Pasteur dies; 1988: Love Canal

Herbert H. Dow

Herbert H. Dow

September 28, 1891: “In 1890, Herbert H. Dow, former college chemistry student at Case School of Applied Science (Cleveland, OH), established Midland Chemical Company in Midland, MI; January 4, 1891 – produced bromine from Midland, Michigan’s rich brine resources (main component of patent medicines at that time) by electrolysis; led to an increasing stream of chemicals from brines; September 28, 1891 – received a patent for a “Process of Extracting Bromine from Natural Brine or Bitter Waters”; “blowing-out” process to liberate bromine from brine; became world’s most efficient bromine manufacturer through application of electrochemistry.”

Commentary: This process marked the beginning of the Dow Chemical Company. The company was formed on May 18, 1897.

0928 Louis_Pasteur_by_Pierre_Lamy_PetitSeptember 28, 1895Louis Pasteur died. Pasteur was a French chemist and self-taught microbiologist who was one of the most important founders of medical microbiology. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. His discoveries reduced mortality from puerperal (or childbed) fever, and he created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. His experiments and writings were responsible for the definition of the germ theory of disease. He was best known to the general public for inventing a method to stop milk and wine from causing sickness, a process that came to be called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of microbiology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch.

Drums of Toxic Waste

Drums of Toxic Waste

September 28, 1988New York Times headline–The Long History of a Toxic-Waste Nightmare, Love Canal. 1894 – William T. Love begins building a ”model industrial city” along a canal linking the Niagara River with Lake Ontario. The invention of the alternating-current motor makes it unnecessary for industry to be near water power, and the project is dropped.

1947 – The Hooker Chemicals and Plastics Corporation takes over the 15-acre canal site for use as a dump. By 1952, 21,800 tons of toxic chemicals in metal drums are buried.