#TDIWH—February 21, 1895: Aeration to Purify Sewage and a Letter from George Warren Fuller

Spray Aeration

Spray Aeration

February 21, 1895: Letter to Engineering News. Aeration as a Means of Purifying Sewage and Water. by J.H. Curtis. “The subject of sewage disposal and the purification of alluvial river water has been long considered and well digested by chemists, but the engineering end of the question has seemed to lag. About a year ago the subject was experimented on at St. Louis, and the result of these experiments may be given as follows:

Aeration was employed in which the liquid to be treated is absolutely disintegrated or reduced to spray. At the same instant of time and in juxtaposition with the liquid spray must be an atom of disintegrated air. What is the result? Organic matter accompanying the liquid is at once seized by the different constituents of the air, and there is produced pure water and harmless inorganic compounds. How performed? By a screen floor, say, with pepper-box perforations, over which is a layer of coarse river sand, somewhere below another layer of sand, leaving an air chamber between the two. Then, to duplicate nature, cause a rain storm of the liquid to be purified by forcing air into the chamber of a little less pressure than what is sufficient to sustain the weight of the liquid in the tank.

These drops falling on the fine sand, which must be kept unsubmerged, are then and there purified. [Mr. Curtis then goes on to quote the results from some experiments conducted at the Lawrence Experiment Station in Massachusetts. The experiments were run by none other than George Warren Fuller. The article continues…]

At the request of Mr. Curtis we have submitted proofs of his communication to Mr. Geo. W. Fuller, Biologist-in-Charge of the Lawrence Experiment Station of the Massachusetts State Board of Health. Mr. Fuller has made some comments on the subject, which are given immediately below. -Ed.)

Sir: The reference by Mr. Curtis to the Report of the Massachusetts State Board of Health on the purification of sewage by intermittent filtration, where artificial aeration is used for the removal of air in the filters, shows such a complete misapprehension of the process of purification by bacterial action, as well as misconception of the results of our work, that it is difficult to comment on the statements In his letter. He has entirely missed the idea of purification in the series of intermittent sewage filters Nos. 12A, 15B and 16B, which have been described in our Reports for 1892 and 1893.

It seems to me unnecessary to comment on his scheme until he has some facts to give with regard to this bacterial and organic purification of water and sewage by his system.

Truly yours,

George W. Fuller.

Commentary: There are very few letters written by George Warren Fuller that have survived to the present day. It is clear from this letter that he did not suffer fools gladly even at the tender age of 27 when the letter was written.

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

#TDIWH—February 20, 1862: Willie Lincoln Dies of Typhoid

250px-WILLIEFebruary 20, 1862: President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln were grief stricken when their eleven-year-old son, Willie, died from typhoid fever, which may have been due to polluted drinking water delivered to the White House. His full name was William Wallace Lincoln but his parents called him Willie.

“Willie and his younger brother Tad were considered “notorious hellions” during the period they lived in Springfield. They’re recorded by Abraham’s law partner William Herndon for turning their law office upside down; pulling the books off the shelves while their father appeared oblivious to their behavior.

Upon their father’s election as President both Willie and Tad moved into the White House and it became their new playground. At the request of Mrs. Lincoln, Julia Taft brought her younger brothers, 12-year-old “Bud” and 8-year-old “Holly” to the White House and they became playmates of Willie and Tad.

Willie and Tad both became ill in early 1862, and although Tad recovered, Willie’s condition fluctuated from day to day. The most likely cause of the illness was typhoid fever, which was usually contracted by consumption of fecally contaminated food/water. The White House drew its water from the Potomac River, along which thousands of soldiers and horses were camped. Gradually Willie weakened, and both parents spent much time at his bedside. Finally, on Thursday, February 20, 1862, at 5:00 p.m., Willie died. Abraham said, ‘My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!’”

Willie was only 11 years old when he died.

Commentary: Typhoid fever caused by contaminated water killed by the hundreds of thousands every year. The suffering of the parents of children was great and avoidable. It would take Louis Pasteur, the germ theory of disease, Dr. John Snow, public health professionals and the sanitary engineers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to eventually break the death spiral of sewage contaminated drinking water.

#TDIWH—February 19, 1914: Large Steel Water Tank in Youngstown, OH

0219 Steel TankFebruary 19, 1914: Engineering News article. “A steel tank 100 ft. diameter and 50 ft. high, with a capacity of 2,938,000 gal., is being built at Youngstown, Ohio, in connection with the water-supply service. The design is shown in Fig. 1. There are ten rings of plate, with double-strap butt joints for the vertical seams. These have ten rows of rivets (staggered) in the first two rings, eight in the third, six up to the eighth ring, four in the ninth and two in the tenth or top ring. There is a 20-in. inlet pipe with lead- and oakum-calked joint in the bottom plate, and a 24-in. overflow pipe of 3/8-in. riveted plate….

The tank is built without a roof, but has around the top a steel balcony with hand-rail. This balcony not only serves as a walk but also acts as a horizontal girder to stiffen the top of the tank.

The riveting is done with a large compression yoke riveter, except that the riveting of the bottom and the balcony is done with air hammers. The yoke riveter is suspended from a stiff-leg derrick, as shown in Fig. 3. The mast of this derrick is pivoted in the center of the tank and each stiff-leg is mounted on a small truck riding on a circular track, so that the boom and derrick frame can revolve through a complete circle. The power plant, air compressor and hoisting engine are located just outside the tank. The estimated weight of the tank complete is approximately 500 tons, and there are about 70,000 field rivets.

Reference: “A Large Steel Water Tank.” 1914. Engineering News 71:8(February 19, 1914):412-3.

Commentary: Note the lead and oakum-caulked joint. Lead would still be used in water works facility construction for many decades after 1914. Also, note that the reservoir did not have a roof. Uncovered finished water reservoirs finally suffered their death blow with the USEPA regulation—Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule. This story interested me because of the yoke riveter (on right center of Fig 3 with man standing on top) and derrick. This technology is long gone (I think), but it is interesting to see how they built reservoirs 99 years ago.

Stiff-Leg Derrick

Stiff-Leg Derrick

#TDIWH—February 18, 1915: Passaic Valley Sewer Construction

0218 Passaic V Sewer2February 18, 1915: Municipal Journal article. Passaic Valley Sewer. “Methods Employed by Contractors on Section from Bayonne to Robbins Reef Outlet-Sinking One Hundred Foot Shaft in New York Bay-Plans for Outlets. That section (No.2) of the Passaic valley sewer from the contract of the New York and New Jersey Construction Co., described in the issue of January 21, to the terminal chamber at Robbins reef is being built by the O’Rourke Engineering Construction Co., 17 Battery Place, N. Y. This contract comprises 15,000 feet of 12-foot concrete-lined circular tube, running about 80 feet below sea level from Bayonne to the reef. At the present time about 3,300 feet of this tunnel is “rough cut” and is now being trimmed down to the proper cross-section. The shaft at Bayonne, known as Jersey City shaft No. 2, has been sunk and work is proceeding on another shaft which is being built for construction purposes only in New York bay about 4,000 feet from the reef. Work on the terminal chamber itself will probably not begin until late in the summer.

From Jersey City shaft No. 2, the tunnel back to the 100-foot level heading of the New York and New Jersey Construction Co. has been driven back 1,675 feet-as far as is embraced in this contract. In the other direction, that is, toward New York bay, the tube has been driven about 1,370 feet. At this point the rock ran out and mud and gravel were encountered, necessitating the temporary abandonment of the work at this point. At present, work is still at a standstill, and there is a likelihood that it will be necessary to use compressed air for the remainder of the tunnel to the reef. Borings are now being made to further determine the nature of the ground before proceeding with the work.

Reference: “Passaic Valley Sewer.” 1915. Municipal Journal. 38:7(February 18, 1915): 213.

0218 Passaic V Sewer

#TDIWH—February 17, 1916: Fertilizer from Activated Sludge and Flood in San Diego

Many decades later, the use of biosolids for fertilizer is catching on

Many decades later, the use of biosolids for fertilizer is catching on

February 17, 1916: Municipal Journal article. Fertilizer from Activated Sludge.   “Milwaukee, Wis.-The sewerage commission that is directing the construction of Milwaukee’s modern system of sewage disposal with a big plant on Jones island, operated by the new activated sludge method, is about ready to experiment with the sludge deposits left after streams of sewage have been purified. Chief engineer Hatton believes that this sludge can be manufactured into a commercial fertilizer which will command a market value ranging from $10 to $20 per ton. If the experiments are successful the sludge will be the source of considerable revenue which will decrease the operating expenses of the system which with its large intercepting sewers draining the whole city, will cost $10,000,000 or more. A special building will be erected for the treatment of the refuse to be worked into fertilizer form. Nine of the large concrete tanks recently built for the treatment of continuous flows of sewage are in operation and the other two will soon be ready.”

Flooding by DamFebruary 17, 1916: Municipal Journal article. Repair Flood-Damaged Water System. “San Diego, Cal.-The San Diego water system was hard hit by the storm which caused the flooding of the Otay valley. According to belief of the water department officials the conduit system is almost ruined. In places miles of trestle have been carried down the mountains. In other places the concrete flume was washed out by the hundred yards. To carry water from Morena dam to Upper Otay, as proposed, will entail expensive work and six months or more time, according to the belief of manager of operation Lockwood, who waited an official report from supervisor Wueste and engineer Cromwell. Morena dam stood the storm.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1916. 40:7(February 17,1916): 244.

#TDIWH—February 16, 1974: Chlorine Shortage

0216 chlorine shortage picFebruary 16, 1974: New York Times headline– Chlorine Shortage: Threat to Drinking Water. “LINCOLN, Neb.-The nation faces a threat to its safe drinking water that could grow into a serious crisis it .steps are not taken soon to head it off. The problem traces back to the chlorine shortage that has been building since early 1973.”

Wilmington Star-News Headline-Chlorine Shortage May Affect Cities. “An Environmental Protection Agency official said Tuesday some municipalities will be hit this year by a shortage of chlorine to purify drinking wager, but that the supply should improve in 1975. Deputy Administrator John T. Rhett urged approval of legislation giving the government standby authority to impose a mandatory allocation system on the industry ‘to cope with serious shortage situations if such should develop during 1974.’

Rhett told a Senate Commerce subcommittee that chlorine was forecast ‘to be in short supply throughout most of 1974 if current economic conditions continue.’…The manager of the Denver Water Department said he has had difficulty obtaining a adequate supply of chlorine and warned that the health of ‘literally millions of Americans is threatened unless immediate action is taken’ on a mandatory allocation bill.”

#TDIWH—February 15, 1917: Sewer Pipe Failures

Vitrified clay pipe (15-inch diameter) crushed by improper backfill conditions

Vitrified clay pipe (15-inch diameter) crushed by improper backfill conditions

February 15, 1917: Municipal Journal editorial. Sewer Pipe Failures. “There is probably no type of structure or kind of material that was not at some time figured in a more or less complete failure. In most cases such failure is due to carelessness or ignorance in the use of the material and not to the fault of the material as such. Concrete bridges have failed, so have steel and wooden ones; yet each properly used has given most satisfactory service in hundreds of cases to one in which it has failed.

The same comments apply to the failures of sewer pipe described in this issue. Thousands of miles of vitrified pipe and hundreds of miles of cement pipe (the latter having come much more recently into general use) have given and are giving satisfaction in the sewerage systems of this and other countries. That there have been failures is only a repetition of the history of all materials. But it is desirable to occasionally call attention to such failures as a caution against careless or ignorant use of the materials, or to enlist all those interested in a study of the cause of the failure.

In the case of the vitrified pipe it appears from the illustration, that the pipe was laid close to the surface of a street carrying heavy traffic (assumed from the fact that the street was paved with stone block), that the reconstructed base over the trench failed to support the load, which was thereupon transmitted to the pipe.

In the case of the cement pipe, the reason is not so apparent; but it would seem probable that that advanced by the engineer is correct-that the pipe was sufficiently porous to permit ground water to pass through it, and that in doing so it dissolved certain constituents of the cement (or possibly of the sand or broken stone used as aggregate). It is certainly desirable that the cause be ascertained in order that the manufacturers of cement pipe may avoid its future occurrence.

Reference: “Sewer Pipe Failures.” 1917. Municipal Journal 42:7(February 15, 1917): 237.