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

DOW logoSeptember 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.

 

September 27, 1962: Silent Spring; 1973: Radioactive Leak

0927 Rachel-CarsonSeptember 27, 1962:  Publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. By 1970 DDT is banned. Silent Spring is often seen as a turning point in environmental history because it opened a much stronger national dialogue about the relationship between people and nature. Check out these links to recent stories on the impact that Rachel Carson and her writings have had on us all.

0914 rocky-flats-plant-gisSeptember 27, 1973New York Times headline–Radiation Traced to Atom Plant in Colorado. The Colorado Health Department has found radioactive contamination in Broomfield’s drinking water supply and has traced the source to waste dumps at the Atomic Energy Commission’s nuclear weapons factory at Rocky Flats, five miles to the west. Tritium, or radioactive hydrogen, was found in the town’s water in concentrations 10 times the normal background radiation level.

September 26, 1908: First Chlorine Use in US; 1855: Handle Put Back on Broad Street Pump

Building on the right housed the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton Reservoir

Building on the right housed the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton Reservoir

September 26, 1908:  106th anniversary of the first day of operation of the chlorination facility at Boonton Reservoir for Jersey City, NJ.  This was the first continuous use of chlorine in the U.S. for drinking water disinfection.

In the field of water supply, there were big moves afoot in the state of New Jersey at the turn of the 20th century. Jersey City had suffered with a contaminated water supply for decades causing tens of thousands of deaths from typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. In 1899, the City contracted with the Jersey City Water Supply Company to build a dam on the Rockaway River and provide a new water supply. The dam created Boonton Reservoir, which had a storage capacity of over seven billion gallons. One of the company’s employees, Dr. John L. Leal, would have an enormous impact on this water supply and the history of water treatment. Leal was a physician, public health professional and water quality expert. Leal’s job with the company was to remove sources of contamination in the Rockaway River watershed above the reservoir. Water from the project was served to the City beginning on May 23, 1904.

When it came time for Jersey City to pay the company for the new water supply, they balked. The price tag was steep—over $175 million in current dollars. Using newly developed bacteriological methods, consultants for the City claimed that the water was not “pure and wholesome,” and they filed suit against the company to get a reduced purchase price. The trial that resulted pitted the water quality experts of the day against one another in a battle of expert witnesses.

The opinion of the judge was published on May 1, 1909. In that opinion, Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens said that Boonton Reservoir did a good job on average of reducing the bacteria concentrations in the water provided. However, he noted that two to three times per year, especially after intense rainstorms, the reservoir short-circuited and relatively high bacteria levels resulted.

Rather than build expensive sewers that would deal with only part of the bacteria contamination problem (an early recognition of non-point source pollution) Leal and the company attorney argued to install “other plans or devices” that would do a better job. The judge agreed and gave them a little over three months to prove their idea. Leal had decided in May 1908 that it was time to add a chemical disinfectant to drinking water. He was all too familiar with the suffering and death caused by typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. He knew of some successful instances of using forms of chlorine in Europe, but nothing had been attempted in the U.S. on such a large-scale basis.

Leal was convinced that adding a disinfectant to the Jersey City water supply was the best course. He had done laboratory studies that convinced him that a fraction of a ppm of chlorine would kill disease-causing bacteria. In the face of the certain disapproval of his peers and possible condemnation by the public, he moved forward.

However, no chlorine feed system treating 40 million gallons per day had ever been designed or built and if the feed system failed to operate reliably, all of the courage of his convictions would not have amounted to much. He needed the best engineer in the country to do the work. He needed George Warren Fuller. In 1908, Fuller was famous for his work in filtration. He had designed an aluminum sulfate feed system treating 30 million gallons per day for the Little Falls treatment plant. On July 19, 1908, Leal left his attorney’s office in Jersey City and took the ferry to Manhattan. In Fuller’s office at 170 Broadway, he hired the famous engineer (undoubtedly on the basis of a handshake) and told him that the bad news was that he needed the work done in a little over three months.

Ninety-nine days later, the chlorine feed system was built and operational. Calcium hypochlorite (known then as chloride of lime or bleaching powder) was made into a concentrated solution, diluted with water and fed through a calibrated orifice to the water before it traveled by gravity to Jersey City. The feed system worked flawlessly from day one and continued to operate successfully for all of the following days. Liquid chlorine eventually replaced chloride of lime, but September 26, 2013, marks the 105th anniversary of the first continuous use of chlorine on a water supply—the longest period of water disinfection anywhere in the world.

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

Broadwick (formerly Broad) Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house

Broadwick (formerly Broad) Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house

September 26, 1855:  The St. James Board of Commissioners of Paving voted 10 to 2 to reopen the Broad Street pump at the urging of local residents.  Dr. John Snow had prevailed upon them a year earlier to remove the pump handle after he presented his evidence that cholera deaths were geographically clustered around the well site.

Reference: Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 310.

September 25, 1982: Houston’s Thirst

Land Subsidence in and Around Houston, TX

Land Subsidence in and Around Houston, TX

September 25, 1982New York Times headline–Houston’s Great Thirst is Sucking City Down Into the Ground. “It started to the east of the city some years ago, when homes and industry began to slide into Galveston Bay. Now the entire city of Houston is sinking into its base of sand and clay, including the glittery new residential, commercial and retail developments that have sprung up like weeds in the prairie to the west of downtown. The cause is water. The vast aquifers beneath the city have been overpumped to feed the breakneck development of the last decade. But the solution will cost money, big money, or compel a slowing of growth, so the issue is potentially as much a political one as a geological one in a town in which unbridled growth is gospel.”

September 24, 1986: Lead Regulation

0924 Lead solder copper pipeSeptember 24, 1986New York Times headline–New Rules Limit Lead In Water Supply Pipes. “The Environmental Protection Agency today announced new limits on the use of lead in piping systems for public drinking water supplies.

The limits, authorized by amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, affect construction of new homes and other buildings, repairs on existing homes that get their water from public systems and modifications to the systems themselves, according to the E.P.A.

The rules ban the use of solder containing more than two-tenths of 1 percent of lead and the use of pipes and fittings with more than 8 percent lead content.”