March 4, 1875: British Public Health Act Debated



March 4, 1875: British Public Health Act consolidates authority to deal with housing, water pollution, occupational disease, and other problems. On this date, an article appeared in The Nation that described the appalling conditions of drinking water in London: “It is no exaggeration to say that … there is hardly an unpolluted river in the whole of England. Between the sewage of towns and the offscourings of manufactories, distilleries, breweries, and the like, every stream and river in the country is poisoned and rendered unfit for domestic use. Sparkling brooks that not many years ago were frequented by speckled trout and silvery salmon are now transformed into gigantic cesspools, which a clean-living toad would be ashamed to haunt. No wise man or woman will touch a drop of London water until it has been boiled and filtered, and even then they will use as little of it as they can. The manufacturing interest will no doubt be roused if any attempt be made to interfere with their prerogative of public poisoning. But the good sense, not to say the newly- awakened terror, of the country will support the Government if their measure be wisely considered, and be calculated to promote the end it has in view. [The Nation. Mar. 4, 1875, p.11, “The Coming Measures.”]

March 3, 1879: U.S. Geological Survey Established; 1899: Rivers and Harbors Act Passed by Congress

240px-US-GeologicalSurvey-Seal.svgMarch 3, 1879: U.S. Geological Survey established by President Rutherford B. Hayes signing a bill authorizing money for the organization. “The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information.”

0303 Harbor PollutionMarch 3, 1899: Rivers and Harbors Act (also called the Refuse Act) passed by Congress. “The act is primarily aimed at preservation of navigable waters, but under Section 13 it becomes unlawful to throw garbage and refuse into navigable waters except with a Corps of Engineers permit. One exception is for liquid sewage from streets and sewers. Violators would be fined up to $2,500 and imprisoned up to one year. The new law consolidated four previous laws and had far-reaching implications. Dumping of oil, acids or other chemicals into streams was now prohibited insofar as navigation was obstructed, and in several cases the Supreme Court interpreted obstruction in a broad rather than narrow sense.”

March 2, 1866: Birth of George C. Whipple

George C. Whipple

George C. Whipple

March 2, 1866: George C. Whipple is born. “George Chandler Whipple (1866–1924) was a civil engineer and an expert in the field of sanitary microbiology. His career extended from 1889 to 1924 and he is best known as a cofounder of the Harvard School of Public Health. Whipple published some of the most important books in the early history of public health and applied microbiology. . . .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 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment of any kind 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. Whipple testified as an expert witness for the plaintiff in both trials.”

Commentary: George C. Whipple was a very interesting person. I had the opportunity to go through a small part of the archive that he left to Harvard University while researching my book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. I swear that he saved every last piece of paper that he ever touched in his career. It is a fascinating look into the mind of a turn-of-the-century expert in drinking water treatment. Even though he was trained as a civil engineer, he made some of the most important early advances in microscopy and the ecology of lakes and rivers. He invented the Secchi disk that we use today. The original Secchi disk was all white. He created the disk with quadrants that were alternating black and white. Any civil engineer will recognize that arrangement as the same one found on a land surveying target marker. He was one of the first researchers to identify taste and odor problems in water as directly related to the presence of certain algae species. Check out the full biography that I wrote about him on Wikipedia.

March 1, 1993: Milwaukee Crypto Outbreak; 1930: Death of Clemens Herschel

Depiction of Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts excystation in the gut

Depiction of Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts excystation in the gut

March 1, 1993: Outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee, WI. From this date until April 28 is generally regarded as the duration of the outbreak of the disease. People in the area receiving the water began getting sick during this period and soon emergency rooms and doctors’ offices were overtaxed. It has been estimated that over 400,000 people were sickened and over 100 people died.

“To assess the total medical costs and productivity losses associated with the 1993 waterborne outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, including the average cost per person with mild, moderate, and severe illness, we conducted a retrospective cost-of-illness analysis using data from 11 hospitals in the greater Milwaukee area and epidemiologic data collected during the outbreak. The total cost of outbreak-associated illness was $96.2 million: $31.7 million in medical costs and $64.6 million in productivity losses. The average total costs for persons with mild, moderate, and severe illness were $116, $475, and $7,808, respectively. The potentially high cost of waterborne disease outbreaks should be considered in economic decisions regarding the safety of public drinking water supplies.”

Reference: Corso, P.S. et al. 2003. “Cost of Illness in the 1993 Waterborne Cryptosporidium Outbreak, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Emerging Infectious Diseases. 9:4.

Commentary: Based on the evidence I have seen, the Howard Avenue Water Purification Plant lost control of its particle removal process, which caused high concentrations of viable Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts to enter the distribution system. The only disinfectant that the water utility was using at that time was free chlorine, which is ineffective for killing this pathogen. Since the outbreak, the water treatment system in Milwaukee has been significantly upgraded.

Clemens Herschel 1906March 1, 1930: Clemens Herschel dies. “Clemens Herschel (March 23, 1842 – March 1, 1930) was an American hydraulic engineer. His career extended from about 1860 to 1930, and he is best known for developing the Venturi meter, which was the first large-scale, accurate device for measuring water flow.

Clemens was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and spent most of his life practicing his profession in New York and New Jersey. He attended Harvard University, where he received his bachelor of science degree in 1860 from the Lawrence Scientific School. After Harvard, he completed post-graduate studies in France and Germany.

The first part of Herschel’s career was devoted to bridge design, including the design of cast-iron bridges. For a time, he was employed on the sewerage system of Boston. Herschel was influenced by James B. Francis, who was the agent and engineer of the Proprietors of Locks and Canals on the Merrimack River at Lowell, Massachusetts, to switch his career path to hydraulic engineering. About 1880, he started working for the Holyoke Water Power Company in Massachusetts. He remained with the company until 1889. While he was there, Herschel designed the Holyoke testing flume, which has been said to mark the beginning of the scientific design of water-power wheels. Herschel first tested his Venturi meter concept in 1886 while working for the company. The original purpose of the Venturi meter was to measure the amount of water used by the individual water mills in the Holyoke area.

Water supply development in northern New Jersey was an active area of investment in the late 19th century. In 1889, Herschel was hired as the manager and superintendent of the East Jersey Water Company, where he worked until 1900. He was responsible for the development of the Pequannock River water supply for Newark. He also installed two of his largest Venturi meters at Little Falls, New Jersey, on the main stem of the Rockaway River to serve Paterson, Clifton and Jersey City.

After 1900 and lasting until the end of his life, Herschel was a consulting hydraulic engineer with offices in New York City. He worked on some of the major water development projects in the world. He played a major part in the construction of the hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls, which was the first large-scale electric power plant. He was appointed to an expert committee that reviewed the plans for the first water tunnel that would deliver water from the Catskill reservoirs to New York City.

Herschel was one of the first five men inducted into the American Water Works Association Water Industry Hall of Fame. He was also made an honorary member of that organization. Herschel was awarded the Elliott Cresson medal in 1889 by the Franklin Institute for his development of the Venturi water meter.

In 1888, Herschel was presented with the Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Rowland Prize is awarded to an author whose paper describes in detail accomplished works of construction or which are valuable contributions to construction management and construction engineering. He was made an Honorary Member of ASCE in 1922.

The Clemens Herschel Prize was established at Harvard University in 1929. The award is given to meritorious students in practical hydraulics. Each year, the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section presents the Clemens Herschel Award to authors ‘…who have published papers that have been useful, commendable, and worthy of grateful acknowledgment.’”

Commentary: I am particularly pleased with this biography, which I wrote for Wikipedia. On December 23, 2012, Wikipedia chose the Clemens Herschel biography to feature on their main page in the Did You Know section.

#TDIWH—February 28, 1895: Los Angeles Sewer System

0228 LA Sewer system aFebruary 28, 1895: Engineering News article. The Sewerage System of Los Angeles, Cal. by Burr Bassell. “The City of Los Angeles is built upon both sides of a torrential stream, called the Los Angeles River, at a point 20 miles from its mouth. The corporate limits of the city may be described as a square, more than five miles on a side, containing 18,597 acres….

The present river channel is dependent upon artificial means for the confinement of its waters. Its bed is 30 ft. higher at the point where it leaves the south charter boundary, than at the southwest corner of the city. This change of channel is probably due to the influence of a tributary, called the Arroyo Seco, which empties its storm-waters laden with sand, gravel and boulders from the mountains on the north into the very center of the city….

The census of 1880 gave a population of 11,183, that of 1890, 50,395. A conservative estimate for 1894 is 70,000.

The first comprehensive plan for sewering the city was prepared in 1887 by Mr. Fred Eaton, M. Am. Soc. C. E., at the time city surveyor. It was designed on the separate system, with an outfall sewer to the sea, via the Centinela Rancho. His estimated cost of the internal system was $533,846, and for an outfall sewer to the ocean by the Centinela route, 11.5 miles in length, $466,154, making a total of $1,000,000.

Mr. Rudolph Hering, M. Am. Soc. C. E., reported favorably on Mr. Eaton’s plans, and stated that the problem of designing a good sewerage system for the city presented no serious difficulties.

Reference: Bassell, Burr, 1895. “The Sewerage System of Los Angeles, Cal.” Engineering News. 33:9(February 28, 1895): 139.

Commentary: This article is remarkable in so many ways. Los Angeles was only 25 square miles and the population was only 70,000! Obviously, the city has grown a bit since the article was written. Incidentally, the article goes on at length to describe other sewering options. The plot plan below represented the preferred option. As near as I can tell, the outfall for this sewer is right about where the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is now located.

Mr. Fred Eaton went on to play an infamous role in Los Angeles water wars. In 1905, Eaton was a central character in the purchase of the Owens Valley lands that formed the basis for the Los Angeles water supply imported from the Eastern Sierras. Eaton’s actions were conducted under the inappropriate cloak of respectability of the U.S. Reclamation Service which has caused hard feelings in the region for the past 109 years. Rudolph Hering played a role in this project. He has been portrayed many times in this blog including two days ago when we celebrated the anniversary of his birth.

0228 LA Sewer system

#TDIWH—February 27, 1913: Croton Chlorination Plant

0227 Croton Cl2 plantcFebruary 27, 1913: Engineering News article. Chlorinating Plants, Croton Water Supply. “Synopsis—Operating results of a temporary plant, which treated with hypochlorite of lime more than 100 billion gallons of Croton water for New York City in 1912, are given. A permanent hypochlorite or chlorinating plant, to treat the flow through both the old and the new Croton aqueducts, is described and fully illustrated. Brief descriptions are given of four other chlorination plants in the Croton drainage area: Three to treat the waters of tributaries of the Croton before it reaches the main supply and one to treat another tributary and a part of the sewage of the village of Brewster, N. Y.”

In June, 1910, I. M. de Varona, chief engineer of the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity of the City of New York, made trials of hypochlorite treatment in connection with the Croton water-supply. The results were so satisfactory that its use has been extended until the city now maintains five of these plants: one on the New Aqueduct at Pocantico, treating the entire supply from the Croton, and the other four upon various tributaries of the reservoirs.

The continuous treatment of the flow of the New Croton Aqueduct was commenced in June, 1911, the plant being located at Shaft No. 9, north of Tarrytown, N. Y., known as the Pocantico plant. It consists of a rough frame building which houses two cement-lined cypress tanks, 12 ft. in diameter and 6 ft. in height, and a constant-level feeding tank with adjustable orifice discharging through a manhole into the crown of the aqueduct. Within the aqueduct, there is suspended a wooden grid to secure a proper mixture of the chlorine solution and the flowing water. The operating floor is just above the solution tanks and in it are two screened mixing pits.

In operation, a drum of lime, weighing about 800 lb., is rolled into position over a pit and the contents washed out into the pit by a hose stream under pressure. Enough ‘bleach’ is dissolved to treat the aqueduct flow for 12 hours. The tank is then filled with water and stirred to assure the thorough absorption of the chlorine. Four men operate the plant, two on the clay shift, making solution, and one on each of the night shifts, maintaining a constant, uniform flow of the solution.

0227 Croton Cl2 plantbExperience has shown the desirable amount of chlorine to be between 0.40 and 0.65 p.p.m. (parts per million). The lower amount is used in warm weather and when Croton Lake is near the high water line. The amount is gradually increased as the storage in Croton Lake drops or the temperature of the water approaches freezing. The amount of ‘bleach’ to be used daily is determined from a chart (Fig. 1), which shows that the daily amount of chemical is about 4000 lb. Where so much chemical is used, the chart shows the economy resulting from varying the charge of ‘bleach’ in accordance with the amount of its available chlorine, as determined by laboratory analysis.”

Reference: Coffin, T.D.L. 1913. “Chlorinating Plants, Croton Water Supply.” Engineering News. 69:9(February 27, 1913): 419-21.

Commentary: New York City began testing chloride of lime to disinfect the Croton water supply shortly after the findings of the special master in the second Jersey City trial which has been described at length in The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.

0227 Croton Cl2 planta

#TDIWH—February 26, 1847: Birth of Rudolph Hering

Rudolph Hering

Rudolph Hering

February 26, 1847: Rudolph Hering was born. “Although Dr. Hering was one of the first to recommend mechanical filters for pumping the water supplies at Atlanta, and elsewhere, and was connected with important water supply investigations at New York, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Columbus, Montreal, Minneapolis and numerous smaller places, his accomplishments were greatest in the field of sewerage and sewage disposal and led to his having been designated years ago as the ‘Dean of Sanitary Engineering” in this country. Recognition of such standing was perhaps first made by President Harrison, who, in 1889, appointed him Chairman of a Commission to prepare a program for sewerage improvements for Washington, D. C.

Dr. Hering was an active worker on the committees of various professional organizations as well as civic movements. His most important work was undoubtedly that for the American Public Health Association in the matter of the collection and disposal of refuse. He gathered statistics as to results of operation and otherwise elucidated practice in this country and Europe. Some twenty-five years ago he gave liberally of his own time and money for gathering information upon this subject, although his activities in the field of water supply and sewerage did not permit him to publish the results of his investigations in the disposal of solid wastes of the municipalities.

Dr. Hering was in partnership with George W. Fuller, M. Am. Soc. C. E., from 1901 to 1911 and with John H. Gregory, M. Am. Soc. C. E., from 1911 to 1915. After the latter date his activities were confined largely to work upon a book on ‘Collection and Disposal of Refuse’ of which he was a joint author with Samuel A. Greeley, M. Am. Soc. C. E….

He received an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907, and an honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute at Dresden in 1922. He was a member of a large number of engineering societies both in this country and in Europe. He was an honorary member of the New England Water Works Association and of the American Water Works Association and a Past President of the American Public Health Association. He became a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1876, was Director in 1891, 1897 to 1899, and Vice President in 1900 to 1901.”

Reference: “Rudolph Hering.” 1924. Journal AWWA. 11:1(January): 305.