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?
September 29, 1987: New 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 Enviromental 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.”
The Woburn groundwater contamination case was the basis for the book and film A Civil Action.
September 28, 1895: Louis 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.
September 28, 1988: New 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: 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.
September 27, 1973: New 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 concetrations 10 times the normal bacground radiation level.
September 26, 1908: 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. Dr. John L. Leal was responsible for this breakthrough in public health. A more complete description of his contribution is covered in my blog safedrinkingwaterdotcom.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: New York Times headline dated September 25–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: New 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.
September 23, 1986: New York Times headline–Settlement Averts Key Trial in Deaths Tied to Pollution. Eight families, who charged that water pollution by W. R. Grace & Company had resulted in the death from leukemia of five children and an adult, announced a settlement with the company today.
Lawyers for each side refused to disclose the terms of the agreement except to say it was ”substantial.” The announcement came as the second stage in a complex trial was to begin in Federal District Court here this morning.
The trial had attracted widespread attention because of belief that a jury finding might have set a national precedent holding polluters responsible for the medical consequences of their action.
Members of the eight families from Woburn, an industrial suburb, and a spokesman for Grace differed about the implications of the settlement. ”With the settlement,” said Anne Zona, whose brother died of leukemia in 1974 at the age of 8, ”they are admitting to what they had done and paying for it.”
The settlement and the legal struggles leading up to it formed the basis for the book and film, both entitled “A Civil Action.”
September 23, 2012: New York times article that was a follow up to “A History of New York in 50 Objects”–“The thousands of wooden water tanks that punctuate the skyline are maintained mostly by two family-run companies, Rosenwach Group and Isseks Brothers, which both date to the 19th century. The city’s gravity-fed water supply from upstate reservoirs generally reached only six stories high, so water was pumped to rooftop tanks (they hold, on average, 10,000 gallons) to maintain pressure on upper floors for tenants and to assist firefighters.”
Commentary: I have always wondered who looks after the aging, wooden water tanks that dominate the rooftops in Manhattan. It is good to know that there are two family-run companies that do this. Now, if they could clean up the outsides of the tanks, it would make rooftop viewing all that more pleasant.
September 22, 1990: New York Times headline–300,000 Lose Water Supply In New Jersey. “About 300,000 people in Jersey City, Hoboken, and Lyndhurst were left without water for three and a half hours yesterday when an aqueduct ruptured.
Though the break was isolated and bypassed by 8:30 A.M. and full pressure was restored by noon, water ran brown with sediment throughout the day. Schools in Hoboken were ordered shut, factories were disrupted and thousands of households, after awakening to no water, endured the day with a mix of inconvenience, exasperation and kindness. Josephine Kardell, who lives near the valve station at Summit and St. Paul’s Avenues, said her tap water was still brown late yesterday afternoon. ”It’s too dirty,” she said. ”You can’t fill your tub with it. It’ll be black. I’ll have to wait until it’s clear.”
The broken aqueduct is a 6-foot-wide, 95-year-old main that links Jersey City with its main supply source, the Boonton Reservoir in Morris County. The break occurred about 5 A.M. in marshland on the west bank of the Hackensack River in Lyndhurst about 1.5 miles south of Giants Stadium.”
September 21, 1995: New York Times headline–May Birdbath Be Filled? “Water Curbs Raise Queries. Can a birdbath be refilled from a bucket of water? Can dusty high school football and soccer fields be sprayed from private wells? Can a car be washed during a rainstorm? The answers given callers to New Jersey’s new drought-emergency telephone line: yes, no and yes, but only with the rainwater.
So goes life — and the dos and don’ts of outdoor water use — after government intervenes in a prolonged dry spell and orders people to start conserving. For now, the mandatory water restrictions imposed Sept. 13 apply to about three million people in 119 communities in northeastern New Jersey.
But, officials warn, millions more in New York City and much of the rest of New Jersey will face mandatory rules — and questions — unless far heavier rains than last Sunday morning’s arrive to revive the region’s reservoirs. Yesterday, Gov. Tom Ridge decreed similar mandatory restrictions over much of Pennsylvania, in an area affecting about 6.5 million people.”