May 13, 1899: An extraordinary article in the New York Times by J. James R. Croes summarized and reviewed books and periodicals on “The Latest and Best in Current Literature–Sanitary Engineering Books.” The article listed the important sanitary engineering books that had been published up to that date, including: A Treatise on Water Supply and Hydraulic Engineering by John T. Fanning; Elements of Water Supply Engineering, E. Sherman Gould; The Filtration of River Water, James P. Kirkwood; Water Supply , Considered Principally from a Sanitary Standpoint, William P. Mason; Examination of Water, William P. Mason; The Purification of Public Water Supplies, John W. Hill; The Filtration of Public Water Supplies, Allen Hazen; The Microscopical Examinations of Potable Water, George C. Whipple; The Venturi Water Meter,” Clemens Herschel (Cassler’s Magaine).
Commentary: I used this article to begin collecting the references I would need to write, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, which has now been published by the American Water Works Association. These wonderful and, in some cases, outmoded books are sitting on my bookshelves along with other rare books from that era.
May 13, 1973: New York Times headline–Impure Tap Water a Growing Hazard to the Health of Millions across the U.S. The article listed problems with drinking water across the country and summarized legislation in the U.S. Congress that ultimately became know as the Safe Drinking Water Act. The article claimed that only 15 states were adhering to the 1962 U.S. Public Health Service Drinking Water Standards which were originally set to regulate drinking water used on interstate carriers. Other conditions included:
- Only 15 states even purport to adhere precisely to U.S. Public Health Service drinking water standards.
- Some 23 million people are probably drinking substandard water regularly from public water systems.
- At least eight million people are getting what Federal officials call “potentially dangerous” water.
- Upwards of 500,000 people are currently supplied water that the Federal Government has banned from interstate commerce as hazardous.
- Over half of the nation’s water systems are deficient, in Federal officials’ judgment, in facilities, operations or competent personnel.
Commentary: This story and many others like it were part of the drumbeat that led to the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.