Monthly Archives: October 2013

November 1

1101 Hiram F MillsNovember 1, 1836Birth of Hiram Francis Mills. “Born in Bangor, Maine, in the year 1836 and receiving his early schooling there, the young Hiram Mills moved on to the newly-established Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute to be graduated before he was twenty. When he was in his middle thirties he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Essex Company, the corporate owner of the Merrimack River dam at Lawrence, Massachusetts. Ever research-minded, Mr. Mills induced the Essex Company to set up an outdoor laboratory on the riverbank below the power dam. Here was installed a long pipe of large diameter — stoutly supported and shed-covered — by means of which Mills proposed to carry out new and accurate measurements of water flow under varying structural conditions.

In the year 1886…he was appointed a member of the recently reorganized State Board of Health. At the first meeting he was chosen by his associates to be chairman of the Board’s Committee on Water Supplies and Sewage, and from hydraulics, Hiram Mills’ chief scientific concern in life turned to sanitation.

The law of 1886, re-creating the State Board of Health, empowered the members to investigate methods for the disposal of sewage, and Hiram Mills lost little time in seeing that the law’s intent was carried out. As the place for his projected studies in the best practical methods for safe sewage disposal, he persuaded the Essex Company to lend to Massachusetts — for a nominal rental — the experimental plant the company had created for his hydraulic researches. With State funds, a modest laboratory building was added to the existing structures, and the whole was renamed the Lawrence Experiment Station — the first research enterprise of its kind in our country.

It may fairly be said that the investigations which Mills was to plan and carry through to conclusion in this physically limited and always economically equipped plant laid the foundations for many of the scientific methods of treatment of municipal and industrial wastes. Instead of investing in elaborate equipment and costly facilities, Mills invested in brains, as frequently he was pleased to point out. To man his researches, Mr. Mills drew upon the faculty and recent graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and thus employing their varied scientific skills, he perfected a unique investigating team whose inventiveness and productiveness are not likely to be seen again.” (edited by MJM)

Members of the research team included George W. Fuller, Allen Hazen, William T. Sedgwick, and Thomas M. Drown.

1101 Cuyahoga R Fire 1952November 1, 1952: Cuyahoga River catches fire. “In 1952, leaking oil from the Standard Oil Company facility was accused of creating, ‘the greatest fire hazard in Cleveland,’ a two inch thick oil slick on the river. In spots, the slick spanned the width of the river. Although many companies had taken action to limit oil seepage on the river, others failed to cooperate with fire officials.

It was only a matter of time before disaster struck. On the afternoon of November 1, 1952, the Cuyahoga ignited again near the Great Lakes Towing Company’s shipyard, resulting in a five-alarm fire. (Many sources incorrectly put the date of the fire at November 3, 1952) The next morning’s Cleveland Plain Dealer led with a banner headline, ‘Oil Slick Fire Ruins Flats Shipyard.’ Photos taken at the scene are incredible; the river was engulfed in smoke and flame. Losses were substantial, estimated between $500,000 and $1.5 million, including the Jefferson Avenue bridge. The only reason no one died was that it started on a Saturday afternoon, when few shipyard employees were on duty.”

Commentary:  There was a long history of fires on the Cuyahoga—by one count a total of 13 with the first occurring in 1868. Other fires of note occurred in 1868, 1883, 1887, 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, and 1948. A relatively minor fire on June 22, 1969 was reported nationwide and became part of the impetus for passing the Clean Water Act in 1972.

October 31–House at the Lake

1031 Dog in a boatOctober 31, 1908He woke up with a start when Boomer let out a howl. “Darn,” he thought, “I must have fallen asleep.” He looked around and saw the sun starting to set. He scratched his chin wondering what would have made him sleep the day away like that. As he sat, bewildered, he noticed his fishing pole, next to him, hadn’t been used at all. Just then, Boomer sprang to the other side of the boat and let out another long howl. “What is with you, dog?” he snapped, but Boomer didn’t stop. Boomer started clawing at the wood on the side of the boat. Confused by these strange actions, the man peered over the edge of the boat.

In the water, just below the surface, was a woman’s face staring up at him. Her beauty startled him. So enthralled was he, that it took longer than it should have for him to realize that she seemed in no distress being under water. The soothing sound of the rippling water had lulled him into a false sense of contentment. As he reached down to the woman, hoping to help her out, the water sprang up and surrounded him pulling him into a pool of darkness. He was gone before he had any thought of saving himself. Boomer sat at the edge of the boat growling at the water demon that had emerged from the deep. The hypnotic face in the water grinned knowing her secret was still safe.

1031 Fog Cabin Lake“I’ll take it!” the man exclaimed to the Land Agent. He turned and removed his bowler hat to hide the smile that wanted to escape. He had just made a corker of a deal for the cabin at the lake. He knew he would be happy here—living with nature and so close to the fishing. He had heard the lake whispering his name the first time he saw it. Yep, there was something about the lake that kept calling him back….

Author’s Note: The skeleton of the story was taken from Ghost Stories 5 and rewritten.

October 30—101st Anniversary of the Regulation Banning the Common Cup

1030 Common CupOctober 30, 1912. At the turn of the 20th century, public health professionals were still struggling to incorporate the precepts of the germ theory into all of their protocols. The general population was even further behind and, in many cases, resisted the momentum for change. One popular custom during this period was the use of a single cup or dipper for a pail of water or water cooler aboard trains—the common cup. Disease transmission as a result of using a common cup in public places was a serious problem far longer than imaginable. In 1902, the MIT professor and noted author William T. Sedgwick recognized the danger of the common drinking cup, cautioned against its use and noted that the public was not concerned, possibly due to the familiarity of its use.

“It not infrequently happens that the same persons who complain loudly and rightly enough, perhaps, of dirty streets, and are quick to blame public officials for their laxity in this respect will, nevertheless, at fountains, in railway trains or in theatres, apply their own lips to public drinking-cups which a few minutes before have been touched by the lips of strangers, possibly suffering from infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis or diphtheria.” (Sedgwick 1902)

Ten years later, the further spread of sanitary knowledge did not solve the continuing problem with the common cup. By 1912, the germ theory of disease was well established. Transmission of disease from one person to another was well understood. Isolation and quarantine were routinely practiced for those diseases transmitted from person to person. All the tools were in place to eliminate the problem of the common cup as a disease vector.

Apparently not. In a report from the New Jersey State Board of Health, it was noted that a state law prohibiting the use of a common cup aboard trains and boats had been passed prior to 1912. However, there was significant opposition to the law, because the operators of the trains and boats were not providing individual drinking cups (because they did not have to) and the public was unaware that they had to bring their own cups. The law had been attacked because no evidence had been presented proving disease transmission by the common cup and the regulation banning the common cup was an interference with individual rights—presumably New Jersey was interfering with the right of people to get sick. The following passage from the New Jersey report needs no explanation.

“One of the representatives of this Board [New Jersey State Health Board] while traveling on a railroad train noted that a family of children [was] afflicted with whooping-cough. As the children had spasmodic attacks, after each attack had passed they would go to the water cooler and take a drink from the glass which was used in common by all the passengers. After this had been repeated several times the inspector took occasion to go to the cooler, and holding the glass to the light found that it was smeared with the infected mucous from the mouths of these children.” (Board of Health, 1913)

Voices representing the railroad company interests added to this bizarre conversation in 1912.

“In 1912, an editorial in Railway and Locomotive Engineering lamented the passing of what it saw as a humane and democratic custom, complaining, ‘The cranks whose senseless agitation has eliminated the public drinking cup, even in the Pullman cars, have inflicted much discomfort upon ordinary people and have largely increased the business of saloon keepers.’” (Tomes 1998)

Sedgwick noted a “technological” solution to the common cup problem that we take for granted today. “A sanitary fountain has been devised, and is in use in many places, to do away with the public drinking-cup, and in so far as it is successful in doing this, it deserves the warm commendation of sanitarians…any one who wishes simply leans over and drinks from a little fountain [small jet of water] provided for the purpose.” (Sedgwick 1902) Bubblers are still in use today with, perhaps, the best known (and most beautiful) being the public water fountains in Portland, Oregon.

States got into the act with regulations on the use of the common cup (or common pail, for heaven’s sake) in schools. A series of articles on the blog safedrinkingwaterdotcom counting down to October 30, 2012, chronicled the efforts of Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine to ban the common cup in Kansas.

Aiding the migration away from the mucous-smeared common cup was the invention of the disposable paper cup in 1907 by Lawrence Luellen. The Dixie Cup was introduced about 1908 and was first called the “Health Kup.” In 1919, the cup was named after a line of dolls made by Alfred Schindler’s Dixie Doll Company. Simple advances in technology such as the paper cup can have big impacts on public health. As one wit stated recently on a Linkedin comment, “That was one small cup for a man….” (Cook 2012)

On October 30, 1912 the federal government established the very first national drinking water regulation that banned the use of the common cup aboard interstate train carriers. (Common Drinking Cups 1912) One author has explained the arc of drinking water regulation extending from the common cup to Cryptosporidium. (Roberson 2006)

Commentary:  Sometimes these customary practices survive long after we think they are gone—especially in other countries. In the summer of 1982, I was riding on a bus in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). I noticed lemonade vending machines along the sidewalks where for a few kopeks citizens could get a glass of refreshment. It was not until I looked more closely that I saw that everyone was using the same glass. After a person filled the glass with lemonade and drank from it, the obedient Soviet citizen would carefully put the glass on top of the machine for the next person to use.

References:

Board of Health of the State of New Jersey. Thirty-Sixth Annual Report 1912. Trenton:State of New Jersey, 1913.

Cook, John B. “RE: October 30, 2012.” Email to Alan Roberson and Mike McGuire. October 22, 2012.

“Common Drinking Cups, Amendment to Interstate Quarantine Regulations (dated October 30, 1912).” Public Health Reports. 28:44 (November 1, 1912): 1773.

Roberson, J. Alan. “From Common Cup to Cryptosporidium: A Regulatory Evolution.” Jour. AWWA. 98:3 (March 2006): 198-207.

Sedgwick, William T. Principles of Sanitary Science and the Public Health: With Special Reference to the Causation and Prevention of Infectious Diseases. New York:McMillan. 1902, p. 119-20.

Tomes, Nancy. The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life. Cambridge, MA:Harvard University, 1998.

October 29

Algae Bloom in Water Reservoir

Algae Bloom in Water Reservoir

October 29, 1855Severe taste and odor problem in Albany. “A committee of the Albany, New York, City Council complained of severe taste and odor problems in water supply reservoirs. ‘no more alarming event, short of the actual visitation of a pestilence, can befall a large city than the sudden poisoning of its water supply at the commencement of the hot season.’ The problem started in August 1852 and the water became unfit for use. ‘The cause assigned by George W. Carpenter was animalcules which overspread the bottom of one of the reservoirs and decomposed there.’ The problem disappeared for ten years but reappeared with a vengeance in 1865. It was ‘…impossible to convince some that the water so impregnated can possibly be innoxious.’”

Commentary:  Severe taste and odor problems in a water supply are not joke—not in 1855 and not in 2012. Mayors have been fired, city councils have been recalled and senior managers at water utilities have been forced to look for new jobs.

Reference:  Baker, Moses N. The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver: American Water Works Association, 1981, p. 401-2.

October 28

John Smeaton, with the Eddystone Lighthouse in the background

John Smeaton, with the Eddystone Lighthouse in the background

October 28, 1792: Death of John Smeaton at the age of 68. “John Smeaton (8 June 1724 – 28 October 1792) was an English civil engineer responsible for the design of bridges, canals, harbors and lighthouses. He was also a capable mechanical engineer and an eminent physicist. Smeaton was the first self-proclaimed civil engineer, and often regarded as the ‘father of civil engineering.’ He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1753, and in 1759 won the Copley Medal for his research into the mechanics of waterwheels and windmills. His 1759 paper ‘An Experimental Enquiry Concerning the Natural Powers of Water and Wind to Turn Mills and Other Machines Depending on Circular Motion’ addressed the relationship between pressure and velocity for objects moving in air, and his concepts were subsequently developed to devise the ‘Smeaton Coefficient.’

Over the period 1759-1782 he performed a series of further experiments and measurements on waterwheels that led him to support and champion the vis viva theory of German Gottfried Leibniz, an early formulation of conservation of energy.”

October 27

Memorial to Courageous Physicians who Died in the Epidemic

Memorial to Courageous Physicians who Died in the Epidemic

October 27, 1850Cholera in Sacramento, California. “Alas for Sacramento in 1850, cholera is a disease that thrives in conditions of urban filth. The bacterium can be transmitted from one host to another through unwashed hands or raw sewage. When raw sewage containing the bacteria finds its way into the public water supply, cholera spreads rapidly. Its symptoms include severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. The disease strikes without warning. In the course of a single day, cholera can be fatal to a previously healthy person. Perkins wrote on October 27, ‘Some have been taken who were to all appearances in good health and have died in a few hours.’ Likewise, on October 23, Lord noted in his journal, ‘A man walking down J Street last evening, dropped suddenly, and lived only long enough to be carried into the nearest door.’

The first death from cholera occurred on October 20. The number of cases rapidly multiplied over the next few weeks, radiating into the city from the commercial riverside district….Public health measures proved to be worse than ineffective. A city ordinance passed on October 21 ordered residents to burn their garbage or face a $500 fine. Lord wrote that the ‘filth is burned in the middle of the streets—old shoes and boots and clothes by the ton, and cart loads of bones, and raw hides, and putrid meat, and spoiled bacon—so that the end of the matter is worse than the beginning.’ By the end of the month, half of the population of the city had either succumbed to the disease or fled the city. By the end of the first week of November, it was 80 percent. ‘In this pestilential reign of terror and dismay the most dreadful abandonments of relatives and friends took place’….”

Reference:  Isenberg, Andrew C. Mining California:  An Ecological History. New York:Hill and Wang, 2005, p.66.

Commentary The Sacramento 1850 epidemic was one of the worst in U.S. history.

October 26

1026 Pelton water wheelOctober 26, 1880:  “Lester A. Pelton, of Camptonville, CA, received a patent for a Water-Wheel (‘that class of water-wheels known as ‘hurdy-gurdy’ wheels…the whole reactionary force of the water is utilized’); the Pelton Water Wheel increased water power almost six-fold.”

“The Pelton wheel is a water impulse turbine. It was invented by Lester Allan Pelton in the 1870s. The Pelton wheel extracts energy from the impulse of moving water, as opposed to its weight like traditional overshot water wheel. Although many variations of impulse turbines existed prior to Pelton’s design, they were less efficient than Pelton’s design; the water leaving these wheels typically still had high speed, and carried away much of the energy. Pelton’s paddle geometry was designed so that when the rim runs at ½ the speed of the water jet, the water leaves the wheel with very little speed, extracting almost all of its energy, and allowing for a very efficient turbine.”

1008 Erie CanalOctober 26, 1825: Completion of the Erie Canal. “The Erie Canal, begun in 1817, was a triumph of early engineering in the United States and one of the most ambitious construction projects of nineteenth-century America. It was longer by far than any other canal previously built in Europe or America, crossing rivers and valleys, cutting through deep rock, and passing through marshes and forests in its 363-mile course across New York State. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Erie Canal underwent enormous changes and expansions in response to its overwhelming popularity as a means of travel and transport. These additions and revisions are documented by thousands of engineering maps and drawings created over the course of the century.

The driving force behind the canal project was DeWitt Clinton, former mayor of New York City and Governor of New York State. Completed in 1825, the original Erie Canal is often referred to as ‘Clinton’s Ditch.’ It was forty feet wide and four feet deep. Ten years after its opening, the Erie Enlargement was begun, built in response to the immediate overcrowding of the original canal. The Enlargement expanded the canal to seventy feet wide and seven feet deep. In 1903, a third canal was begun, known as the Barge Canal. Completed in 1918, it used a new route in many places and required no towpath, as the boats were self-propelled instead of drawn by horse or mule.”

Barge Dumpling Sludge

Barge Dumpling Sludge

October 26, 1990:  New York Times headline– Closing of Sludge Hauler Is Delayed. “New York State has been forced to allow a family it called New York Harbor’s worst polluter to continue its sewage sludge-hauling operation because three sewage authorities in Westchester County and New Jersey have no other way of transporting the sludge to an offshore dump site.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation had ordered that the oil- and sludge-barge business of the family, the Frank family, be shut by yesterday. But state officials said late yesterday that the sewage authorities had been unable to line up substitute haulers by the deadline.

The officials said they expected the sewage authorities to obtain the needed barge capacity by Monday, but Peter M. Frank, a family member and corporate officer, said ‘there is no excess capcity in this business in the Harbor.’

The authorities that were affected are Westchester County’s sewage treatment plant in Yonkers; the Joint Meeting of Union and Essex Counties Utilities Authority in Elizabethport, and the Middlesex County Utilities Authority of Sayerville.”