Monthly Archives: November 2013

December 1

Dr. John L. Leal

Dr. John L. Leal

December 1, 1902: Letter to Rhode Island State Board of Health. Dr. John L. Leal was hired by the Bristol [Rhode Island] and Warren Water Company after the Rhode Island State Board of Health severely criticized them about the sanitary quality of their water supply.

“Gentlemen:  We hand you herewith a report upon the sanitary condition of the water supply of this company, of which we wrote you in our letter of October 10th. This report was prepared by Dr. John L. Leal, and embodies the findings and conclusions of Prof. J.H. Appleton, Prof. F.P. Gorham, and Dr. F.T. Fulton, who, as well as Dr. Leal, made a thorough examination of the water in question and its sources.

John L. Leal, M.D., of Paterson, N.J., A.B., A.M., Princeton; ex-health officer of Paterson, N.J. (for thirteen years); Sanitary Adviser to the East Jersey Water Company (the largest [private] water company in America) and of the Montclair and of the New York & New Jersey Water Companies; President, New Jersey State Sanitary Association, etc., etc., is, we feel, an expert who, you will agree with us, is entirely competent to pass upon the subject at hand….

The findings conclusively establish, as Dr. Leal states in closing his report, that the conditions of the water and the water sheds ‘do not in any way justify the action of the Board of Health.’

We therefore request that your Board shall, in justice to ourselves and in the interest of those who take our water, withdraw as promptly as may be its recent recommendation to the town of Bristol, and take such other steps as will, as far as possible, make the effect caused by the unwarranted attack made by your Board in its action of October 3rd, upon the sanitary quality of the water and the water sheds of this company. Respectfully, George H. Norman, President.”

Reference:  Twentieth-Fifth Annual Report of the State Board of Health, of the State of Rhode Island. 1910.  (for the year ending December 31, 1902). Providence, RI:E. L. Freeman Co., 262-3.

Upper Roxborough Filters, with sand in place but before water was let in, 1903.

Upper Roxborough Filters, with sand in place but before water was let in, 1903.

December 1, 1909:  An excellent summary of aggressive municipal measures to eradicate typhoid fever from a major city. Municipal Journal and Engineer. Philadelphia Wars on Typhoid. “In an address at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Dr. A. C. Abbott, Director of the Hygienic Laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania, and former Chief of the Bureau of Health, drew some striking comparisons between the present mortality rate from typhoid fever in Philadelphia and that which existed five years ago. In that time, he declared, by simple municipal measures, such as water filtration, strict supervision of the milk supply, and the cleaning up of river banks, the number of cases of typhoid fever had been reduced by fully 8o percent. Nearly one-half of the remaining cases are imported from other places by Philadelphians returning from their vacations. Still stricter regulation of dairies, the thorough disinfection of all sewage refuse, and, most important of all, the greatest personal care in the treatment of typhoid patients were urged as sure preventives of the disease. The use of uncooked vegetables raised on land fertilized with unsterilized sewage; the eating of raw oysters, not cleanly washed or handled, and the fly pest, which was characterized as a ‘filthy, intolerable nuisance, a disgrace to our civilization,’ were emphasized by Dr. Abbott as easily avoidable causes of the spread of typhoid. Vaccination, as a means of becoming immune to the disease, was described as entirely practicable and effective.”

Reference:  Municipal Journal and Engineer. 1909. 27:22(December 1, 1909): 826.

November 30

1130 Sanitary Privy ConstructionNovember 30, 1917Municipal Journal article. How the U.S. Public Health Service Endeavored to Secure Healthful Conditions and Surroundings at Camp Bowie, the Aviation Fields Nearby and the Adjacent Area. “When a million men were ordered into military training in the summer of 1917, it was thoroughly realized that intensive health work would be necessary to adequately protect them from disease. It was also realized that to sanitate only their actual camping sites would not be sufficient. Disease germs will not stop at the camp border; the soldier is bound to mingle with the civilian population. The same restaurant, the same barber-shop, and the same movie attract the soldier and the civilian.

To protect the one it is necessary to protect the other. Insanitary conditions a hundred yards, or a mile, from the camp border may produce an epidemic as quickly as similar conditions within the camp limits….

Though anti-typhoid inoculation has practically eliminated typhoid from the army, it is still rife among the civilian population. Moreover, typhoid is but one of the filth-borne diseases, against most of which there is not a preventative inoculation. The control of these diseases demands a safe method of excreta disposal, whereby infectious material will be prevented from access to food and water supplies and protected from the fly.

In Fort Worth, as a beginning, immediate steps were taken to enforce the ordinance relative to sewer connections, and since work began in May, 2,000 sewer connections have been made. To reach those homes not accessible to the sewers, an ordinance was passed requiring the installation of a sanitary privy, the type of privy being specified. This consists of a fly-proof, tight wooden box with a screened opening in front and a connecting flue pipe behind, which extends above the top of the old privy house for the purposes of ventilation. Tight metallic cans, 15 inches in diameter and IS inches high, are placed in the box for the catchment of excreta. The boxes and can are uniformly made according to specifications and installed in the old houses. This work has been done under the direction of the city, the installation costing $8.50. The privies are scavenged weekly at a cost of $1.50 per quarter, the full cans being removed and clean cans placed in their stead. The cans to be scavenged are hauled to disposal stations, which are large concrete risers built over sewer mains, and there thoroughly washed and deodorized. Nearly 4,000 of these privies have been installed in Fort Worth, while the incorporated towns of Niles and Polytechnic, adjoining Fort Worth, have also installed the system.”

Commentary:  In 1918, influenza killed over 650,000 in the U.S. However, epidemics of typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases were avoided by sanitary conditions such as described in this article. The famous sanitary engineer, George Warren Fuller played a role in the prevention of waterborne disease during WWI. “During the World War, he was a member of a sanitary committee at Washington regulating the engineering planning and sanitation of the various Army camps in this country.  As consulting engineer to the U.S. Public Health Service and the to the Construction Division of the Army, he was responsible for a considerable part of the practices which resulted in the unprecedented low typhoid fever death rate in the Army camps.”

References: Hardenbergh, W.A. 1918. “Extra-Cantonment Zone Sanitation.” Municipal Journal. 45:22(November 30, 1918): 423-4.

“Sad Milestone in Sanitary Engineering Progress.” 1934. American Journal of Public Health. 24:8: 895–6.

November 29

Water Quality in Major Rivers in China (The Lancet. (2010). 375:9720, 1110-19.)

Water Quality in Major Rivers in China (The Lancet. (2010). 375:9720, 1110-19.)

November 29, 2005New York Times headline—China Speeds Efforts to Raise Water Quality. “China is spending more than $630 million on improving water supplies to cities dependent on the contaminated Songhua River, according to the Asian Development Bank, as a toxic slick continued Tuesday to threaten communities on what is an important waterway in northern China.

Water drawn from the river to supply almost four million people in Harbin was passed fit to drink Tuesday, almost a week after pumping was suspended because of the chemical spill.

However, authorities in Heilongjiang province cut off supplies to communities downriver from Harbin in the path of the 80 kilometer, or 50 mile, long slick of benzene compounds, according to the state media.

In Russia, agencies managing emergency services were preparing to deal with the spill, which is expected to reach Russian territory near Khabarovsk early next week. They were making plans to cut off supplies to some communities.

An explosion at a chemical plant in Jilin province on November 13 spewed an estimated 100 tons of benzene compounds into the Songhua. The spill has become a major international and domestic embarrassment for China.

The threat to the health of millions of people and clumsy attempts to suppress news of the contamination have again drawn attention to the heavy price China is paying for three decades of headlong economic development.”

Commentary:  The headline is more than a bit optimistic. China has a very long way to go to convince its own citizens and the international community that it is serious about solving the dire water quality problems in that country.

November 28

1128 Thanksgiving CranberryThanksgiving 2013. A Southerner’s Guide to the Cranberry. Watercrunch. “For $50, you could have an experience not many of us have had. You could spend 2 hours helping to harvest cranberries in a bog. How cool would that be?

Could you imagine wading knee deep in water, surrounded by a sea of red cranberries, reenacting a scene from an Ocean Spray commercial? I would do it. Apparently a lot of other folks agreed with me. All the “Be the Grower” experience slots from Mayflower Cranberries farms in Massachusetts were sold out in October. I am going to have to plan early next year.

Cranberries are a mystery fruit to me. Born out of the swamps and bogs of the Northeast, they show up in our refrigerator this time of year in time for Thanksgiving. If I am ever going to stand in a bog of cranberries next year, I need to start the groundwork now for this epic journey.

I have compiled my simple southerner’s guide to the cranberry this morning with 5 startling revelations (at least for me).”

1128 John W HyattNovember 28, 1837: Birth of John Wesley Hyatt. Hyatt was an inventor who developed new materials and machines that resulted in hundreds of patents. He is mostly known for his invention of a commercially viable way of producing solid, stable nitrocellulose, which he patented in the United States in 1869 as “Celluloid.” However, he was one of the early developers of commercial filtration systems in the U.S. He invented improvements to mechanical filtration systems, which are called rapid sand filters or granular media filters today. During the 1880s, mechanical filters were installed to remove particles and “organic matter.” Filtration to control microbial pathogens would come later with better bacteriological methods and the maturation of the germ theory of disease.

“John Hyatt, an inventor and manufacturer of Newark, N.J., applied for a patent February 11, 1881, on what was virtually a stack of Clark’s filters, placed in a closed tank and operated each independently of the others by means of common supply, delivery and wash pipes. His application, like Clark’s, was granted on June 21, 1881, and assigned to the Newark Filtering Co. On the same day, Hyatt obtained a patent in England.

Col. L. H. Gardner, Superintendent of the New Orleans Water Co., after making small-scale experiments on coagulation at New Orleans, was convinced that it was more efficacious than filtration for the clarification of muddy water.

Isaiah Smith Hyatt, older brother of John, while acting as sales agent for the Newark Filtering Co., was baffled in attempts to clarify Mississippi River water for a New Orleans industrial plant. Colonel Gardner suggested using a coagulant. This was a success. Isaiah Hyatt obtained on February 19, 1884, a patent on simultaneous coagulation-filtration. Although unsound in principle, it largely dominated mechanical filtration for many years….

1128 Hyatt Pure Water  FilterThus in 1880-85 did four men join in the evolution of mechanical or rapid filtration. Clark soon faded out of the picture. Gardner entered it only by suggesting to Isaiah Hyatt the use of a coagulant, and Isaiah Hyatt, still a young man, died in March 1885. John Hyatt was then alone. Already he had taken out 20 filter patents while only two were granted to his older brother. By the close of 1889, John had obtained about 50 patents. Scattered grants in the 1890’s brought his record above 60. Most notable of all these were three on washing systems, including sectional wash; several on strainers for underdrain systems; and two on aeration, primarily in connection with filtration. The Hyatt aeration patents, like those granted to Professor Albert R. Leeds a little earlier, were of little practical importance, but they marked an era in water purification during which stress was laid on the removal of organic matter.”

Reference: Baker, Moses N. (1981). 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, 183-5.

November 27

1127 George C WhippleNovember 27, 1924:  Death of George C. Whipple.  “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.

November 26

1126 Dr Ruth PatrickNovember 26, 1907: Birth of Ruth Patrick. “Dr. Ruth Myrtle Patrick (November 26, 1907 – September 23, 2013) was a botanist and limnologist specializing in diatoms and freshwater ecology, who developed ways to measure the health of freshwater ecosystems and established a number of research facilities.

Dr. Patrick’s research in fossilized diatoms showed that the Great Dismal Swamp between Virginia and North Carolina was once a forest, which had been flooded by seawater. Similar research proved that the Great Salt Lake was not always a saline lake. During the Great Depression, she volunteered to work as a curator for the Academy of Natural Sciences, where she worked for no pay for ten years. Her work has been widely published and she has received numerous awards for her scientific achievements, including the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences in 1993, the National Medal of Science in 1996, the Heinz Award Chairman’s Medal in 2002, and the A.C. Redfield Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center in Aiken, South Carolina, is named after her.”

Commentary: In 1974, I took a course on biological limnology from this amazing woman. She brought in luminaries such as Luna Leopold noted fluvial morphologist to give lectures as well as providing some of the most interesting classes herself. One anecdote that that was told to me while I was taking her class concerns some work she did during WWII. She was asked to identify organisms from scrapings on the hulls of German U-boats that had been captured. Her knowledge of diatoms was so encyclopedic that she pinpointed the location of the U-boat pens, which helped the Allies destroy them.

November 25

1125 Flooded Rice FieldsNovember 25, 2012: The Desert Sun headline—Calif. Commercial Rice Growing Hits 100 Years. “California is celebrating 100 years of commercial rice production this year, marking the anniversary of a commodity that has evolved to become one of the state’s largest agricultural exports.

Farmers began experimenting with growing rice during the Gold Rush more than 160 years ago, according to the California Rice Commission. It had long been grown in the southeastern U.S., but was introduced in California by Chinese gold miners, who later built the state’s railroads and river levees.

It wasn’t until 1912 that the first commercial production started in Butte County, in the Sacramento Valley about 70 miles north of the state capital.

Since then, California has become the nation’s largest producer of short- and medium-grain sticky rice, with much of the high-quality product shipped to Japan and other Asian countries through the Port of West Sacramento. Most sushi in the U.S. is made with California rice.

All told, California annually ships nearly 5 billion pounds of rice as far away as Europe and the Middle East.

Most is grown within 100 miles of Sacramento, predominantly in Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. Rice commission spokesman Jim Morris said the climate, soil and water are ideal for the crop.

Commentary: No mention is made in this piece how much water is required to grow rice in an area that has allocated water for too many uses. Growing rice in the Sacramento River Valley made sense 100 years ago. It even made sense 50 years ago. It makes no sense today. I don’t care how much sushi is sold in LA or Tokyo.

1125 Margaret ThatcherNovember 25, 1988New York Times headline—Britain Planning to Sell Its Waterworks. “The British Government today began the latest and most contentious step in its sweeping privatization program by presenting its plans for selling off the nation’s state-owned water industry.

‘We shall be freeing into private hands yet another important industrial sector,’ the Environment Secretary, Nicholas Ridley, said in setting out the Government’s proposals to sell Britain’s 10 public water authorities.

He predicted that the water privatization bill, which was included in the Government’s legislative agenda announced in Queen Elizabeth II’s address to the new session of Parliament on Tuesday, would result in more efficient management of water resources and tighter environmental safeguards.

But many economists, politicians and union officials are skeptical about the presumed benefits of selling the water industry.

The British public seems to agree. A survey in June by Market and Opinion Research International, a London-based company that is one of Britain’s leading polling organizations, found that 66 percent of the population opposed selling the water authorities to private shareholders, compared with 25 percent who supported it and 9 percent who were undecided.

Alex Thomson, the national officer of the largest trade union in the water industry, the National and Local Government Officers Association, today echoed the doubts of many when he said, ‘Privatizing water makes about as much sense as privatizing the air we breathe.’…Making more British citizens shareholders was an important element of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s drive to ‘roll back the frontiers of the state.’”

Question:  Was the privatization of the UK water systems successful or not?