Monthly Archives: December 2014

December 24, 1896: Large Centrifugal Pump; 1914: Death of John Muir

1224 Large Centrifugal Pump 1December 24, 1896: Engineering News article–A Large Direct-Driven Centrifugal Pump. “We illustrate herewith a centrifugal sewage pump designed and built for the city of Norfolk, Va., by the Morris Machine Works, Baldwinsville, N. Y. The pump has 20-in. suction and 18-in. discharge, the latter connected to a 20-ln. piping. The actual head worked against Is 26 ft., but when the pump is driven to Its maximum capacity, discharging about 9,000 gallons of water per minute and forcing It through the discharge pipe, which is 1,600 ft. long, the total head pumped against Is equivalent to about 5 ft….

The sewage and drainage from the city flows into a well from which the pump takes its supply, discharging it in the river. The side and sectional views, Fig. 2, show the construction of the pump. The runner is made completely of bronze, so as to withstand the corroding action of sewage and the gases contained therein.”

Commentary: Great pump. Unfortunately, the used it to pump raw sewage into the river, which was a common occurrence in the 1890s. Sewage treatment plants were rare during this period. It would take several decades before sewage treatment was the rule instead of the exception.

Reference: “A Large Direct-Driven Centrifugal Pump.” Engineering News. 36:26(December 24, 1896): 421.

1224 John MuirDecember 24, 1914: John Muir dies. “John Muir (21 April 1838 – 24 December 1914) was a Scottish-born American naturalist, author, and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States. His letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures in nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, have been read by millions. His activism helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is now one of the most important conservation organizations in the United States. One of the most well-known hiking trails in the U.S., the 211-mile (340 km) John Muir Trail, was named in his honor. Other places named in his honor are Muir Woods National Monument, Muir Beach, John Muir College, Mount Muir, Camp Muir and Muir Glacier.

In his later life, Muir devoted most of his time to the preservation of the Western forests. He petitioned the U.S. Congress for the National Park bill that was passed in 1890, establishing both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Because of the spiritual quality and enthusiasm toward nature expressed in his writings, he was able to inspire readers, including presidents and congressmen, to take action to help preserve large nature areas. He is today referred to as the “Father of the National Parks,” and the National Park Service produced a short documentary on his life.”

Commentary: Dam construction to create the Hetch Hetchy water supply for San Francisco in Yosemite National Park was approved by Congress in early December of 1913. This was a major defeat for Muir and some say that it affected his health so much that he died of a broken heart.


December 23, 1791: James Peacock’s Filter

1223 James PeacockDecember 23, 1791: James Peacock, a London architect of note in his day, was granted the first British patent on a process and apparatus for water filtration (December 23, 1791, No. 1,841). In 1793. Peacock published a promotion pamphlet setting forth the need for filtration and the principles that should guide the choice, preparation and placing of filtering media, showing sketches of filters of different sizes and design. It includes a diagram showing superimposed spheres of diminishing size, illustrating a mathematical exposition of the reasons why coarse filtering material should be placed at the bottom of a filter with layers of material of regularly decreasing size above it. Peacock’s exposition brings to mind the Wheeler filter bottom designed more than a century afterwards. No such thesis had appeared before Peacock’s day and none surpassing it has appeared since….

Peacock’s Design.-The novelty of Peacock’s invention, he declared in his patent, was filtration by ascent instead of the common method of descent. This could be applied under any head, in any quantity and for public as well as private use. A further novelty, far more significant, was cleaning the filter by reverse flow, the descending water carrying with it “all foul and extraneous substances.”

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, Co.: American Water Works Association, 67-72.

Commentary: Even though Peacock’s filter was a failure, it marked the beginning of period of experimentation which resulted in the successful slow sand filters that are still used today.

1223 Peacock Filter Bottoms Like Wheeler Bottoms

December 22, 1877: Nascent Oxygen

Oxidation Reduction Reactions

Oxidation Reduction Reactions

December 22, 1877: Publication date for “The Nascent State as Affecting Chemical Action.” (Davies 1877) Before we understood that oxidation-reduction reactions involved electron transfers, chemists theorized that oxygen existed in a “nascent state.” This state made it possible for oxidation reactions to take place. Such an outmoded chemistry concept is relevant to a discussion of the history of chlorination in the U.S.

The first continuous use of chlorine to disinfect a U.S. water supply occurred at Boonton Reservoir—the water supply for Jersey City, New Jersey. As recounted in a forthcoming book (The Chlorine Revolution), two trials defined the need for disinfection and documented how it happened. In the second Jersey City trial, Dr. John L. Leal claimed that chlorine was not responsible for killing bacteria. Instead, he put forth the long-standing theory that chlorine when added to water liberated something called nascent oxygen, and it was the nascent oxygen was responsible for disinfection. (McGuire 2013)

The concept of nascent oxygen originated with James Watt, who described the importance of liberated oxygen in the bleaching process. An equation suggested by Watt (Race 1918) showed chlorine producing oxygen when it was dissolved in water:

Cl2 + H2O = 2HCl + O

In which Cl2 = chlorine, H2O = water, HCl = hydrochloric acid, and O = nascent oxygen.

In a later, well-known publication, Albert D. Hooker stated the theory most clearly: “It should be well understood that chloride of lime, in its industrial application of bleaching, deodorizing, or disinfecting, does not act by its chlorine, but by its oxygen.” (Emphasis in original.) (Hooker 1913)

In 1918, Joseph Race described the controversy surrounding chlorine’s mode of action in water. Race stated that Fischer and Proskauer (1884) believed that chlorine was not directly toxic. Warouzoff, Winograoff, and Kolessnikoff (1886) found that chlorine gas killed airborne tetanus spores. Interestingly, Race quoted at length John L. Leal’s second-trial testimony supporting the theory of disinfection by nascent or potential oxygen. However, Race’s laboratory work in 1915–17 appeared to convince him that disinfection was caused by the direct toxic action of chlorine and not by nascent oxygen. (Race 1918)

Other publications reflected the confusion over chlorine’s mechanism of action. In his 1917 textbook, Ellms (who would testify in the second Jersey City trial) presented equations showing the formation of hypochlorous acid (HOCl) when chlorine was added to water. At this point in his discussion, he was correct. However, he then stated “The HOCL is decomposed into HCl and oxygen, which latter acts upon any oxidizable matter that may be present.” (Ellms 1917)

2HOCL à 2HCl + O2

In this case, HOCl = hypochlorous acid and O2 = oxygen.

“The energy liberated by the decomposition of the hypochlorous acid, as previously stated, explains the powerful oxidizing action of the evolved oxygen, and the destructive effect upon the microorganisms. Chlorine or the hypochlorites are therefore, merely agents for the production of oxygen under conditions which render it extremely active.” (Ellms 1917)

Abel Wolman and I.H. Enslow tried to put a stop to the nascent oxygen theory in 1919, but it persisted long after that. (Fair and Geyer 1954) We know now that HOCl exists in water in equilibrium with the dissociated hypochlorite ion and that the degree of dissociation is a function of the water’s pH.

HOCL ↔ OCl + H+

For this equation, OCl = hypochlorite ion and H+ = hydrogen ion.

In a textbook published in 1924, authors F.E. Turneaure and H.L. Russell tried to straddle the issue:

“The reaction of both hypochlorite and liquid chlorine in sterilization of water is substantially the same. The accepted theory is that the chlorine forms hypochlorous acid with the water setting free nascent oxygen which is considered the effective sterilization agent. Some authorities, however, contend that the chlorine itself has a toxic effect upon the bacteria.” (Turneaure and Russell 1924)

A 1935 rewrite of Sedgwick’s famous book on sanitary science favored the direct action of chlorine theory but did not totally discount the action by nascent oxygen.

“The mechanism by which chlorine brings about germicidal action is still undetermined. It is believed by some that the bacteria are destroyed because of the direct toxic effect of the chlorine. Others maintain that the introduction of chlorine into water results in the formation of hypochlorous acid—an unstable compound—which breaks up and liberates nascent oxygen and hydrochloric acid, the supposition being that the bacteria are destroyed by the nascent oxygen. . . . Since chlorine compounds can destroy bacteria even when oxygen is not liberated it would seem that those mechanisms that explain the germicidal action of chlorine without hypothesizing the formation of nascent oxygen have a more sound scientific basis.” (Prescott and Horwood 1935)

A 1944 publication by S.L. Chang appeared to put the controversy to rest: “The action of chlorine and chloramine compounds on cysts was attributed to the active chlorine which may oxidize or chlorinate the proteins in the protoplasm. The possibility of action by nascent oxygen liberated by HOCl was indirectly studied, and the evidence strongly indicated that this was unlikely to occur.” (Chang 1944) Since Chang’s publication, nascent oxygen has not been mentioned in professional publications except as a historical curiosity.

In their classic 1954 textbook on water and wastewater engineering, Gordon M. Fair and John C. Geyer addressed the historically curious concept and stated categorically that oxygen did not accomplish disinfection. It was chlorine in its various forms in water that was toxic to bacteria. (Fair and Geyer 1954) Like many a scientific theory that conveniently explained a troubling public relations problem, it took a lot of time to kill the nascent oxygen idea.


  • Chang, S.L. 1944. “Destruction of Micro-Organisms.” Journal AWWA. 36:11 1192-1207.
  • Davies, Edward. 1878. “The Nascent State as Affecting Chemical Action.” The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions. 8: 485-6.
  • Ellms, Joseph W. 1917. Water Purification. New York City, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill.
  • Fair, Gordon M., and John C. Geyer. 1954. Water Supply and Waste-water Disposal. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Hooker, Albert D. 1913. Chloride of Lime in Sanitation. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.
  • McGuire, Michael J. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver:American Water Works Association, 2013.
  • Prescott, Samuel C. and Murray P. Horwood. 1935. Sedgwick’s Principles of Sanitary Science and the Public Health: Rewritten and Enlarged. New York:McMillan.
  • Race, Joseph. 1918. Chlorination of Water. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Turneaure, F.E., and H.L. Russell. 1924. Public Water-Supplies: Requirements, Resources, and the Construction of Works. 3rd Edition. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Nascent Oxygen Theory

Nascent Oxygen Theory

December 21, 1868: Birth of George Warren Fuller

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

December 21, 1868: Birth of George Warren Fuller in Franklin, Massachusetts. George Warren Fuller was, quite simply, the greatest sanitary engineer of his time, and his time was long—lasting from 1895 to 1934.  In truth, we have not seen his like since.  How did he reach the pinnacle of his field?  What early influences led him on his path? There is a biography of Fuller on Wikipedia that I wrote which summarizes his life from a “neutral point of view.” The material below is taken in part from Chapter 7 of The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight To Save Lives. By design, it gives more of a personal flavor to his life.

George Warren Fuller was born in Franklin, Massachusetts on December 21, 1868—ten years after the death of Dr. John Snow and ten years after the birth of Dr. John L. Leal.  He was the son of George Newell Fuller and Harriet Martha Craig. There is not much known about his father who was simply described as a farmer.  His father was born on the Fuller family property in Franklin, Massachusetts on November 22, 1819.

Harriet Martha Craig was born on February 2, 1841, grew up near Leicester, Massachusetts, and attended Mount Holyoke College, but she did not graduate.  Her final year at the institution was 1865.  They were married on November 15, 1866 when he was 46 and she was only 25.  They settled down in the Franklin-Medway area of rural Massachusetts for a quiet life of farming on the ancestral Fuller family property.  They had two children, George W. and Mabel B. who was born in 1876.  We know that George kept in touch with his younger sister in later years.  She married Carl W. DeVoe and moved to Jerome, Idaho. George owned a ranch in Idaho and must have visited her there.

Place names in Massachusetts have changed over the past several hundred years as the land area covering certain towns changed due to the expansion and contraction of town boundaries or as a result of new towns being carved off from old ones.  Towns that figured prominently in Fuller’s history, Dedham, Franklin and West Medway, all describe the same general area, which is about 10-25 miles southwest of Boston.

We know only a little about his early education.  One report observed:

“George Warren Fuller was at the head of his class when he attended the Dedham schools. His scholarship was, of course, a source of great satisfaction to his mother. At sixteen he passed the examination for entrance at MIT but, his father having died a few weeks before, it was thought best for him to have a fourth year in high school….”

After his father’s death on May 3, 1885, his mother moved 2,500 miles away to Claremont, California where she lived until she died in 1915.  George must have felt that he had lost both parents at the same time.  We do not know if he was looking for a stable family life to replace the one he had lost, but we do know that he married when he was only two years out of high school, in 1888.  His first wife, Lucy Hunter was born in October 1869 and died far too young on March 18, 1895. Lucy came from a family who immigrated to America from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.  Her father was born about 1830 and listed his occupation as farmer.  Her mother, Sarah, was born about 1845.  The farming family had seven children, three boys and four girls.  They must have moved to Boston from New Brunswick sometime between 1877 and 1880.  The youngest boy, Harry, was born in New Brunswick about 1877. I recently heard from a descendant of Lucy Fuller who was researching her family. According to her second cousin, three times removed, the family was sailing from Northern Ireland to Philadelphia in 1767 when their ship was wrecked off of Nova Scotia. Lucy’s family eventually made it to Boston while many of the other Hunters moved on to Ontario, Canada.

In 1880, the U.S. census showed that her family lived in Boston at 218 Bennington Street, which is now near Boston Logan International Airport and was located near cultivated land in the late 1800s.  The address is about three miles from the MIT campus, as the crow flies.

Lucy was 18 years old and Fuller was 20 years old when they were married.  Fuller was only in his second year at university (1886-1890).  They had one son, Myron E. Fuller who was born in Boston on June 4, 1889. We do not know much about the marriage, but we do know that George W. Fuller was issued a passport on May 2, 1890 for his trip to Germany and his continued studies. There is no record that Lucy or Myron applied for a passport or accompanied Fuller to Germany.  Massachusetts death records listed her cause of death as “enteritis” which was a general term used for diseases caused by the ingestion of pathogens from food or water.  The death records listed her as “married” which meant that her marriage to Fuller was not dissolved prior to her death. There is no evidence that George W. Fuller lived with her and their son after 1889.

From a 1910 census report, it is clear that Myron lived with his father in Summit, New Jersey.  One recorded connection we know of between Myron and his father was mentioned in the preface of Fuller’s 1912 book, Sewage Disposal. Fuller acknowledged Myron (who was 22 years old at the time) for creating the index to the book.  One source showed that Fuller and McClintock employed Myron from 1911 to 1916 and again from 1919 until at least 1922. In 1918, Myron registered for the draft and listed his occupation as civil engineer. The same reference showed Myron working for the City of Philadelphia in the Bureau of Surveys—the same occupation as his great-great-great-great grandfather, Ensign Thomas Fuller.  He lived in Philadelphia with his wife and one child.

While Fuller was in Louisville working on the filtration investigations, he met Caroline L. Goodloe who came from a fine, old Louisville family.  In November 1899, Fuller married her in Louisville. They were both 31 years old when they were married.  In May of 1900, husband and wife went on a trip to Europe—a somewhat delayed honeymoon. Their son, Kemp Goodloe Fuller, was born on March 10, 1901. On November 11, 1903, while living in New York City, their second son, Asa W. Fuller was born.

We know from records published in the annual report of the APHA and other sources that Fuller had his offices in New York City at 220 Broadway for many years beginning in 1899, which was the same address given by Allen Hazen for his offices for a short period of time.

Tragically, Caroline Goodloe Fuller died in June 21, 1907, while George W. Fuller was most heavily engaged in numerous water and sewage disposal projects all over the U.S.  At her death, George W. Fuller was living at 309 West 84th Street in New York City with his wife and their sons.  She was 38 years old.

The 1910 Census form showed that Fuller was living at 160 Boulevard, Summit, New Jersey with Alice C. Goodlow (sic) who was identified as his sister-in-law, Mary L. Goodlow (sic) identified as his mother-in-law and his three sons Myron, Kemp G. and Asa.  George’s in-laws had come up from Louisville to help him raise the boys.  Also listed at the same residence was an interesting guest, Grace F. Thomson, 43, born in China of English ancestry and claiming a trade of metal working.  In addition, there were three servants (two Irish and one Greek) making it a full and busy household.  The census form showed him as widowed, so by 1910 he had not remarried.

We know from several accounts, that George Warren Fuller was, in many ways, a big man.  Physically, he was tall.  An account by a colleague said that he was over six feet tall, but passport application forms that Fuller filled out showed that his height was 5 feet 10 inches. Pictures of him from 1903 until at least 1928 showed that he was, to use a descriptor from the time, stout. One description had him at 285 pounds with a size 18 collar.

His hair was dark brown and, in the style of the day, slicked down and parted in the middle.  As time marched on, he began to gray at the temples and then the gray seemed to take over his thinning head of hair.  He was clean-shaven except for his days in Louisville during the filtration studies, when he sported a bushy mustache.  He had blue eyes that could bore into someone who did not please him and twinkle when he was trying to charm a lady.  The round spectacles that he always wore did not detract from the intensity of his blue eyes.

Commentary: George Warren Fuller Comes to California…in 2012

On April 3 2012, I gave a talk at the California Nevada Section Conference of the American Water Works Association. I teamed up with John Marchand who gave a talk on Dr. John Snow of Broad Street Pump fame. We made a pact to give our talks in costume, which incredibly we both followed through on. Below are links to my talk broken up into three parts (YouTube restrictions). It describes Fuller’s life and the first use of chlorine on the Jersey City water supply in 1908.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

December 20, 1987: Congressional Bill for Water Studies

1220 NJ GW protectionDecember 20, 1987: New York Times headline—Bill Provides Funds for Water Studies. “A $549 MILLION ground-water protection bill recently passed by the House would pay for two research projects designed to prevent the contamination of water supplies in New Jersey coastal areas with vulnerably sandy soil.

Underground drinking-water supplies near the Shore, from Hudson County to Delaware Bay, are especially susceptible to contamination from leaking gasoline tanks or leaching dump sites because of the porous nature of the soil.

The measure was sponsored by Representative Claudine Schneider, Democrat of Rhode Island. Under the legislation, which still must be voted on by the Senate and signed by President Reagan, two test cleanup programs would be conducted in the Jersey Shore area.

The tests involving New Jersey were added to the bill by Representative James J. Howard, Democrat of Spring Lake Heights, who heads the House Public Works and Transportation Committee. Of the two proposed tests, one, which would continue for 30 months, would study ways to inject specially treated water into aquifers contaminated by petroleum. Previous studies using the method showed promising results in reducing damage. The second study would be of the effects of acidic water on metal drinking-water pipes and plumbing.

‘Over the past decade,’ said Representative Dean A. Gallo, Republican of Parsippany, who voted for the bill, ‘it has become painfully apparent that ground-water protection has fallen through the regulatory cracks.’

Barker Hamill, chief of the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, said that New Jersey had been consistently tracking the quality of drinking water since early 1985 and had found problems in some communities.”

December 19, 2011: USEPA Water Headlines; 2011: Colorado River Supply

1202 USEPADecember 19, 2011: USEPA Water Headlines.

1) EPA Extends Comment Period for the Proposed CAFO Rule

On October 21, 2011, EPA published a proposed rule that would require concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) to submit basic operational information to the Agency. EPA received requests from the public for additional time to submit comments, and is extending the public comment period to January 19, 2012. EPA proposed the rule in order to more effectively carry out its CAFO permitting programs on a national level and ensure that CAFOs are implementing practices to protect water quality and human health.

For information on the proposed rule, visit

2) Success Spotlight: Fosdic Lake, Texas–Educating Residents and Collecting Household Hazardous Waste Items Reduces Pollutants in Fosdic Lake

EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 319 Program provides funding for restoration of nonpoint source-impaired water bodies. Success stories are posted at: This week’s success spotlight shines on Fosdic Lake, Texas.

In 1995, the Texas Department of State Health Services banned the possession of fish taken from Fosdic Lake in Fort Worth because of high concentrations of potentially-harmful chemicals in fish tissue. As a result, Texas added Fosdic Lake to the state’s list of impaired waters. In 2000, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and EPA approved a total maximum daily load for Fosdic Lake to address pollutants in fish tissue. Local, state and federal agencies coordinated data collection and education and outreach efforts in the city of Fort Worth to reduce the inflow of harmful chemicals into area lakes. Recent monitoring shows that the pollutant levels in fish from Fosdic Lake have diminished sufficiently to allow for their safe consumption, prompting the state to lift the fish possession ban in 2007.

December 19, 2011. Circle of Blue. Federal Water Tap, December 19: Less Money, More Problems. Colorado River

The Bureau of Reclamation and several state water agencies are conducting a multi-year study of water supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin. According to projections, demand will exceed supply by nearly 25 percent by 2060. The bureau is canvassing the public for ideas about how to rebalance the curves.

December 18, 1913: Atlanta Public Health; 1913: Fox River Pollution

1218 Atlanta Public HealthDecember 18, 1913: Municipal Journal article—Organizing Public Health Service. “Like most other municipal departments which have developed from small beginnings, the boards of public health in most of our cities are in need of reorganization, not only within themselves but in their relations to other departments of the city government generally. Several cities have employed experts in this line of business to make a survey of the public health situation and recommend improvements therein. One of the latest reports resulting from such a survey is that recently made to the Chamber of Commerce of Atlanta, Ga., by Franz Schneider, Jr., of the Russell Sage Foundation.

It does not appear from this report that conditions at Atlanta were found to be either very much better or very much worse than those in the majority of our reasonably well-governed cities. It is found, for instance, that a large part of the energy of and appropriation made to the Board of Health is used in street cleaning and garbage disposal, which have a comparatively small effect upon the health of the community—a condition that can be found in a great many cities.”

Commentary: Vestiges of the miasma theory of disease lasted well into the 2oth century. Removing bad smells by cleaning streets did nothing to reduce the incidence of disease. If the money used to clean streets had been spent on treating the water supply, many lives could have been saved in the U.S.

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1913. 35:25, 828 and 833.

1218 Fox River PollutionDecember 18, 1913: Municipal Journal article—To Prevent Fox River Pollution. “Geneva, Ill.-Acting under authority conferred at the last session of the legislature, the State Rivers and Lakes Commission has ordered officials of the cities of Batavia, Aurora, Geneva, Elgin and St. Charles to take immediate steps to prevent the pollution of Fox river by sewage and factory wastes. The five cities were given until April 7, 1914, to prepare plans and specifications for filtration or sewage disposal plants or otherwise prepare to discontinue the emptying of sewage into the river. The Fox river cases are the first of the sort to be acted upon by the commission. Similar action will be taken in numerous other cities located along Illinois rivers or lakes if complaints are made and substantiated. Lake Forest and other North Shore cities that have complained of lake water pollution by factories are expected to take their grievances to the commission. Witnesses before the commission testified that during low water periods the Fox river was polluted to such an extent as to he a serious menace to the health of 200,000 inhabitants of the Fox river valley. It was also shown that thousands of tons of ice were taken from the river every year and sold in these cities and in Chicago. Another objection to the emptying of sewage into the river was the fact that fish were unable to survive.” Commentary: River commissions in several states were beginning to take action against the grossest pollution problems in the early part of the 20th century.