TDIWH–January 11, 1922: Chlorination of New England water supplies and Demands for Lower Color Content of Drinking Water

0111 NEWWA no cl2January 11, 1922: Two fascinating articles in Engineering and Contracting about the progress of water treatment, regulations and disinfection in U.S. water supplies in 1922.

“The Chlorination of New England Water Supplies.” By William J. Orchard. “One thousand nine hundred and ninety-six: communities In the United States chlorinate water or sewage or both with liquid chlorine. Only 128 or 6 per cent of these are in New England. Twelve are treating sewage, leaving but 116 New England communities chlorinating drinking water. Nearly half, 43 per cent, of these are in Connecticut where 51 communities use liquid chlorine to safeguard their water supplies, 24 are in Maine, 16 are in New Hampshire, 11 in Rhode Island, Massachusetts has nine while Vermont has three communities using liquid chlorine for their water supplies.

Scoring the states in this country in accordance with the number of communities using liquid chlorine and starting with New York in first place with 254, ending with Nevada in 48th place with but one lone chlorinating community we find Connecticut stands 11th, Maine 25th, New Hampshire 30th, Rhode Island 36th, Massachusetts 41st, and Vermont 47th.

A manufacturer of chlorinating equipment naturally asks why this relatively small number of communities using liquid chlorine in certain sections of New England? Now, in trying to answer that question, the speaker appreciates that he is skating on thin ice-dangerously near a deep hole labeled ‘The Johnsonian Controversy,’ and caution dictates that he skate the other way.

But it is a fact that there is more resistance to the chlorination of drinking water in New England than in any other section of the country. Some of this is due to a firm, honest conviction in the purity and safety of unsterilized water supplies-some of this is due to complete deep rooted faith in the absolute efficacy of storage and water shed patrol—but, in the writer’s opinion, the principle cause for this resistance to chlorination in New England Is the marked aversion found In some quarters to the application of chemicals in any form to drinking water. It matters not if, as in the case of sterilization, a barrel full of chlorine will suffice for a Woolworth building filled with water. The objection is to the application of chemicals in any form-no matter what the chemicals may be. This attitude was clearly expressed by one of New England’s most prominent engineers who said to the speaker, ‘Up here we don’t want medicated waters.’”

Commentary: I am not sure what “The Johnsonian Controversy” was but Orchard correctly points out the resistance to chlorination in New England. Antagonism against the use of chemicals in drinking water treatment was, in large part, due to the influence of the Lawrence Experiment Station on the actions of water plants.

Engineering and Contracting article. “Some Features of Present Water Supply Practice.” Nicholas S. Hill, Chairman. “Water Quality Standards—Standards of quality are steadily rising and bid fair to continue doing so. Communities no longer consider safety sufficient, but demand a drinking water of good appearance. This demand has good scientific foundation for the best appearing waters are frequently the safer.

In certain sections, the northeast particularly, waters having colors of 25 or more are still used without complaint. These colors would not be tolerated in western cities supplied with lake or filtered river water, or even in New England. Public opinion is fast getting in a position to demand water of an average color of 10 parts per million or less with a maximum of 15. Particular objection is made to colored surface waters containing odoriferous organisms and turbidity, whether due to heavy microscopic growths, to clay, or to iron rust, is also objectionable.

While the bacteriological standard of the U. S. Public Health Service [1914] met with considerable criticism because of its alleged severity and because it excluded certain water supplying communities in which good public health conditions prevailed. It can not be denied that those who are aiming to supply waters of high quality are trying to equal or better this standard which, as is well known, commands that all waters used in inter-state commerce shall contain no gas-forming organisms (presumably B. coli) in at least three out of five portions of 10 c.c. from the sample tested. One reason for this appreciation is the improvement in public health diagnosis; this, in turn, to better vital statistics, better organization of the health authorities and refinements in clinical methods.”

Commentary: Only 14 years after chlorination began to eradicate waterborne disease, an enlightened public began to demand higher quality water—as they should.

Reference: Engineering and Contracting. 1922. 57:2(January 11, 1922): 22-3.

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