May 3, 1911: Deodorizing Sewer Gas

0503 Deodorizing Sewer GasMay 3, 1911: Municipal Journal article. Deodorizing Sewer Gas. “While fortunately the majority of American cities do not seem to be troubled with sewer gas, as are so many English cities, there is occasionally one on this side of the ocean which, on account of poor construction or lack of proper maintenance, finds it necessary to adopt some method of diminishing the nuisance from such gas. Among these is the city of Winnipeg, which has been troubled with this question for many years. The latter part of last year a test was made of the Beeman deodorizing machine, ten of these being placed in sewer manholes, where they were operated for three months.

The machine consists of a reservoir containing wood alcohol, the fumes from which impinge upon a disk of platinized porcelain 1 1/2 inches in diameter. This disk, when heated cherry red, remains incandescent so long as the alcohol fumes are supplied to it, which fumes are changed into formaldehyde during their passage over the disk. In addition to the reservoir and disk there are a series of baffles and protectors through which both the formaldehyde and the air from the sewers must pass and which insure a thorough mixing of the two. The whole machine measures about 20 inches in diameter and 40 inches high and is suspended within an air-shaft from the sewer or in the sewer manhole. In the machines used in Winnipeg it was found that one gallon of wood alcohol, costing 62 1/2 cents, lasted nine days. It is suggested that it would not be necessary to place such an appliance in each manhole, but that if one were placed, say, in every fifth manhole the openings in the other four could be closed. City Engineer Ruttan reported that sufficient formaldehyde was produced to deodorize the sewer air that emerged from the manholes. The city of Winnipeg has recently contracted for so of these deodorizers at $75 each.”

Reference: “Deodorizing Sewer Gas.” 1911. Municipal Journal article 30:18(May 3, 1911): 613.

Commentary: Every once in a while, I come across an article in the literature from the turn of the 20th century that is crazy beyond belief. Putting an open flame into a sewer system seems just madness. Several articles in this blog have chronicled sewer gas explosions when open flames come in contact with methane from anaerobic decomposition. Using formaldehyde to “deodorize” sewer gas also seems to be an idea born of madness. They knew back then that formaldehyde was used in the embalming process. They could not have believed that inhaling it would be good for you. Sometimes I just have to shake my head in disbelief. Let’s just say that the Beeman deodorizing machine did not catch on in a big way in U.S. sewer systems.


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