Monthly Archives: December 2016

December 31, 1914: Great Lakes Pollution; 1914: Lowell Filtration Plant

Dover, Passenger and freight sidewheel, Great Lakes Ship, Registry No. US. 120796, Built 1890. Credit: Fr. Dowling, S.J. Marine Historical Collection.

Dover, Passenger and freight sidewheel, Great Lakes Ship, Registry No. US. 120796, Built 1890. Credit: Fr. Dowling, S.J. Marine Historical Collection.

December 31, 1914: Municipal Journal article—Lake Pollution Increases Typhoid. Washington, D.C.-Pollution of the Great Lakes and tributary rivers is becoming a serious menace to health, according to the annual report of Surgeon General Rupert Blue, of the Public Health Service. He points out that about 16,000,000 passengers are carried each year over the Great Lakes, and that more than 1600 vessels use these waters. ‘It becomes apparent, therefore,’ Dr. Blue declares, ‘that these inland vessels play an important role in the maintenance of the high typhoid fever rate in the United States.’ Dr. Blue says that, although the prevalence of typhoid in this country is being reduced gradually, and that the rate is not more than one-half what it was thirty years ago, it is still higher than for some other advanced countries.”

0120 Lowell Filter PlantDecember 31, 1914: Municipal Journal article—Progress of Lowell Filtration Plant. “About 80 men are working all day and part of the night on the new boulevard filtration plant and the contractor hopes to have the job completed before August 1, 1915, the time limit, as the weather has been very good, but there have been a number of delays due to caving in of the sand banks. The filtration plant consists of six coke prefilters, 10 feet in depth and two-fifths of an acre in total area; a settling basin, divided into two unites, with a total capacity of 500,000 gallons; six sand filters, with a total area of one acre; and a filtered water reservoir of 1,000,000 gallons capacity….

At a rate of 75 million gallons per acre per day through the prefilters, and a 10 million gallon rate through the sand filters the areas provided are equal to a 10 million gallon daily output. Allowing for cleaning and for the possible desirability of a lower rate through the coke, the plant is believed to be ample for an average daily supply of 7,500,000 to 8,500,000 gallons…sufficient for the needs of the city until 1935.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. (1914). 37:27(December 31, 1914): 963-4.

December 30, 1908: Spring Water Supply for Abilene

View of Spring and Pumping Station From Across the Smoky Hill River

View of Spring and Pumping Station From Across the Smoky Hill River

December 30, 1908: Municipal Journal and Engineer article–Spring Water Supply of Abilene. By A.C. Romig, City Engineer. “The source of water supply for the city of Abilene, Kan., is a remarkably strong spring of pure, soft water located on the left bank of Smoky Hill River, four miles west of Abilene, fifty feet north of the shore line and one foot above low-water mark in the river to the surface of the spring. It is on the line of the old Fort Riley and Santa Fe trail, and on the present route of three Trans-Continental lines of railway….In the late [eighteen] forties, during the California gold fever, and in the fifties and sixties, this point was a noted camping ground for emigrants crossing the plains, and at an earlier date a resting place for the Indians in their migration north and south, who attached to the spring a multiplicity of Indian folk-lore and superstitions, and poured into the waters of the spring oblations in propitiation of their god Mantau.

In order to control and utilize this water, we found it necessary to build a wall…around the spring 30 feet in diameter, and to make it 29 feet high to carry it above the high water mark. In excavating for the foundation we struck bed rock at a depth of four feet and found the water issuing from a crevice between two slabs of limestone rock….

From data obtained in 1889 by measuring the end area, the length of channel and the velocity of current in the channel of discharge, we computed the output of the spring at 1,036,000 gallons per day….We think we have an ample supply for many years to come, and the acme in purity of running water…

This is a wholesome drinking water; it contains excellent, soft appetizing mineral ingredients, and is of great organic purity, as is shown by the very small amount of albumenoid ammonia and organic matter amounting to not much more than traces.”

Reference: “Spring Water Supply of Abilene.” (1908). Municipal Journal and Engineer. 25:27(December 30, 1908): 924.

The home built by Fred Mehl outside of Abilene, Kansas.

The home built by Fred Mehl outside of Abilene, Kansas.

December 29, 1855: Birth of William T. Sedgwick

1229 William T SedgwickDecember 29, 1855: William T. Sedgwick is born. William Thompson Sedgwick (December 29, 1855, West Hartford – January 25, 1921, Boston) was a key figure in shaping public health in the United States. He completed his college education at the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University in 1877 and received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1881. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1883 until his death in 1921, aged 65, initially as Associate Professor (1884), as tenured Professor (1891) and eventually as head of the department of Biology and Public Health. Also, he was curator of the Lowell Institute from 1897 on.

Sedgwick was the first president of the Society of American Bacteriologists (now American Society for Microbiology) in 1899-1901.” He was a mentor to George Warren Fuller and George C. Whipple who would both go on to notable careers in water and wastewater technology.

Reference: “William Thompson Sedgwick.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_T._Sedgwick, retrieved December 27, 2012.

December 28, 1918: Minneapolis Filtration; 1918: Influenza Pandemic

Water filtration beds at the original filtration plant at Columbia Heights.

Water filtration beds at the original filtration plant at Columbia Heights.

December 28, 1918: Municipal Journal article—Water Filtration at Minneapolis. “The Minneapolis water filtration plant consists of a 7.5-million-gallon sedimentation basin, four coagulation basins, sixteen filter beds. and a 45-million-gallon covered clear-water reservoir. The water is treated with sulphate of alumina, thoroughly mixed and coagulated and allowed to settle, after which it is filtered by rapid sand filters. After filtration it is treated with chlorine gas. It is planned to provide a plant for softening the water which will involve the construction of appliances for softening, filtration and semi-direct pumping of the water….

Some interesting figures on the effect of the use of filtered water upon the health of the community are reported. For thirteen years prior to the filtration of the city supply (which went into service in 1913), the average death rate from typhoid fever per 100,000 population was 31. Since the city began using filtered water, the rate has been reduced to an average of 9, the rate for 1916 having been 5 per 100,000. The book value or cost of the filtration plant is given as $963,709.”

0201 Influenza1December 28, 1918: Municipal Journal article—To Investigate Cost of Influenza. “Harrisburg, Pa.-An investigation is to be conducted by the state department of health into the cost of the epidemic of influenza, which has taken 47,000 lives. Dr. B. Franklin Royer, acting state health commissioner, has announced that every phase of the social and economic cost of the disease will be surveyed. Doctor Royer has sent letters to men and women in charge of the work of fighting the epidemic in various parts of the state and asked that the information desired be returned at once to the department. ‘Professor J. P. Lichtenberger, of the Wharton School of Finance, of the University of Pennsylvania’ he said, ‘has been engaged by the department to undertake this work, and a large corps of clerks, stenographers and other officers of the state department of health have been designated to cooperate in gathering the data….’” Commentary: In the midst of a national construction push for more filtration plants, the U.S. was devastated by the influenza pandemic. It has been estimated that 500,000 to 675,000 people died in the U.S. alone and 20 to 50 million people worldwide.

Reference: “Water Filtration at Minneapolis.” Municipal Journal. 45:26(December 18, 1918): 502-4.

December 27, 1822: Birth of Louis Pasteur

1227 Louis PasteurDecember 27, 1822: Birth of Louis Pasteur. “Pasteur was a French chemist and self-taught microbiologist who was one of the most important founders of medical microbiology. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. His discoveries reduced mortality from puerperal (or childbed) fever, and he created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. His experiments and writings were responsible for the definition of the germ theory of disease. He was best known to the general public for inventing a method to stop milk and wine from causing sickness, a process that came to be called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of microbiology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch.”

December 26, 2004: Tsunami Devastates Indonesia and Many Other Countries

Countries affected by 2004 tsunami

Countries affected by 2004 tsunami

December 26, 2004: Massive earthquake and deadly tsunami devastate Indonesia and other countries. “The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was an undersea megathrust earthquake that occurred at 00:58:53 UTC (about 0800 local time) on Sunday, 26 December 2004, with an epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.…

The earthquake was caused by subduction and triggered a series of devastating tsunamis along the coasts of most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean, killing over 230,000 people in fourteen countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 meters (98 ft) high. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia was the hardest-hit country, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand.

With a magnitude of Mw 9.1–9.3, it is the third largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph. The earthquake had the longest duration of faulting ever observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes. It caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 centimetre (0.4 inches) and triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska. Its epicentre was between Simeulue and mainland Indonesia. The plight of the affected people and countries prompted a worldwide humanitarian response. In all, the worldwide community donated more than $14 billion (2004 US$) in humanitarian aid.”

Commentary: Unfortunately, the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami has been the biggest water history story so far in the 21st century.

Banda Aceh, Indonesia before tsunami

Banda Aceh, Indonesia before tsunami

Banda Aceh, Indonesia after tsunami

Banda Aceh, Indonesia after tsunami

December 25, 1908: Drought Cartoon; 1913: Water Stories Wrapped Up in a Bow

1225 Drought CartoonDecember 25, 1908: Drought Cartoon. The Los Angeles Times has published cartoons over more than 100 years that depict the many droughts that California has suffered and the reactions to them. Here is one that I think you will enjoy.

December 25, 1913: A number of interesting water stories from the pages of the Municipal Journal.

Hetch Hetchy Dam

Hetch Hetchy Dam

Hetch-Hetchy Bill Signed. “Washington, D. C.-The bill giving the city of San Francisco the right to secure its water supply from Hetch Hetchy Valley, in Yosemite National Park, to which considerable objection has been taken, was signed by President Wilson. President Wilson attached a statement to the bill in which he set forth his reasons for signing it: he is of the opinion that the pressing public needs of San Francisco will be best served, and that the usefulness of the park will not be impaired.” Commentary: This is the bill that killed John Muir one year and one day later.

0504 Sacramento Water SupplyInvestigate Possible Sources of Water Supply. “Sacramento, Cal.-It was decided by the City Commission to begin an investigation of possible sources of mountain water supply beginning January 1st. The work will be in charge of City Engineer Albert Givan. The investigation will be of a preliminary nature and will occupy three months. The cost is limited to $2,400. Three men will be employed to analyze the waters of the middle and south tributaries of the American River, the middle and south tributaries of the Cosumnes River and the Mokelumne River. Gauge measurements also will be made. The total cost of the investigation is expected to reach $10,000.” Commentary: We know now, of course, that the city decided to tap the American River in the city limits. The Mokelumne River was left to the East Bay Municipal Utilities Department to develop as a water resource.

Sewer Work in Watertown N.Y. “Watertown, N. Y.-There are 46.2 miles of sewer within the city at the present time, according to totals secured by City Engineer Earle W. Sayles in figuring up the work done this season and in previous years….Mr. Sayles believes that by the expenditure of $5,000 for its purchase and maintenance the city could secure a sewer cleaning machine which would result in fixing up some of the old sewers in the city and cause a big saving. There are in use in the city at the present time some sewers that are close to a half-century old.” Commentary: They had aging infrastructure problems in 1913!

0726 Allen HazenCombining Municipal Water Systems. “Norfolk and Portsmouth, Va., neighboring cities, have municipal water works systems, each of which has been found to be reaching the limit of its resources, especially for meeting unusual demands; and the cities are now considering an arrangement for combining the plants for the mutual benefit of both. The consulting engineer of the Norfolk Water Commission, Allen Hazen, in a communication to the commission points out a number of advantages which would he obtained by such combination.

According to the conditions as outlined by him, the two systems would in an important measure supplement each other. This is because of the fact that the Norfolk system contains a storage capacity which is larger than is warranted by the tributary drainage area, while on the other hand the Portsmouth drainage area supplies more water than it has storage capacity to fully utilize. Commentary: Once again the outstanding engineer, Allen Hazen, steps in to solve a thorny water problem at the beginning of the 20th century.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1913. 35:26(December 25, 1913): 856, 866-7.

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.”

1224 Large Centrifugal Pump 2Commentary: 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 Peacock Filter Bottoms Like Wheeler BottomsDecember 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 James Peacock

December 22, 1877: Nascent Oxygen; 1998: Pollution Runs Through It

Nascent Oxygen Theory

Nascent Oxygen Theory

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.

References:

  • 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.
Polluted South Platte River

Polluted South Platte River

December 22, 1998: New York Times headline—Observatory: Pollution Runs Through It. “A river is like a highway, flowing through the landscape. Unfortunately, according to a new study, it is also like a car, polluting the air as it rolls along.

 

Scientists from the United States Geological Survey, in a study of the South Platte River in Nebraska and Colorado, determined that the river gives off large amounts of nitrous oxide, a gas that acts as a catalyst in the destruction of ozone in the atmosphere.

 

Like many rivers, the South Platte is rich in nitrates and ammonium, from agricultural runoff and the discharges from sewage treatment plants.

 

Microbes turn these nitrogen sources into nitrous oxide. The researchers, whose work was published in the Internet edition of Environmental Science and Technology, found that the river in many places was supersaturated in nitrous oxide, with the result that much of it entered the atmosphere.

 

The scientists estimated that the amount of the gas emitted along a 450-mile stretch of the river each year was equivalent to that produced by all the worst sewage treatment plants in the United States.

 

And although they said more studies were needed, they added that if the South Platte is typical, as seems likely, rivers are a major source of man-made nitrous oxide pollution.”