Monthly Archives: January 2017

#TDIWH—January 31, 1941: Death of Charles V. Chapin

Charles V. Chapin

Charles V. Chapin

January 31, 1941: Charles V. Chapin dies. “Charles Value Chapin (January 17, 1856 – January 31, 1941 in Providence) was a pioneer in public-health practice, serving as one of the Health Officers for Providence, Rhode Island between 1884 and 1932. He also served as President of the American Public Health Association in 1927. His observations on the nature of the spread of infectious disease were dismissed at first, but eventually gained widespread support. His book, The Sources and Modes of Infection, was frequently read in the United States and Europe. The Providence City Hospital was renamed the Charles V. Chapin Hospital in 1931 to recognize his substantial contributions to improving the sanitary condition of the city of Providence.”

From a draft of The Chlorine Revolution: (McGuire 2013)

In the U.S., Charles V. Chapin was responsible more than any one person for instituting the progressive aspects of the public health movement, but he started his career when miasmas dominated beliefs in disease transmission. In a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health in 1909, he recalled his early career and the incredible ideas that were believed at that time.

“The foul emanations from decomposing organic matter were sucked up from cellars by the warm air of the house and carried sickness and death…Air was the chief vehicle of infection, nay, it was infection itself. The emanations from cellars and untidy cupboards which dealt death and destruction through the house have been referred to, as well as the more specific effluvia which gave rise to yellow fever, consumption, and diphtheria.” (Chapin 1915)

In 1884, the appointment of Charles V. Chapin as Superintendent of Health for the City of Providence, Rhode Island was one of the milestones that can be noted in making boards of health more professional. Much has been written about his career, but it was his assumption of the duties of Superintendent of Health that defined his contribution to public health. He was trained as a physician but Chapin became instrumental in improving not only medical education but also the education of public health specialists. Chapin is one of the best examples of the new professionals who bridged the period from miasma to germ theory. He had been trained in the arts of fumigation and cleaning the streets to remove filth. He was obtaining his medical education just as the age of bacteriology was dawning. He had taken courses in the new bacteriology and had followed the publications of Robert Koch in Germany who had identified the tubercle bacillus and the bacillus comma that caused cholera. In addition, Chapin adopted and used Koch’s new laboratory technique called the plate method to quantify the number of bacteria present in a water supply.

Unlike many health officers who were confused by the seeming conflicts between the worlds of miasmas and germs, Chapin integrated the two and devised a new approach to public health protection. “He was one of a few in America before 1885 who followed the English sanitarian John Simon in pointing out that the danger from filth was not in the stench but in specific disease germs….For many good reasons, the cleansing of the city had to go on.” (Cassedy 1962)


Indeed, the story of the advances in public health during the 1890s and early 1900s could be nothing more than a recitation of Chapin’s biography. That task has already been brilliantly done by James H. Cassedy in his book about Charles V. Chapin. (Cassedy 1962)

“Chapin’s efforts to improve the sanitary environment of his city were valuable to sanitarians across the country. But he was impatient with much of this work. He had early realized that cleansing of the physical environment was, by itself, insufficient for improving the public health. Minimizing the broad dogmas of the filth theory from the first, and concentrating on the truly dangerous forms of filth, Chapin progressively deemphasized nuisances that had no direct or demonstrable connection with disease and avoided much of the tedious routine of nuisance abatement….Attuning himself to the age of bacteriology, he turned from general measures against disease to specific measures against particular diseases.”(Cassedy 1962)

Disinfection of households which held victims of infectious diseases was one of the lingering effects of the miasma theory. In 1902, Leal discussed the useful and ridiculous aspects of disinfection of a diseased household after the removal of the infected person.

“Disinfection, then, is the process of destroying such infection by the destruction of the disease germs there existing…Too often, however, it is intrusted (sic) to one whose training possibly has made capable of distinguishing a pile of filth or an unpleasant odor, but who as no true conception of the cause of the disease, how it is possible to destroy it, and the means to be employed. In such hands it is more a ceremony of incantation than a scientific process.” (emphasis added) (Leal 1902)

Ceremonies of incantation persisted for decades. Chapin lamented in a paper published in 1923 that cities were loath to give up what he called “terminal disinfection” which referred to the disinfection of surfaces or the atmosphere in a dwelling where a person has died from a contagious disease or had recovered from such a disease. He emphasized that by the time of his writing, everyone was pretty sure that contagious diseases were spread by people (and their emanations) and not things. Swabbing a house down with formaldehyde, burning sulfur or heating pans of chloride of lime provided impressive special effects, but were of little use to prevent transmission of epidemic diseases. (Chapin 1923)

Yet, cities felt compelled to continue the tradition because it was ingrained in the public psyche and the public expected it. Providence, Rhode Island stopped terminal disinfection for diphtheria cases in 1905 but it was not until 1908 that Chapin was able to stop terminal disinfection for scarlet fever cases. In 1913, New York City eliminated virtually all terminal disinfection and many other cities followed suit. (Chapin 1923) Part of the resistance to eliminating terminal disinfection was public relations, but a huge part of the problem was that there was a deeply ingrained belief that if someone was sick, they probably infected the air and the bad air had to be cleansed.

The work on mechanical filtration done in Providence, Rhode Island, over the period 1892 to 1894, seldom gets the credit it deserves for marking advances in the science of drinking water filtration. (Swarts 1895) After an epidemic of typhoid in Providence in 1888, Charles V. Chapin began to seriously investigate filtration for use on the City’s water supply. “This Providence experimentation provided the first careful tests anywhere of the mechanical type of water filtration.” (Cassedy 1962) In a paper published by Chapin, bacteria removals were typically 98.7 percent. Chapin recommended that mechanical filtration be installed on the source of supply for Providence. (Chapin 1895) However, the City Council was not ready for such a new technology. A slow sand filter was installed instead. (Cassedy 1962)

Commentary: I knew nothing about Charles V. Chapin when I started writing The Chlorine Revolution. After seeing his name pop up in many contexts dealing with the new public health movement, I read his autobiography. He was an extraordinary individual who did more than most to modernize public health efforts in the U.S.


Cassedy, James H., Charles V. Chapin and the Public Health Movement. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962.

Chapin, Charles V. 1895. “The Filtration of Water.” The Medical News. 66 (January 5, 1895): 11-4.

Chapin, Charles V. 1915. “Truth in Publicity.” American Journal of Public Health. 5 (June 1915): 493-502, In Papers of Charles V. Chapin, M.D. Clarence L. Scamman ed., New York:Oxford, 1934, 13-9.

Chapin, Charles V. 1923. “Disinfection in American Cities.” The Medical Officer (London). 30 (November 17, 1923): 232-3, In Papers of Charles V. Chapin, M.D. Clarence L. Scamman ed., New York:Oxford, 1934, 92-5.

Leal, John L. 1902. “Facts vs. Fallacies of Sanitary Science,” Eleventh Biennial Report of the Board of Health of the State of Iowa for the Period Ending June 30, 1901. Des Moines:Iowa, 129-40, from The Christian Advocate. New York, August 21, 1902.

McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.

Swarts, Gardner T. 1895, “Discussion on the Foregoing Group of Papers From ‘The Cart Before the Horse’ to ‘The Report of the Committee on the Pollution of Water Supplies,’ Inclusive.” In American Public Health Association, Public Health Papers and Reports. Vol. 20, Columbus, OH:APHA, 83-4.

#TDIWH—January 30, 1913: Reservoir Lining Failure

0130 Reservoir FailureJanuary 30, 1913: Engineering News article–Partial Failure of Reservoir Lining. Johnson City, Tenn. By D. R. Beeson. “A portion of the concrete lining of a new reservoir just put in service for the water-supply of Johnson City, Tenn., blew out on Jan. 10 and allowed the contents of the reservoir to escape. No one was injured in the accident nor was any property other than the reservoir proper damaged by the outflowing water.

The new reservoir is to be used for emergency storage, being a part of the new city water-supply system from a set of springs 13 miles away from town. It is located on a ridge south of the city at an elevation about 145 ft. higher than the general level of the residence section of the city. As shown in Fig. 1, it is 200 ft. square on top and 20 ft. deep, with sloping sides on a 1% to 1 slope. When full to the overflow, 1 ft. below the rim, it has a capacity of 4,000,000 gal. The bottom and sides of the reservoir were lined with concrete, 8 in. thick, reinforced with 5/8-in. twisted rods 18 in. c. to c. both ways.”

Reference: Engineering News. 1913. “Partial Failure of Reservoir Lining.” 69:5(January 30, 1913): 234.

#TDIWH—January 29, 1914: Pipe Thawing Outfit on a Truck

0129 PipeThawing TruckJanuary 29, 1914: Municipal Journal article—Pipe Thawing Outfit. “An electric thawing plant carried on a motor truck is used by the Columbus, 0 ., water works for thawing water pipes. It can be transported readily to the danger point and put to effic1ent use on very short notice. The outfit consists of a 50-h.p. engine operating an electric generator and a drum carrying two lengths of cable, each 210 feet in length, for making taps. For making contact on hydrants and on any size pipe from three-eighths of an inch to two and a half inches, a number of bronze clamps are carried, together with hand nuts, etc. The method of thawing an underground pipe is by including it in an electric circuit. which results in rapid melting of the ice next to the inner surface of the pipe; after that the flow of the water helps the thawing process until the pipe is completely clear. The capacity of this portable outfit is the melting of twelve pounds of ice a minute. It is manufactured by the General Motors Company.”

Commentary: In case you were wondering how water utilities thawed out pipes in 1914…For reasons that are a bit of a mystery to me, this post is a favorite with water utility folks. I have had many comments from managers that they have passed this one around to their fellow workers and colleagues.

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1914. “Pipe Thawing Outfit.” 36:5(January 29, 1914): 134.

#TDIWH—January 28, 1912: Common Cup Banned in 24 States

1030 Common CupJanuary 28, 1912: New York Times headline—The Drinking Cup Law: It is Now in Force in 24 States. “The fact that in one year the common drinking cup has been abolished by law in twenty-four States is commented upon as follows in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

Public sentiment is a strange and illusive force. It sometimes fails to respond, in spite of every effort to arouse its interest in a worthy case. Again, it suddenly asserts itself without any known reason. One of the strangest of recent manifestations of this force of public sentiment is the present crusade against the common drinking cup. For years physicians and sanitarians have urged the danger and the filthiness of common drinking utensils. With few exceptions their words seemed to fall on deaf ears. The public, apparently, was not interested. But suddenly, without any manifest reason, the point of saturation seemed to be reached. Crystallization of public opinion began. States began to enact laws, and cities to pass ordinances abolishing the common drinking cup in all public places. State after State took it up. There was no concerted movement; there was scarcely any organization behind it; there was little special effort needed.

The people evidently had made up their minds that common drinking cups were bad and must go. So they have abolished them in at least twenty-four States in a little more than one year’s time. These States are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. Doubtless the other States will act as soon as they have an opportunity.

The moral is: Saturate the public with facts, and when the people are convinced, they will act.”

Commentary: I wish it were that easy. Generally, the public resists hearing about facts related to public health. However, clearly a “tipping point” of some sort had been reached in the public’s consciousness. The action of the states clearly led to the federal action later in 1912. On October 30, 2012, we observed the 100th anniversary of the first federal drinking water regulation, which was adopted by the U.S. Treasury Department that prohibited the use of the common drinking cup on interstate carriers. Seven articles in my blog safedrinkingwaterdotcom

#TDIWH—January 27, 1907: Colorado River Levee Repaired—End of Salton Sea Influent Supply; 1916: Typhoid in Louisiana

Dumping rock to heal breach in Colorado River levee

Dumping rock to heal breach in Colorado River levee

January 27, 1907: Colorado River Levee Repaired. In late 1904, water from the Colorado River started leaking from irrigation ditches built for the Imperial Valley into what would become the Salton Sea. After a flood on the Colorado River, the sea filled and it would take two years of effort with many missteps to close the breach and control withdrawals from the River. This is an extract from a description of how that levee breach was fixed. “Ole Nordland, Editor of the Indio Daily News for many years, described the effort of the Southern Pacific [railroad] in these words: ‘The gargantuan effort of stemming the flood tied up a network of 1,200 miles of main [railroad] lines for three weeks while the [Southern Pacific Company] fought to bring the river under control. The work started the very day of the exchange of telegrams, December 20, 1906. Dispatchers sidetracked crack passenger trains to let rock trains through while amazed passengers looked on. Surplus engines stood by to aid in the massive haul of rock and gravel. The rock trains came from as far away as 480 miles to hurtle 2,057 carloads of rock, 221 carloads of gravel, and 203 carloads of clay into the break in 15 days. The loads were dumped from two trestles built across the river break and were literally dumped faster than the water could wash them away. The Colorado River put up a stubborn fight. Three times it ripped away the trestle piles. Finally, on January 27, 1907, the breach was closed and the valley’s farms and cities were saved. The Colorado River was returned to its former path but it left in its wake today’s Salton Sea.’”

Railroad trestles built across the breach; used to dump rock into the breach

Railroad trestles built across the breach; used to dump rock into the breach

Reference: Laflin, P., 1995. The Salton Sea: California’s overlooked treasure. The Periscope, Coachella Valley Historical Society, Indio, California. 61 pp. ( Accessed October 11, 2014).

0127 Lake Charles LAJanuary 27, 1916: Municipal Journal article. Water Origin of Typhoid Epidemic. “Lake Charles, La.-Dr. Oscar Dowling, president of the State Board of Health, has been investigating the typhoid epidemic situation here, and has sent Louis Alberta, inspector of the board, to examine the markets, slaughter pens, and all places handling fresh meats, and J. H. O’Neil, sanitary engineer, to make a further survey of the water supply. Up to date there have been reported 153 cases of typhoid fever in Lake Charles and 15 in West Lake, which is practically a suburb, making a total of 168. There are sick at present in both places 90. There have been 12 deaths, 3 of these in West Lake. Investigation has been made and the case history taken of 138 patients. ‘Evidence as to the cause of the infection points to the water,’ says Dr. Dowling. ‘During September and October a number of specimens from the city supply were examined in our laboratories. After repeated analyses, permits to the railroads to use the city water were issued. The city supply is obtained from artesian wells, but in case of fire water from the river is added. This can be made safe by proper treatment and the equipment necessary was installed by the company after condemnation of the water by our board. From lack of supervision the treatment process evidently was not properly carried out.’”

Commentary: That is an understatement. Clearly, the treatment of surface water put into the system to fight a fire was not properly done and people died.

Reference: “Water Origin of Typhoid Epidemic.” 1916. Municipal Journal. 40:4(January 27, 1916): 111.

#TDIWH—January 26, 1864: Moses N. Baker is Born; 1788: Tank Stream Water Supply for Sydney, Australia; 1907: Letter to New York Times by Rudolph Hering

0126 Moses N BakerJanuary 26, 1864: Birth of Moses N. Baker. “Moses N. Baker (1864–1955) was a noted editor and author in the field of drinking water history and technology. His most important book is still used today: The Quest for Pure Water: The History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. He was also active in the field of public health holding several positions on boards of health at the state and local levels….

Baker started his long career as author and editor in November 1887 when he was hired as the Associate Editor of Engineering News. This publication and the consolidated weekly Engineering News-Record which began on April 1, 1917 were the definitive sources of news about advances in the control and treatment of drinking water and sewage for decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He retired in 1932 after 45 years of service….

Baker was a member of a number of professional organizations and societies including the New England Water Works Association, American Water Works Association and the American Economic Association. He was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the National Municipal League from 1911 to 1918. He was a member of the Montclair, New Jersey Board of Health for 20 years and served as its president from 1904 to 1915. Baker was a member and vice president of the New Jersey Department of Health in 1915-16. He served as President of the New Jersey Sanitary Association in 1904 following the term of John L. Leal.

He was elected an Honorary Member of the American Water Works Association and he was elected to the Water Industry Hall of Fame by the same organization in 1974.”

Commentary: Baker is one of my heroes. It was quite a thrill to make a connection with his great grandson who is a Swedish citizen. Ah, the Internet is an amazing thing.

The Old Tank Stream, Sydney, Australia

The Old Tank Stream, Sydney, Australia

January 26, 1788: Tank Stream. Sydney, Australia is the site of the original New South Wales Colony founded on this day in 1788. Fed by local groundwater, Tank Stream served as the water supply for the first 40 years until it became too polluted to use. An excellent source of information on the history of groundwater development in Australia can be found in Chapter 7 of a free, online book about the geology of the continent that has astonishing pictures, maps and graphics. “The [New South Wales ] colony had originally been planned for Botany Bay, on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks who had visited the area with Captain James Cook 17 years earlier, but when no fresh water was found there, Phillip sought a better site, and found it in the previously unvisited Port Jackson. Sydney Cove was chosen for settlement as it ‘was at the head of the cove, near the run of fresh water which stole silently along through a very thick wood.’

During a drought in 1790 three storage tanks were constructed in the sandstone beside the Tank Stream and it is from these that the stream gets its name. The Tank Stream could not meet the needs of the growing colony. It was abandoned in 1826, though it had been little more than an open sewer for the preceding two decades.”

Rudolph Hering

Rudolph Hering

January 26, 1907: Letter to the Editor, New York Times, by Rudolph Hering. “Mr. Hering of the firm Hering and Fuller criticized the proposal to create sewage farms in the New York City area to receive the sewage generated by the City. Mr. Poultney Bigelow proposed using the “Berlin method” to apply sewage to the land so that it would be rendered harmless and not poison fish. Mr. Bigelow thought that the Hackensack meadows which were “useless barren waste[lands]” would be perfect for the application. Mr. Hering noted that one acre of land would be need to dispose of the wastes from 156 people. He suggested that a simple calculation would make it obvious that there was not enough land available to receive the flow from the City. Besides, Mr. Hering noted, there was an enormous mass of water floating by New York–The Hudson and East Rivers.”

Commentary: Gulp! Guess what alternative was chosen?

#TDIWH—January 25, 1921: Death of William T. Sedgwick; 1945: Fluoridation in Grand Rapids, MI; 1870: Patent for Soda Water

1229 William T SedgwickJanuary 25, 1921: William T. Sedgwick dies. 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.”, retrieved December 27, 2012.

Grand Rapids schoolchildren giving saliva samples as part of the city's water fluoridation project.

Grand Rapids schoolchildren giving saliva samples as part of the city’s water fluoridation project.

January 25, 1945: CDC Honors 65 Years of Community Water Fluoridation. “Sixty-five years ago, on January 25, 1945, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, added fluoride to its municipal water system and community water fluoridation began. Since that day, this simple, safe, and inexpensive public health intervention has contributed to a remarkable decline in tooth decay in the United States, with each generation enjoying better oral health than the previous generation.

After fluoride’s oral health benefits were discovered in the 1930s, the next step was to achieve optimal levels in community water supplies. Four communities had agreed to undertake community studies, but Grand Rapids was the first to begin implementation. After fluoride was added to its water supply, Grand Rapids was compared to “control” communities with no added fluoride, and a detailed assessment of the relationship between fluoridation and tooth decay was performed. The National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council (NRC) reviewed the results and found a dramatic decline in tooth decay in the Grand Rapids children. On November 29, 1951, the NRC declared water fluoridation safe, effective, and beneficial.”

Soda Fountain

Soda Fountain

January 25, 1870: “Gustavus D. Dows, of Boston, MA, received a patent for an “Improvement in Soda-Fountains”; vessel in which carbon dioxide was injected, formed soda-water beverage, delivered drink using internal pressure; modern form of soda fountain; 1858 – made first ornamented soda fountain in the U.S. from white Italian marble with spread eagles perched on the syrup cocks; 1862 – invented a double stream draft arm and cock, for a large or small stream; 1863 – made and sold soda fountains for $225.”

Reference: “Business History.” Website, Accessed November 14, 2012.

#TDIWH—January 24, 1876: Hemlock Lake Water Supply; 1972: Vincent B. Nesfield Dies; 1800: Birth of Edwin Chadwick

Hemlock Lake

Hemlock Lake

January 24, 1876: Glory! Hemlock Water at Last! “So proclaimed the [Rochester, NY] newspaper headline on January 24, 1876 as it announced the arrival of Hemlock Lake water into Mt. Hope Reservoir (today named Highland Reservoir). Finally, after more than three decades of political bickering and aborted construction attempts, Rochester had an abundant supply of pure wholesome drinking water. While an asset such as this may barely raise an eyebrow today, in 1876 this was truly a glorious event for the 70,000 citizens of Rochester.

In the era before the arrival of Hemlock water, wells and cisterns were the only source of drinking water. For the average resident, one well or cistern was shared by several families. Not surprisingly, the water quality of these wells was terrible in a city honeycombed with cesspools and privies. The author of an 1875 Board of Health report stated that, “We have few wells in our city that are fit for use, and in the densely populated portion they are almost without exception, absolutely unfit.” Diseases such as dysentery, cholera and typhoid were widespread. Periods of drought amplified these hardships”

0124 VB NesfieldJanuary 24, 1972: Vincent B. Nesfield dies. Nesfield was the first person to use chlorine gas under pressure to disinfect drinking water. In 1903, Lieutenant Vincent B. Nesfield of the British Indian Medical Services published a remarkable paper in a British public health journal. (Nesfield 1903) In the paper, he described his search for a chemical disinfectant to purify drinking water that would be suitable for use in the field as part of a military campaign. He came up with the idea of producing chlorine gas by electrolytic cells and then compressing the gas with 6 atmospheres of pressure until it liquefied which facilitated its storage in lead-lined steel tanks that held about 20 pounds of liquid chlorine. He treated 50 gallon batches of water by submerging the gas valve of the chlorine cylinder and opening it slightly to bubble the chlorine gas into the water.

In a later paper, Nesfield stated that about 5.4 mg/L of chlorine (2 grams per 100 gallons) killed all typhoid and cholera bacteria. After a 5-minute contact time, he added sodium sulphite to the treated water to remove the excess chlorine and prevent taste problems. (Nesfield 1905) To say that he was ahead of his time is a vast understatement. It would be 7 years before liquid chlorine in pressurized cylinders was widely available in the U.S. for water utilities to use as an alternative to chloride of lime.

Passing references to Nesfield’s unique treatment method can be found in some publications in the early 20th century. In a discussion of two papers on chlorination of water and sewage in 1911, Dr. L.P. Kinnicutt mentioned Nesfield’s liquid chlorine addition method and went on to describe an iodine tablet developed by Nesfield that was more portable (and undoubtedly caused more taste problems). Therefore, there was at least some early knowledge in the U.S. of the use of liquid chlorine to disinfect drinking water. There was one mention of Nesfield’s system of purification in a 1920 encyclopedia section on water supply. (Hill 1920) A note in a journal devoted to tropical medicine in 1907, described how successful chlorination was for a unit of the British colonial army marching toward Agra. (Pure Water 1907)

There was limited mention of Nesfield and his groundbreaking work on chlorine disinfection in histories of drinking water disinfection. In Race’s remarkable 1918 book on chlorination of water, he gave Nesfield credit for the first use of liquefied chlorine for the disinfection of water. (Race 1918) Baker devoted a few sentences to Nesfield’s contributions. (Baker 1981) In a later summary of the progress of drinking water disinfection in 1950, Race again gave credit for Nesfield’s unique application of chlorine technology. (Race 1950)


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.

Hill, Henry W. 1920. “Water Supply: For Municipal, Domestic and Potable Purposes, Including Its Sources, Conservation, Purification and Distribution.” In The Encyclopedia Americana, 39–65.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1903. “A Chemical Method of Sterilizing Water Without Affecting its Potability.” Public Health. 15(7): 601–3.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1905. “A Simple Chemical Process of Sterilizing Water for Drinking Purposes for Use in the Field and at Home.” The Journal of Preventive Medicine. 8: 623-32.

“Pure Water.” 1907. Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 10(January 15): 30.

Race, Joseph. 1918. Chlorination of Water. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.

Race, Joseph. 1950. “Forty Years of Chlorination: 1910–1949.” Journal Institution of Water Engineers. 4: 479–505.

Edwin Chadwick

Edwin Chadwick

January 24, 1800: Edwin Chadwick is born. Edwin Chadwick was an English social reformer who was noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and improve sanitary conditions and public health. The appointment of the Poor Law Commission in 1834 which included Edwin Chadwick is widely believed to be the beginning of the sanitary movement in England. Through Chadwick’s work and influence, more sophisticated health statistics were collected which revealed that public health problems were increasing at a rapid rate. Chadwick imposed his “sanitary idea” which focused on disease prevention. A survey published by the Poor Law Commission in 1842 detailed the horrific working and living conditions in England at the time. The report linked epidemic disease, especially related to fever diseases (typhoid, typhus and cholera) to filthy environmental conditions. Privy vaults, shallow urban wells and piles of garbage and animal excrement in the streets were all related to the increases in disease.

“‘The great preventatives,’” he wrote, “‘drainage, street and house cleansing by means of supplies of water and improved sewerage, and especially the introduction of cheaper and more efficient modes of removing all noxious reuse from the towns, are operations for which aid must be sought from the science of the Civil Engineer, not from the physician, who has done his work when he has pointed out the disease that results from the neglect of proper administrative measures, and has alleviated the sufferings of the victims.’” (Rosen 1993)

Of course, the best way to identify and locate these health threats was to determine where the greatest odors of putrefaction were located and tie the solution to the problem—miasmas.

Chadwick was not ultimately successful in all he tried to do to clean up the noxious wastes in London and other concentrations of population in England. However, he did have a profound influence on a series of laws that were passed in the mid to late 1800s which began to implement some of his vision. (Rosen 1993) The formation of boards of health and the appointment of health officers under these laws provided advocates for cleaning up the filth.

It is a common misconception among chroniclers of the time period, 1850 to 1900, that the act of installing sewers, in and of itself, was an effective public health protection strategy. Edwin Chadwick was one of the major proponents of this misconception. In the 1840s he became one of the leaders of the European Sanitary Movement. In his famous report published in 1842, Chadwick promoted four themes:

  • Relationship of unsanitary living conditions and disease (based on the miasma theory)
  • Economic effects of poor living conditions
  • Social effects of poor living conditions (e.g., drunkenness, immorality, disease)
  • Need for new administrative systems to effect changes (Halliday 2001)

Chadwick had a vision of vast sewer systems collecting human waste and transporting it out to rural areas where it would be put to beneficial use as fertilizer for farms. Water supply would be provided to cities through a piped water system from protected sources that were not affected by any locale’s sewage. Unfortunately, only one out of three parts of Chadwick’s vision were implemented in London and elsewhere. Sewers were built but the crucial sanitary disposal of human waste on farmland was not. Sewage was discharged into rivers and lakes after which time no surface supplied drinking water was safe.


Halliday, Stephen. 2001. The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. London, U.K.: History Press.

Rosen, George. 1993. A History of Public Health. Expanded Edition, Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University.

#TDIWH—January 23, 1913: Night soil Incinerator and NYC Death Rate

January 23, 1913: Two articles in Engineering News.

0123 Nightsoil Incinerator1“Night Soil Incinerating Furnace at a Contractor’s Camp.” By Arthur W. Tidd, “The new 500-million-gallons-daily Catskill water-system for New York City, now being built by the Board of Water Supply, necessitates that construction work shall be carried on from the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains to New York City, a distance of approximately 100 miles. Throughout the whole length of the line a sanitary control is exercised, under the supervision of sanitary experts employed by the Board of Water Supply, over the housing and living of the laborers employed on the work and the disposal of all wastes.

Clauses are inserted in the specifications of each contract placing upon the contractor the duty of carrying out the provisions required for proper sanitation and specifying in many cases just what these provisions shall be. One of these is the provision that buildings for the sanitary necessities of all persons employed on the work shall be provided, and that all excreta shall be incinerated daily….

0123 Nightsoil Incinerator2For the camp the four corners of the incinerator house are partitioned off into independent closets, entered only from the outside, two for the men having six seats each, two for the women having two seats each. The galvanized pans are used here also, being removed from the back of the closets on the inside of the building as indicated in cross-section of the building shown in Fig. 2.” (emphasis added)

Commentary: An early commitment by New York City to protect the water supply for the City.

“A Low Record Death Rate for New York City.” “A total of 73,008 deaths in a single city in one year seems appalling until it is known that the city was New York, with a population sufficiently above five million to bring the rate per 1000 down to the remarkably low figure of 14.11. There are possibilities, of course, that the population estimate is too high or that the death registration was incomplete, but there seems to be reasonable basis for confidence in both. This confidence is increased when it is noted that the total number of deaths in 1912 was 2418 less than in 1911, and much less than the average for the ten years 1902-11; that there were heavy reductions over the average for 1902-11, in all the communicable diseases, in mortality from diarrheal diseases under five years of age, and in infant mortality; and that in the large non-communicable class the only increases in 1912 were in deaths from cancer, homicide and organic heart disease–the latter being offset by a decline in deaths from apoplexy and diseases of the arteries.

It is particularly gratifying to note that the typhoid fever death rate for 1912 was 34% less than the average for the previous decade and that the infant-mortality rate for the year was only 105 per 1000 reported births, the lowest ever recorded.”

Commentary: Improvement in the sanitary quality of the New York City water supply, improvement in the milk supply and better medical care account for much of the progress noted. NYC still had a long way to go. The infant mortality rate was 10% of live births which would be unconscionable today.

Reference: Engineering News. 1913. 69:4(January 23, 1913): 164, 175.

#TDIWH— January 22, 2001: Arsenic Rule Final

Map of typical levels of Arsenic in U.S.  water supplies

Map of typical levels of Arsenic in U.S. water supplies

January 22, 2001: Final Rule for Arsenic in Drinking Water. “Today’s final rule revises the current Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) from 50 µg/L to 10 µg/L and sets a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of zero for arsenic in drinking water. In addition, this final rule also clarifies how compliance is demonstrated for many inorganic and organic contaminants in drinking water…. Both community water systems (CWSs) and non-transient, non-community water systems (NTNCWSs) will be required to reduce the arsenic concentration in their drinking water systems to 10 µg/L…. All CWSs and all NTNCWSs that exceed the MCL of 10 µg/L will be required to come into compliance 5 years after the publication of the final rule. Beginning with reports that are due by July 1, 2002, all CWSs will begin providing health information and arsenic concentrations in their annual consumer confidence report (CCR) for water that exceeds ½ the new MCL….

In the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Congress directed EPA to propose a new arsenic regulation by January 1, 2000 and to issue the final rule by January 1, 2001 (Congress subsequently extended the final rule date to June 22, 2001). EPA published the proposed rule for arsenic on June 22, 2000. The rule proposed an MCL of 5 µg/L for arsenic and EPA took comment on regulatory options of 3 µg/L (the feasible level), 10 µg/L and 20 µg/L. The 1996 amendments to SDWA added discretionary authority for the EPA Administrator to adjust the maximum contaminant level (MCL) if the benefits would not justify the costs (§1412(b)(6)). Today’s rule is important because it is the second drinking water regulation in which EPA will use the discretionary authority under §1412(b)(6) of SWDA. After careful consideration of the benefits and the costs, EPA has decided to set the drinking water standard for arsenic higher than the technically feasible level of 3 µg/L because EPA believes that the costs would not justify the benefits at this level. EPA believes that the final MCL of 10 µg/L maximizes health risk reduction at a cost justified by the benefits.”