Monthly Archives: April 2018

April 26, 1911: Water Waste in New Bedford, MA

April 26, 1911:  Municipal Journal and Engineereditorial. Waste in Public Water Consumption. “We have had occasion several times to call attention to the fact that no class of consumers waste more water than schools and other municipal buildings and that consequently meters or other methods of restricting waste are fully as important here as on any other services in the city, in spite of the seeming anomaly of a city’s measuring the water which it delivers to itself.

An illustration of this is furnished by the city of New Bedford, Mass. During the year 1910 there was metered and charged to the schools, engine houses, police stations, city hall, library, almshouse, city stables, cemeteries, parks, wharfs and electric car sprinklers 88,809,000 gallons. In addition, metered water was supplied for drinking fountains, extinguishing fires, flushing sewers, puddling trenches, street operations and water department work which is estimated by the superintendent to have amounted to 200,000,000 gallons. This total of 288,000,000 gallons is about one-tenth of the total consumption of the city.

How much water was being wasted previous to the use of meters is not known; but all departments now watch their meter records and if an abnormal amount is registered they quickly locate and remove the cause, while hitherto they have concerned themselves very little with leaky fixtures. The school department, previous to the installment of meters, had several very large motors operating ventilating machines. One of these was metered and found to use over 27,000,000 gallons a year, and it is fair to presume an equal amount was being used by each of the others. When meters were installed at the end of 1909, these motors were all discontinued and electricity was substituted as a motive power.”

Reference:  “Waste in Public Water Consumption.” 1911. Municipal Journal and Engineereditorial 30:17(April 26, 1911): 579.

Commentary:  Fixing leaks and eliminating unaccounted for water is still a big challenge for water utilities today. Utilities realized in the early 20thcentury that fixing water waste was like finding a new water supply.

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April 25, 2014: Switch to Flint River Water Supply; 1926: New York Harbor a Menace

April 25, 2014:  Switch to Flint River Water Supply, Flint, MI. An article published online memorialized the change earlier that day from treated water from Detroit, Michigan, to the raw water supply of the Flint River and the activation of the Flint Water Plant. The photo from that article reproduced above shows local and state officials toasting each other with water from the Flint plant. I am certain that most of them would be happy to have their images removed from that and similar photographs.

About a month after the change, residents of Flint began to complain about discolored water and odors from the new water supply. The water coming out of city taps was orange, red, yellow and brown. City and State officials tried to assure Flint citizens that the water was safe to drink even after repeated failures of primary drinking water regulations:  Total Coliform Rule and the trihalomethane regulation. But the worst was yet to come.

Once the water from the Flint River was demonstrated to be more corrosive to iron and steel than water from Detroit, someone in the water department, treatment plant staff, City administration or Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, drinking water regulatory agency) should have asked the question, “What about corrosion of the 15,000 lead service lines serving water to homes in the City?”

Some stories about what happened in Flint state that the USEPA asked MDEQ if optimized treatment was being applied to prevent corrosion of lead service lines (LSLs). The MDEQ representative assured the USEPA that everything was just fine.

What we now know is that the treated Flint River water was highly corrosive to lead and levels greater than 10,000 ug/L have been found in some home samples. Hundreds of samples have been found to contain lead above the 15 ug/L State and federal action level. Young children who are most susceptible to the toxic effects of lead were exposed at high concentrations, which ultimately showed up as elevated blood lead levels in thousands of children.

It took the persistence of one mother in town, a smart, courageous doctor and an activist engineering professor to blow the whistle and get everyone to start paying attention to a public health emergency. Citizens of Flint owe a great deal to LeeAnne Walters, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards. Miguel Del Toral of the USEPA did everything that he could to ring alarm bells once he understood what was happening. Later reporting by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC brought the crisis to national attention and helped start a national discussion of the solutions needed.

Extremely high lead levels are being reported in some Flint homes many months after the shift back to Detroit water with phosphate treatment. Why is that happening? The interior surfaces of lead pipe in the Flint service area have been badly disrupted and phosphate treatment is not fixing the problem. Flint citizens should also be highly suspicious of lead results from first flush samples, which are mandated by the Lead and Copper Rule. Research has now shown that spikes of extremely high lead concentrations do not occur until more water is flushed through the system and the water that has been stagnating in lead pipes overnight is sampled and analyzed.

Here are a few questions with my best efforts to answer them.

Where did the LSLs in Flint come from and why were they installed? I found an 1897 City of Flint Ordinance that required the use of lead pipe to connect water mains to homes. I have found dozens and there must be hundreds of ordinances for other cities like this in the literature. Lead was the preferred material because other materials such as iron and steel pipes corroded away. Ironically, lead was considered a more durable material for service lines. Copper and plastic pipes were not commercially available until much later.

Why do local officials claim that water is safe to drink when it looks like orange Kool-Aid, smells like rotten eggs and tastes like sucking on a rusty nail? I have seen statements like this from city and water utility officials across the U.S. They should know by now that stating something that is clearly false to the people experiencing the delivery of bad water destroys the utility’s credibility and makes everyone angry. The only possible response is: “The water is disgusting, and even though it meets all health standards, it does not meet our standards. We are sorry. We are going to find out why this is happening and we are going to fix it.”

How in the world could this have happened? Who is responsible? Governor Rick Snyder likes to say that it happened because of a failure of government at all levels. For once, I agree with him. However, it appears to me that he says this as a way to dilute the responsibility of his administration, his state-appointed emergency manager and the state regulatory agency, the MDEQ. If the state agencies had been focused on protecting public health and not saving a few dollars, the lead poisoning disaster in Flint would never have happened. But City officials, water department personnel and the consultant who made recommendations for treatment plant upgrades also deserve some of the blame. If one person or a group of these people had stood up and raised holy hell and demanded corrosion testing of the new water supply, the crisis would have been avoided. There are lessons to learn from this disaster for everyone who is involved in serving drinking water in this country.

What about LSLs? Should they be replaced? Yes. NOW. A big mistake was made in 1991 with the adoption of the Lead and Copper Rule that did not require the replacement of all LSLs in the U.S. Also, the allowance of partial replacement of LSLs made lead exposure of the public far worse. Everyone involved in drinking water and public health should demand that the federal Lead and Copper Rule Long-Term Revisions include an accelerated schedule for replacing LSLs. Also, we should not get confused about who foots the bill. Society made the decision in the 19thand 20thcenturies to use lead pipe. The homeowners and utility personnel who installed lead pipes are long dead. The total cost for LSL replacement should be paid for by utilities (with cost recovery from increased water rates) with some help from state and federal governments to seed the process and get it done. Society caused the problem and it is up to all of us to fix it. There are 6.1 million LSLs in this country and they need to be ripped out and completely replaced without delay.

References:

Adams, D. 2014. Closing the Valve on History:  Flint Cuts Water Flow From Detroit after nearly 50 years. Michigan Live. (http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/04/closing_the_valve_on_history_f.htmlAccessed April 24, 2016).

Cornwell, D.A., R.A. Brown and S.H. Via. 2016. National Survey of LSL Occurrence. Jour. AWWA. April. http://dx.doi.org/10.5942/jawwa.2016.108.0086

McGuire, M.J. 2016. Flint, Michigan:  Lessons to Live By. Keynote address presented at the California Nevada Section Spring Conference, Sacramento, California. March 22.

Ordinances of the City of Flint, Michegan. Rules of the Common Council. 1897. page 142-3. (http://bit.ly/1UEq1BGAccessed March 21, 2016).

Update:  In 2017, Flint was allocated about $100 million of public money to replace their lead service lines. Society has solved one city’s problem but there are many more cities that need a total replacement of their LSLs.

April 25, 1926:  New York Times headline—Harbor Sewage Called a Menace to Health. “State Legislature Urged to Take Action to Halt Pollution of New York Waters — Many Cities Pour Their Raw Waste Into the Bay. A report just submitted to the Legislature of New York urges drastic action to protect the City of New York against the menace to health arising from the pollution of the harbor and near-by bathing beaches, not only by New York but by other cities and States. Dr. George W. Soper who was Director of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission stated that every day, 940 million gallons of sewage per day were poured into the harbor every day. He called the situation a ‘direct offense upon the sense of decency…a constant menace to health.’”

April 24, 1913: Cairo IL, Wrecked Standpipe

April 24, 1913:  Engineering Newsarticle. The Recent Standpipe Failure at Cairo, Ill. By G.C. Habermeyer. “The standpipe of the Cairo Water Co. fell at about 2: 15 a.m., Feb. 11, 1913, as noted in Engineering News of Feb. 20, 1913. The standpipe was close to the pumping station and filter house, as shown in Figs. 1 and 2. It was built in 1885 by W. B. Maitland & Son, contractors, at that time of Peoria, Ill….

To sum up: The bottom angle of the standpipe was of very poor steel and at the time of the failure, due to fracture and corrosion, probably had almost no strength. The large opening left for the inlet pipe was a source of weakness, especially when the stones along the edge of this opening settled. The foundation was in poor condition. The settling of the foundation gave the standpipe a slightly leaning position and the uneven surface caused by the unequal settlement produced higher stresses in some anchor rods and side plates than would be indicated by the amount of leaning. The west side of the foundation was probably highest and at this point the original rupture probably occurred. Some plates, especially those about 50 ft. from the top, were seriously weakened by corrosion. Some rivet heads were eaten almost away. It is concluded that unequal bearing, slight leaning and the weakness of the bottom angle caused a rupture at the base.

The standpipe had deteriorated seriously before the failure. A careful inspection would have revealed its critical condition. It would be of great advantage to water companies if standpipes and elevated tanks were inspected by competent persons at regular intervals.

Reference:  Habermeyer, G.C. 1913. “The Recent Standpipe Failure at Cairo, Ill.” Engineering News. 69:17(April 24, 1913): 825, 829.

Commentary:  It appears that just about everything that could go wrong with this standpipe did go wrong. In the early part of the 20thcentury, water companies were still learning a great deal (the hard way) about how to design, construct and maintain their infrastructure.

April 23, 1890: General Federation of Women’s Clubs

April 23, 1890:  “General Federation of Women’s Clubs foundedin the US; conservation and “ecology” among top priorities. Over a million women participated directly in reform efforts during the Progressive era, and the federation developed national committees on forestry, waterways and rivers and harbors. For example, the waterways committee was formed in 1909 to promote water power, clean water and cheaper transportation, according to historian Carolyn Merchant.

“The rationale for women’s involvement [in public health movements] lay in the effect of waterways on every American home: Pure water meant health; impure meant disease and death.” — Carolyn Merchant.

April 22, 1970: First Earth Day; 2017: March for Science; 1915: First Use of Chlorine as a Terror Weapon

April 22, 1970:  The first nationwide Earth Day celebrationis organized by Sen. Gaylord Nelson and Dennis Hayes. It creates a national political presence for environmental concerns. Millions of Americans demonstrate for air and water cleanup and preservation of nature.

April 22, 2017:  March for Science.“The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.

The March for Science is a celebration of science.  It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world. 

Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?

There is no Planet B. Join the #MarchForScience.”

Commentary:  I am proud to support the March for Science. We have no choice but to speak out to protect our freedoms and what we believe in. I believe in truth and the search for it.

April 22, 1915:  The use of poison gas in World War I escalates when chlorine gas is released as a chemical weapon in the Second Battle of Ypres. Forevermore, chlorine is not considered a viable alternative disinfectant in Europe.

Commentary:  I am sad to report that this week in 2018, use of chlorine as a war gas was confirmed in Syria. Some sources say that the terrorist President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, has been using chlorine to gas his opponents for years. These are dark days in world history.

April 21, 1859: First London Drinking Fountain; 2012: Kirkwood Memorial Dedicated

April 21, 1859:  London’s Oldest Drinking Fountain. “A rather humble looking fountain set into the railing outside the Church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate at the corner of Giltspur Street and Holborn Viaduct, it’s easy to overlook this important part of London’s historic fabric.

But this free water fountain is London’s oldest and was installed here on 21st April, 1859, by the then Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association. Established by Samuel Gurney – an MP and the nephew of social reformer Elizabeth Fry, the organization aimed to provide people with free drinking water in a bid to encourage them to choose water over alcohol.

Within two years of the fountain’s creation, the organization – which later changed its name to Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association in reflection of its expanded role in also helping animals – had placed as many as 85 fountains across London.

Such was the need for a clean water supply that, according to the Drinking Fountain Association, as many as 7,000 people a day used the fountain when it was first installed.

The fountain on Holborn Hill was removed in 1867 when the nearby street Snow Hill was widened during the creation of the Holborn Viaduct and the rails replaced but it was returned there in 1913. Rather a poignant reminder of the days when water wasn’t the publicly available resource it is today, the marble fountain still features two small metal cups attached to chains for the ease of drinking and carries the warning, ‘Replace the Cup!’”

Kirkwood Aqueduct, St. Louis, MO

April 21, 2012:  Memorial to James P. Kirkwooddedicated by the St. Louis Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Kirkwood was the civil engineer hired by St. Louis, MO to investigate filtration of their water supply.  He wrote the classic book Report on the Filtration of River Waters, which was the first book in any language to focus on the filtration of municipal water supplies.  The book summarized his investigation covering 1865-69 where he described the filters and filter galleries he visited in 19 European water works.  Kirkwood died on April 22, 1877.

April 20 1918: Tracing a Typhoid Carrier

April 20 1918:  Municipal Journalarticle. Tracing of Typhoid Carrier Halts Epidemic. “Superior, Wis.-What threatened to be a serious epidemic of typhoid fever in this city has just been successfully averted. Nine cases of the malady broke out on one milk route, but it was successfully checked by Dr. D. R. Searle, city health commissioner; William Strasser, city bacteriologist, and Emil Haeske, milk inspector. This fight against typhoid is one of the most interesting in the city’s history. Two previous outbreaks of the disease had occurred on the same milk route, but the cause of the trouble has been removed at last. A dairyman’s wife and son have been discovered to have carried the disease for 16 years. Health commissioner Searle gave it as his opinion that if the epidemic had not been stopped when it was, it might easily have affected hundreds of persons. When a cousin of one of the dairy farmers who supplies Superior’s retail milk demand came over from Duluth sixteen years ago to recuperate from an illness with typhoid fever, this was the first link in the chain of infection, according to the authorities. Next the dairyman’s wife became ill with the disease, also one of his sons. Both recovered completely.

However, health department officials have found that the woman had been a carrier of typhoid for sixteen years and both herself and her son have been carriers of para-typhoid for that length of time. One case broke out on the milk route more than a month ago, but it was not reported immediately by the physician in charge. Then two more cases broke out and the health department began to investigate. The milk supply was immediately subjected to pasteurization. Blood and other tests were made on all members of the family and the premises were cleaned up on the dairy farm. Those who were found to be carriers of the disease were isolated.

Reference:  “Tracing of Typhoid Carrier Halts Epidemic.” Municipal Journalarticle 44:16(April 20, 1918): 334.

Commentary:  Even though this is a story about a typhoid epidemic that was spread by milk instead of water, it recounts the difficult time that health authorities had with identifying typhoid fever carriers—people who carried the bacterium in their gut but they did not have symptoms of the disease. Typhoid Mary was the most famous typhoid carrier in U.S. history.