Monthly Archives: August 2018

August 14, 1913: Sewerage and Health

Typhoid Fever Death Rate and Sewer Construction in Louisville, KY

August 14, 1913: Municipal Journalarticle. Effect of Sewerage Upon Health. “Although nearly all intelligent people will to-day agree that there is great value in a comprehensive sewer system, it is not always easy to demonstrate in particular cases all the advantages gained by its installation. A system for the drainage of storm water in a city is not only a convenience but is a valuable asset because, by preventing damage from flooding in storms, it increases the value of property. In a system of sanitary sewers, the beneficial results are convenience in the disposal of household wastes, a saving in the expense of repeated emptying of cesspools, and above all the resulting improvement in the public health. It has not always been possible to establish and define the relation existing between the prevalence of disease and the degree of sewerage in any community, even by those whose confidence has been greatest in the existence of an intimate relation. It is of the greatest importance, however, that the value of all agencies affecting the public health should be well understood, particularly by those in whose hands have been entrusted the responsibility of the government.

For years typhoid fever has been considered a preventable disease, and on this account the degree of its prevalence indicates the efficiency of a community in guarding the welfare of its own inhabitants. It is well known that this disease is caused by the typhoid bacillus which, under the favorable environment within the human body, multiplies rapidly and is cast off in countless numbers from the alimentary canal and kidneys. It is a function of the sewer system to convey the waste products containing these germs from the patient to a point of disposal where they can do no harm. Should they be carried to any stream or body of water without treatment to be drawn into a water supply or to infect shellfish growing therein, an epidemic may result. The infection is too often communicated directly from a sick person to a well one. In the absence of an efficient sewer system, it might find its way, on account of unsanitary conditions, to milk cans or food supplies. If deposited in exposed privies, the infection might be washed over the surface or through underground channels to shallow wells, or it might be conveyed by flies to accessible food.”

Commentary:  Many authors tried to show that building sewers saved lives. However, the data was just not there. As I said in my book,The Chlorine Revolution, “It’s the Drinking Water Stupid.” The conquest of typhoid fever and other waterborne illnesses was not complete until the drinking water supply was protected with multiple barriers including filtration and chlorination. The graphic in this article shows that there was a lot of variation in the typhoid fever rate until a filtration plant was installed in 1909. After filtration was installed and operational, the death rate plummeted.

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August 13, 1865: Death of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis

August 13, 1865:Death of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. Semmelweis is credited with recognizing the high death toll among women during childbirth caused by physicians using unsanitary procedures.  He instituted the disinfection of physicians’ hands with a concentrated chlorine solution and the death rate of new mothers plummeted.  His research and practical applications assisted later proponents of the germ theory of disease and also indirectly contributed to the use of chlorine for disinfection of drinking water.

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis(July 1, 1818 – August 13, 1865) (born Ignác Fülöp Semmelweis) was a Hungarian physician now known as an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures. Described as the “savior of mothers”, Semmelweis discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever could be drastically cut by the use of hand disinfection in obstetrical clinics. Puerperal fever was common in mid-19th-century hospitals and often fatal, with mortality at 10%–35%. Semmelweis postulated the theory of washing with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 while working in Vienna General Hospital’s First Obstetrical Clinic, where doctors’ wards had three times the mortality of midwives’ wards. He published a book of his findings in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever.

Despite various publications of results where hand-washing reduced mortality to below 1%, Semmelweis’s observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community. Some doctors were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands and Semmelweis could offer no acceptable scientific explanation for his findings. Semmelweis’s practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory and Joseph Lister, acting on the French microbiologist’s research, practiced and operated, using hygienic methods, with great success. In 1865, Semmelweis was committed to an asylum, where he died at age 47 after being beaten by the guards, only 14 days after he was committed.”

Reference: Semmelweis, Ignaz. The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Translated by K. Codell Carter. Madison:University of Wisconsin. 1983.

August 12, 1908: Sewer Outlet for Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier in 1909 shortly after construction was completed

August 12, 1908:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. Sewer Outlet at Santa Monica. “An unusually extensive piece of work in connection with a sewer outlet is now being carried on by Santa Monica, Cal. The outfall pipe of the sewer system of the city is being carried a distance of 1,600 feet into the Pacific Ocean, and as the shore is abrupt and the water comparatively deep it was decided to support this upon piles, which will also form part of a pier, the entire cost of which is estimated to amount to about $100,000….

In connection with the sewerage system a novel method of treating the sewage has been installed and a sixty-day test run of it has been begun. The sewage flows into two wooden tanks, each two feet deep and 30 feet long. Each tank is equipped with ten sets of electrodes and an equal number of electro-magnets which are supplied with energy from a generator of low voltage and high amperage. The electrodes and the ends of the magnets are so placed as to be submerged three inches under the surface of the sewage. The theory is that the organic matter in the sewage will be oxidized by the nascent oxygenreleased and that in some way the inorganic matter also will be removed. On being started it was found that the effluent had no odor and was almost as clear as spring water. The combined capacity of the tanks is said to be one million gallons per day and the inventor estimates that the electric energy will not cost more than so cents per day.”

Commentary:  Once again, nascent oxygen rears its ugly head. I have also included in this blog another article about Santa Monica’s miraculous treatment of sewage with electricity (April 28). Obviously, the City management had fallen into the hands of con artists. The one outstanding thing to come out of this incident was the Santa Monica Pier, which today is a major attraction and a beautiful addition to the city waterfront.

Santa Monica Pier Today

August 11, 1909: Queen Lane Reservoir Water Treated Chemically

Queen Lane Pump House Boilers

August 11, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. Queen Lane Reservoir Water Treated Chemically. “Philadelphia, Pa.-Though residents of that section of the city lying south of Allegheny avenue and between Sedgley avenue, Twenty-seventh street and the Schuylkill River have for more than two months supposedly been drinking absolutely raw, unfiltered water from the Queen Lane reservoirs, it became known recently that they have been using water that has been chemically purified by the city. Without letting the public into the secret, Chief Dunlap of the Water Bureau has had the bacteriologists of the Water Department improvise a station at the Queen Lane Reservoir for the oxidization of water by a chemical process which has proved highly effective. A shed has been erected at the intake of the reservoir, and all the water that is pumped from the river to the reservoir is ozonated or oxidized by chemical process as it passes through the shed. By oxidization all the animal or vegetable life is destroyed in the water, and it goes into the reservoir free from harmful impurities. Of course Chief Dunlap says this process does not clarify the water, but this is accomplished to a very large extent by precipitation or sedimentation [in Queen Lane Reservoir].”

Commentary:  It is highly unlikely that ozone was being used to disinfect the water supply in Philadelphia in 1909 (in a shed by the river). More likely, the use of the term ozone referred to the chlorination of water, which supposedly released “nascent oxygen” which was responsible for killing bacteria. The same argument (some might say subterfuge) was used in the second Jersey City trial, which was going on during the time that this article was published. No water utility wanted to admit that it was using chlorine during this period. After the New Jersey Supreme Court approved the use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection in 1910, the linguistic jujitsu exemplified in this article was not as widely used.

August 10, 1916: Sterilizing Water and Flushing Mains

August 10, 1916:  Municipal Journalarticle. Sterilizing Water and Cleaning Mains. “In connection with the information concerning their water works furnished by more than six hundred officials and published in our June 1st issue, these officials also answered the questions: “Is the capacity of your mains diminished by corrosion?” “Do you clean them?” “If so, how and how often?” “Do you sterilize the water?” “If so, by what process?” Their answers are given in the table on the following pages.

These answers are given as furnished, and no attempt made to change them with a view to uniformity. For instance, some report sterilizing by “liquid chlorine,” others by “chlorine gas,” and some by “chlorine”; but we suppose that all refer to the same treatment. Also “hypochlorite,” “chloride of lime” and “bleach,” all probably refer to the same material.

In the answers concerning cleaning mains, quite a number report doing this by flushing or blowing out. This is generally believed to remove only sediment deposited in the mains, mostly that brought into them by the water, and to have no effect upon tuberculation or corrosion. A few, however, report “cleaning,” which refers in probably all cases to the actual removal by some application of force of tuberculation or other incrustation on the pipes.

It is interesting to note that, of the cities reporting, 96 employ some sterilizing agent, 53 of these using liquid chlorine, which is the latest form of applying chlorine for sterilizing purposes but from these figures appears to have become undoubtedly the most popular. The use of liquid chlorine or hypochlorite is reported from 33 states scattered over the entire country; and it is known that several cities use one or the other which failed to report it, some probably because of local popular prejudice against putting “chemicals” in the water supply.”

Commentary:  Disinfection information in this article is fascinating on several levels. First, we see details of which cities were actually disinfecting their water supplies (and those that were not). We also read that there was STILL a fear of chemicals in drinking water even after the overwhelming evidence that typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases could be stopped by such a practice. Finally, this survey documents the conversion from chloride of lime to the use of liquid chlorine that was occurring during this period of water treatment history. Chloride of lime was first used on the Jersey City water supply, which started the disinfection craze (see my book, The Chlorine Revolution). However, the availability of liquid chlorine in pressurized cylinders and the ease of its application ultimately converted everyone to this newer technology.

August 9, 1911: Large Vitrified Clay Pipe Sewer

August 9, 1911:  Municipal Journalarticle. Building a Large Vitrified Clay Pipe Sewer. “A piece of sewer construction is nearing completion in Brooklyn, N. Y., which is  remarkable, both for the fact that it is believed to be the largest vitrified pipe sewer ever built, and also it is being laid with comparative ease in fine sand 10 feet to 15 feet below tide water level. This sewer, which is about 4,000 feet long, serves as the outlet line for a system draining a considerable area of a new part of the city which is rapidly extending out over the meadows adjacent to Jamaica Bay. It ends at a sewage disposal plant which has been in service for about 18 years and is enormously overtaxed and must speedily be replaced with some larger and probably different kind of plant.

The sewer is being laid through salt meadows, a considerable part of which is overflowed by the highest tides, and at few if any points is the land more than 3 feet higher than this. The depth of the trench ranges from 12 to 16 feet, or about 10 to 13 feet below high tide…. The sewer is made of 42-inch vitrified clay pipe 3 inches thick, bedded in concrete up to the horizontal diameter, this concrete having vertical outer sides and resting upon a plank platform, and being 7 inches thick under the invert and 14 inches wider than the outside diameter of the pipe barrel. For the purpose of connecting future buildings there are inserted at intervals of 20 feet upright “standpipes” of 6-inch vitrified pipe which rest on the 42-inch pipe in sockets formed around openings in the top of the pipe constructed for this purpose.”

August 8, 1908: Street Cleaning Bacteriology

August 8, 1908:  Engineering Recordarticle. A Bacteriological Method of Determining the Efficiency of Street Cleaning. “The Department of Street Cleaning of the City of New York is at present experimenting with a combined street flushing and cleaning machine in the Borough of Manhattan, and in order to determine its efficiency, series of bacteriological experiments have been made to learn the condition of the pavement, both before and after cleaning. The machine, which was described in The Engineering Recordof June 27, 1908, is called the “Squeegee” and consists of a water tank with sprinkling pipes, back of which is a revolving drum, wound with stiff strips of rubber. The work of the machine has been under careful observation by an officer of the department since the beginning of June, but besides his report as to its efficiency, it was desired to know by some other means just what the machine was doing. The department, therefore, decided to expose bacterial cultures in the street both before and after the machine had done its work.”

Commentary:  Public health experts were finding lots of new ways to exploit the growing field of bacteriology so that they could measure the efficiencies of their methods.