January 14, 1973: First Recorded Typhoid Case in South Florida Outbreak; 1829: First Slow Sand Filter in England

5/13/1976, Roy Bartley/Miami Herald: Everglades farm labor camp 19400 SW 376th St.

January 14, 1973:  First Recorded Typhoid Case in South Florida Outbreak.The last major recorded epidemic of typhoid fever in the United States occurred in Manteno State Hospital, Illinois, in 1939. There were 453 cases, with 60 deaths. Sanitation procedures generally have been improved markedly since that time, but despite such improvement the South Dade Labor Camp near Homestead, Florida, developed a sizable outbreak early in 1973 (172 hospitalized, 38 not hospitalized,no deaths).

Intensive investigation of the water supply and of the sewage system was begun immediately. A number of suspicious findings  were observed. These systems had originally been installed about 1940, and were replaced in 1969. The water  was supplied from  two wells. The first suspicious finding  was that these wells were reported at first to be 50 feet deep with 38 feet of casing. The well driller’s job log confirmed these depths. By sounding, however,  an approximate depth of 20 feet was discovered. Later in our studies,  we noted that the certificate provided by the state’s Sanitary Engineering office had approved the 20 foot depth.

Second, in the center of the well house was a floor drain connected to an outside dry well surrounded by a vitreous clay pipe. When fluorescent dye was introduced into this well, it appeared in the water supply in 3 1/2 min.

Third, dye was also painted on the ground about 10 feet from the water wells. In less than 15 min, the dye appeared in the water.

Fourth, several holes were dug in the area of the well house. The old sewer system, abandoned in 1969, but close to the origin of the water supply, was found to contain human feces, as evidenced by the recovery of Salmonella saint-paul.

Fifth, inspection of the character of the ground revealed many solution channels in the area surrounding the wells.

Sixth, about 100 yards from the wells was a common toilet facility. Immediately outside this facility was a grease trap, connected only to the sinks. Upon emptying the trap, human feces were found in it.

Seventh, about 1000 feet away from the wells was a 50,000-gallon storage tank. This tank was cleaned and found to contain beer cans, bottles, other rubbish, and feces.

Commentary:  I guess that there is no real surprise that there was a typhoid outbreak in this labor camp given all of the sanitary defects in the water and wastewater systems. Remember, this typhoid outbreak occurred in 1973. 1973!

January 14, 1829:  The first slow sand filter in England was put into operation by James Simpson. “Best known of all the filtration pioneers is James Simpson. He was born July 25, 1799, at the official residence of his father, who was Inspector General (engineer) of the Chelsea Water Works Co. The house was on the north bank of the Thames, near the pumping station and near what was to become the site of the filter that was copied the world over. At the early age of 24, James Simpson was appointed Inspector (engineer) of the water company at a salary of £300 a year, after having acted in that capacity for a year and a half during the illness of his father. At 26, he was elected to the recently created Institution of Civil Engineers. At 28, he made his 2,000-mile inspection trip to Manchester, Glasgow and other towns in the North, after designing the model for a working-scale filter to be executed in his absence. On January 14, 1829, when Simpson was in his thirtieth year, the one-acre filter at Chelsea commonly known as the first English slow sand filter, was put into operation….

Skepticism as to the wholesomeness of filtered water in 1828 and Simpson’s reassurances on the subject are amusing today. At the hearing before the Royal Commission a member asked whether any persons had been in the habit of drinking the water filtered on a small scale. ‘Yes,’ answered Simpson. Had they complained of the water ‘being insalubrious, giving them cholic or any other complaints?’ To this, the engineer replied that none of the more than 100 men working on the ground (presumably on the permanent filter) had complained of the filtered water…Fish, the commission was assured, did not die in the filtered water.Simpson willingly admitted that ‘water may contain so many ingredients chemically dissolved, that filtration will not purify it.’ Asked whether the discharge from King’s Scholars Sewer could be ‘so filtered as to be fit to drink,’ Simpson cannily said he had never tried it. Asked whether filtration would remove bad taste from water, Simpson replied that ‘Thames water has a taste according to season, of animal and vegetable matter’; filtration ‘seems to deprive it of the whole of that, and we cannot discover it after it has passed the bed.’”

Commentary:  It is a good thing that fish did not die in the filtered water. That would have been the end of the sanitary engineering profession.

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, 99, 109.

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