Category Archives: Year 6 TDIWH

November 17, 1904: Death of Thomas M. Drown

November 17, 1904Death of Thomas M. Drown. “Drown was known as a chemist and metallurgist and he was the fourth President of Lehigh University. “In the 1880s, Drown held a leadership post in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He helped start MIT’s chemical engineering curriculum in the late 1880s. In 1887, he was appointed by the newly-formed Massachusetts Board of Health to a landmark study of sanitary quality of the state’s inland waters. As Consulting Chemist to the Massachusetts State Board of Health, he was in charge of the famous Lawrence Experiment Station laboratory conducting the water sampling, testing, and analysis. There he put to work the environmental chemist and first female graduate of MIT, Ellen Swallow Richards. This research created the famous “normal chlorine” map of Massachusetts that was the first of its kind and was the template for others. As a result, Massachusetts established the first water-quality standards in America, and the first modern sewage treatment plant was created.”

Commentary: Drown taught all of the famous engineering graduates from MIT who we revere today—George Warren Fuller, George C. Whipple and Allen Hazen (chemistry courses). Below is the Normal Chlorine Map from a book by Ellen Swallow Richards. It shows that chloride concentrations in ground and surface waters increase as one nears the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. Any significant deviations from the “normal” levels of chloride in a water source indicated sewage contamination.

Normal Chlorine Map


November 16, 1918: Sanitary Survey of Unnamed City

Privy in terrible condition

November 16, 1918Municipal Journal. A Sanitary Survey of an Unnamed City. The conditions about which you will read were by no means unusual in 1918 in the U.S. “A State Board of Health a few months ago, made a sanitary survey of a certain city (the name of which is unessential) which was of more than usual interest, because of its thoroughness and the sensible recommendations based upon it….

The city in question has a population of about 30,000, of which negroes form a small percentage for a southern city. Although the city is not large, topographical conditions are such as to confine its growth in area, with the result that it presents many of the characteristics of a large, crowded city…. In 1916 fifteen cases of death from typhoid fever were reported, and it is believed that the number was even somewhat greater than this…. A comparison of the distribution of the typhoid cases with the wells and privies indicates that the latter have played an important role in the spread of the disease, the typhoid areas largely coinciding with the unsewered districts, without city water. It should be noted further that these “typhoid areas” are located on steep hillsides where the drainage from privy to well is rapid and direct….

The water supply of the city is derived from the river that flows through it, the intake being located at a point near the upper boundary of the city. This river has a water-shed of 1,550 square miles of mountainous and rather thinly populated territory….Examinations of the river for miles upstream have shown its waters to be heavily polluted before they enter the city. While none of the municipal sewers empty into the river above the waterworks intake [thank goodness], there are two small runs draining an extensive unsewered area which is thickly populated….Thus it is seen that the source of supply is always polluted to a greater or less degree, becoming at times a source of most extreme danger. Only the most thorough filtration and after-treatment can render a water of this character uniformly safe for drinking purposes. Unfortunately the skilled attention that is absolutely essential for the successful operation of a filter plant has not been had until recently.

Purification is secured by coagulation and sedimentation, followed by filtration through so-called mechanical or rapid gravity filters and final treatment with chlorine gas….Just before entering the sedimentation basins, the water receives its dose of coagulant consisting of lime and sulphate of alumina in amounts depending upon the character of the river water as shown by its alkalinity and turbidity….

The man who installed the original hypochlorite plant for final treatment of the water painted its virtues so very bright that he assured the water company that when the river was clear they need not use any chemicals except hypochlorite of lime. It is felt that this ill-advised suggestion may have been in part responsible for the epidemic of typhoid fever the city has just experienced.

The sedimentation basins are two in number, each having a capacity of about 238,000 gallons. At the normal rate of filtration this provides for but one and three-fourths hours storage, a period that is considered far too short to be comparable with adequate coagulation and sedimentation. The control of the chemicals constitutes another objection. The solutions are prepared in large tanks from which they are fed through hand-operated orifices and the rate of dosing is recorded as inches in depth of the tank per hour. Constant-feed, calibrated orifice boxes should be supplied, that the dosing may be more accurately controlled. [see design of such a feed system by George Warren Fuller at the Little Falls treatment plant, Fuller 1903]

From the sedimentation basins the water flows by gravity to the filters, of which there are ten units, each having a superficial area of 230 square feet. At a normal rate of two gallons per square foot a minute, or 125 million gallons per acre per twenty-four hours, the ten units have a combined capacity of about 6.5 million gallons a day. As originally constructed, each unit was provided with a loss-of-head gage, rate controller, and individual sampling pump, all of which equipment has now been dismantled. A loss-of-head gage is essential if accurate knowledge of what each unit is doing and of the proper time to wash is to be had. As it now is, the filter man guesses at the proper time to wash the dirt out of the filter by the position of the inlet float; the dirtier the sand, the higher the level of water on the bed and the more quiet the float—a rather round-about method.

After washing, the filters are allowed to waste for a short time and then turned into the clear well. The lack of any rate controllers on the filters makes it certain that the most recently washed units will be filtering far in excess of the rate for which they were designed. Rate controllers would prevent the units from delivering more than a definite maximum at any time. With as small a clear-well as the one here provided (approximately 37,000 gallons), the lack of this important device becomes even more dangerous in that the pull of the high-service pumps is thrown almost directly upon the filters….

Washing of the filters is effected by forcing water and air through them from below. The water for washing is taken directly from the clear well by an electrically driven centrifugal pump. As has been previously noted, washing cannot be conducted on anything like a scientific basis owing to the lack of loss-of-head gages. The filters are, however, washed at least once a day, and more often if deemed necessary.

From the clear-water well, which is located beneath the filters, the water flows to the high-service pumps, receiving on the way a final treatment with chlorine. Chlorine gas is an excellent sterilizing agent in water, and small doses can effect a remarkable reduction in the number of bacteria present. The chlorine gas is introduced by a direct-feed manual-control chlorinator. In this plant the fact that the dose is not automatically controlled is extremely unfortunate, and if the plant were not in the hands of a skilled filter operator would be a very serious objection….

With a safe and potable water available [forsooth!], there is no excuse for the continuation in use of the 189 private wells in the city. While no analyses have been made to learn the extent to which the wells are polluted, there can be little doubt from their location and construction that many of them are dangerously contaminated.” (emphasis added)

Commentary:  The hard, cold, and alarming facts related in this 1918 sanitary survey of an anonymous southern U.S. city make it quite evident why its identity was not revealed. The typhoid death rate of 50 per 100,000 people in 1916 is shockingly high for a city that is served by a water supply that was both filtered and chlorinated. Obviously, something is terribly wrong with the operation of the treatment plant and the condition of private wells. The person conducting the sanitary survey expressed some optimism about current personnel and operations, but a sanitary survey conducted a year after would be needed to see if that optimism was justified.

The problems related in this sanitary survey should make us all glad that we live in the 21st century where we are blessed (at least in developed countries) with safe drinking water supplies.

Reference:  “A Sanitary Survey of a City.” 1918. Municipal Journal. 45:19 November 9, 1918, 359-61, 383-6.

November 15, 1910: New York Abolishes Common Cup

November 15, 1910New York Times headline—Would Abolish Common Cup. “Albany, Nov. 15—“There is no excuse for a public drinking cup, on the train or anywhere else, now that penny-in-the-slot machines serve out paper cups and that metal collapsible cups can be purchased for a dime,” says a circular sent out by the State Department of Health. The Health Department is co-operating with the railroads to do away with the public drinking cup on trains and in railroad stations. It is stated that there is great possibility of the transmission of disease by the use of the common drinking cup….”

CommentaryOn October 30, 2012, we observed the 100th anniversary of the first drinking water regulation, which was adopted by the U.S. Treasury Department that prohibited the use of the common drinking cup on interstate carriers. Individual states like New York and Kansas led the way by raising awareness of this serious public health problem. Seven articles in my blog safedrinkingwaterdotcom provided a countdown to the anniversary date.

November 14, 1765: Death of Robert Fulton; 1840: Birth of Claude Monet; 1919: Death of John Aitken

November 14, 1765Today in Science History. Robert Fulton–Born 14 Nov 1765; died 24 Feb 1815 at age 49. “American inventor, engineer, and artist who brought steamboating from the experimental stage to commercial success. He did not invent the steamboat, which had been built in the early 1700’s, but rather applied his engineering skills to their design. He changed the proportions, arrangements, and velocities of already proposed ideas. In 1807, work was completed on the Clermont, the first steamboat that was truly successful, and the culmination of many years of work. It’s maiden voyage was on 17 Aug from New York City to Albany, a distance of 150 miles completed in 32 hours. A mechanical genius with many talents, he also designed a system of inland waterways, a submarine (Nautilus, 1801), and a steam warship.”

November 14, 1840:  “Claude Monet (14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926) is born. He was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting…. Monet was fond of painting controlled nature: his own gardens in Giverny, with its water lilies, pond, and bridge. He also painted up and down the banks of the Seine, producing paintings such as Break-up of the ice on the Seine.” Perhaps Monet’s most famous series of paintings is his Water Lilies.

Dust Storm in Phoenix, AZ, July 25, 2014

November 14, 1919Today in Science History. John Aitken died. (born 18 Sep 1839)  “Scottish physicist and meteorologist known for his research work on atmospheric dust, the formation of dew, cyclones and evaporation. He invented the koniscope to detect and study atmospheric dust particles. He determined that condensation of atmospheric water vapor from clouds and fogs begins on the surface of microscopic particles (now known as Aitken nuclei) as a crucial step in the formation of rain and dew. Combustion produces a profusion of such particles. Suffering from ill health, he worked from a laboratory in his Falkirk home.”

November 13, 565 CE: Basilica Cistern; 1988: Sewage in Santa Monica Bay; 2003: Death of Sewer Worker

November 13, 565 AD:  End of the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, builder of the Basilica Cistern. “The Basilica Cistern (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarayı – Sunken Palace, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı – Sunken Cistern), is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), Turkey. The cistern, located 500 feet southwest of the Hagia Sophia on the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. This cathedral-size cistern is an underground chamber approximately 453 by 212 feet – about 105,000 square feet in area – capable of holding 2,800,000 cubic feet [or 21 million gallons] of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 30 feet high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 16 feet apart. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings.” (edited by MJM)

Istanbul has always had limited water resources. Water supplies had to be transported to the city through long canals and aqueducts. Istanbul has also been the target of invading armies and has had to rely on stored water during long sieges. For these reasons, underground and open-air cisterns have always been a part of the city fabric. Sometimes stored water in local cisterns had to last the city’s population for months. There is no official count of the number of cisterns that had been built in ancient times, but dozens have survived and many can be visited. The Basilica Cistern is the grandest of them all.

Commentary and Update:  The Basilica Cistern is one of the locations for the movie “Inferno” starring Tom Hanks and released October 28, 2016. Somehow they create destructive waves in this underground water reservoir.

November 13, 1988New York Times headline—Sewage in Santa Monica Bay. “Nearly seven miles of beaches are closed for the weekend because a cap on a sewer main 15 miles inland failed, causing a gush of raw sewage into Santa Monica Bay. The overflow, which apparently began Wednesday, caused bacteria levels in the ocean near Marina del Rey to rise to more than twice the safe levels for swimming, a city biologist, John Dorsey, said Friday.”

November 13, 2003New York Times headline—Appreciations, Death of a Sewer Worker. “New York is a mythic place, and one of the most mythic parts of it is the part that nobody ever sees: the sewers. Alligators and giant rats barely begin to sum up the state of our fears about the sewers, when we acknowledge those fears at all. So it’s worth remembering how great a joke it is that the New York city sewers should also contain Ed Norton, played on ”The Honeymooners” by Art Carney, who died on Sunday at 85.”

November 12, 1881: Paterson, NJ Water Supply; 1732: Pitot Tube Invention

Great Falls at Paterson, New Jersey

November 12, 1881: Article in Engineering News—The History and Statistics of American Water-Works. “Paterson, New Jersey, is on the Passaic River, about 16 miles NW of New York City, at the point where the river breaks through the great trap-dyke called the Watchung or Orange Mountain, and falls 80 ft. The water power afforded by this fall with a water-shed of 855 square miles above it, was purchased in 1791 ‘by the Society for the Encouragement of Useful Manufactures,’ and is still controlled by them. A dam across the river a short distance above the falls diverts the water into a canal, from which it is drawn to furnish power to 13 manufacturing establishments.

Water-works were built in 1856 by a private company, taking the supply from the river at the edge of the falls and below the Society’s dam. The surplus flow of the river passing over the dam was used for power and for supply. A turbine wheel was placed in a rift in the face of the falls, which, being erected over the masonry made a tail race. The wheel drove a piston pump which forced the water into a small reservoir on an eminence in the city. As the consumption increased, the amount of water in the river which was not used for mill purposes was insufficient for motive power and supply, notwithstanding the erection by the company of a small stone dam along the face of the falls, making a little pool for storage below the Society’s dam. In 1878, a Worthington high-pressure engine and pump of 8,000,000 gallons’ capacity were erected. The original pumps driven by water force have been replaced by others. There are now two horizontal pumps with a combined capacity of 14,000,000 gallons per day, and one with 2,000,000 capacity. There are three reservoirs, built in excavation and embankment, supplying different levels of the city. Their capacities are, respectively, 8, 8, and 2,000,000 gallons.”

Reference: Croes, J. James. “The History and Statistics of American Water-Works.” Engineering News. 8 (November 12, 1881): 459.

CommentaryThe water supply for Paterson figures prominently in my book, The Chlorine Revolution, which was published in April 2013. Dr. John L. Leal was the Public Health Officer for Paterson from 1890 to 1899 and he was responsible for the safety of this water supply. In 1899 because of increasing contamination of the Passaic River, the water supply withdrawal point was moved 5 miles upstream to Little Falls.

Different Early Versions of the Pitot Tube

November 12, 1732Today in Science History. “In 1732, Henri Pitot read a paper to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris about an instrument he had invented to measure the flow velocity at different depths of water in the River Seine. It had a scale and two open vertical glass tubes on a wood frame. The lower end of one pointed down, the other bent at 90º facing the flow. The belief of the time was that flow velocity at a given depth was proportional to the mass above it, meaning increasing velocity at greater depth. Recording the difference in liquid levels in the two tubes, he showed the opposite was true. Henri Darcy improved the design, with the support of Henri Bazin.”

November 11, 1990: Underground Tanks in New York; 1991: Bottled Water Use in NYC

November 11, 1990New York Times headline–State Is Taking Action On Underground Tanks. “Through one of the strictest programs of its type in the country, the State Department of Environmental Protection has forced the replacement of 12,000 underground gasoline tanks that were leaking or were so old that they were in danger of leaking. Now the state is going after the 350 to 400 old tanks it estimates are still in use, including some of its own.

‘In the last three years, more tanks have been replaced at gasoline stations in Connecticut than in the previous 30,’ said Charles S. Isenberg, executive vice president of the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association.

Unearthing the tanks has shown that more were leaking than the state anticipated — as many as 80 percent, compared with the expected one-third — said G. Scott Deshefy of the environmental agency’s underground-tank program.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s coordinator for Connecticut, Jonathan M. Walker, said the program has become a model for other states. Even in cases where the tanks are in good shape, he said, the inspections are revealing leaks from pipes.”

Scare tactics have been employed by unscrupulous individuals trying to sell bottled water.

November 11, 1991New York Times headline–It’s Wet, Free and Gets No Respect. “In the tea department of Fortnum & Mason, which has guided the palates of England for 300 years, a few rules must never be broken: drink only premium blends; keep air out of the canister, and brew your beverage with the finest water available — New York City’s if possible.

It may surprise the people who live in the city, having turned to bottled water in numbers that mystify even those who are paid to sell it, but New York’s tap water remains as good as it gets. Just ask an expert.

‘Naturally, there are many fine reasons to visit New York,’ said Eugene Hayes, director of the tea department at Fortnum & Mason in London, which among its dozens of specialty offerings carries a dark Ceylon brand called New York Blend. ‘But I would have to say one of the best is the water.’

For generations, New Yorkers rejoiced in the high quality of their drinking water, which runs swiftly and practically untouched to their faucets from the peaks of the Catskills 100 miles away. But that trust has disappeared during the last 10 years, eroded by an epidemic of nervousness that has left many people convinced that water with a label has to be better than water from a pipe.”

Commentary My how times have changed. Bottled water is given failing marks these days because of the cost and impact on the environment. Good old tap water gets high marks.