July 17, 1913: Water Purification at Erie, PA

Erie Water Works

July 17, 1913: Municipal Journal article. Water Purification at Erie. “The year 1912 was the second for the use of hypochlorite by the water works commissioners, of Erie, Pa., and they report that it has proved beyond a doubt the value of this treatment as a water purifier. “The treated water has at all times been free from pathogenic germs and perfectly safe to be used for drinking purposes.” From January 1 to June 9 7 pounds of hypochlorite was applied to the million gallons of water pumped. The amount was increased to 8 pounds from June 9 to October 10, after which it was again reduced to 7 pounds. The number of bacteria per c. c. in the water immediately after treatment averaged as follows for each of the twelve months: 26, 37, 10, 20, 36. 56, 26, 26, 26, 33, 30 and 24. It was found that the number of bacteria generally increased in the mains, and water as drawn from the taps contained an average of 24 bacteria in February and 554 in June, these being the minimum and maximum monthly averages. It is extremely probable that the additional bacteria were perfectly harmless varieties. The cost of operating and maintaining the sterilization plant for the year was approximately 79 cents per million gallons of water pumped. The average daily pumpage for the year was 15,679,132 gallons.

On July 25, 1912. a contract was let by the commissioners for a pumping station, boilers, and 24-million gallon rapid sand filter plant, the contract price of which was $446,380. Part of this contract is completed, and the whole is expected to be finished by next spring.”

Commentary: Erie was one of the many cities who jumped on the chlorination bandwagon and then realized that they also need to filter their water to fully protect their customers.

July 16, 1914: Acquisition of the East Jersey Water Company

Wanaque Reservoir

July 16, 1914: Municipal Journal article. To Decide on Joining Water Supplies. “Trenton, N. J. In a resolution the State Water Supply Commission requested that Newark and the eight other municipalities which have made application for a joint water supply signify within sixty days whether they favor the acquisition of the properties of the East Jersey Water Company or the alternative plan of developing the watershed of the Wanaque River. The commission will hold a final conference with representatives from the nine interested municipalities at the city hall, Paterson, in September. The municipalities included are Newark, Paterson, Elizabeth, Montclair, East Orange, Totowa, Glen Ridge, Nutley and Passaic. The action of the commission was the outcome of a resolution recently adopted by the Board of Works of Newark urging that action be taken to provide an additional water supply for that city without further delay. It is understood that Newark is opposed to the purchase of the East Jersey Water Company plant, but is more than willing that the Wanaque watershed be constructed.

It is further said that the attitude of the State commission is that Newark’s need for more water is imperative and that should the other municipalities fail to come to some agreement by September 11, the State should enter into a contract with Newark and proceed with the Wanaque development. The resolutions adopted by the state commission review at length the negotiations between that body and the nine municipalities, including the authorization of the appraisal of the plant of the East Jersey Water Company.”

Commentary: Ultimately, the Wanaque water supply was developed by Newark and the East Jersey Water Company was rolled up with other private water companies into a regional water agency that became known as the Passaic Valley Water Commission. The Commission is still operational today. The cornerstone of the Commission water supply is the treatment plant built on the original site of George Warren Fuller’s revolutionary mechanical filtration plant at Little Falls, New Jersey.

July 15, 1916: Death of Elie Metchnikoff

July 15, 1916: Death of Elie Metchnikoff, Nobel Prize winner. On May 16, 1845, [also listed as May 15] Elie Metchnikoff was born in a village near Kharkoff, Russia (about 350 miles northeast of Odessa in what is now the country of Ukraine). He studied natural sciences at the University of Kharkoff graduating after only two years. He attended a number of universities in Europe after his degree and finished his doctorate at the University of St. Petersburg. At the incredibly young age of 25, he was appointed Titular Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at the University of Odessa. In 1884, he left Odessa for Italy after the assassination of Czar Alexander II.

Some of his earliest research was in the field of embryology where he connected structures in higher animals to similar structures in more primitive animals. After his move to Italy, he focused more on the study of disease.

Metchnikoff was a volatile personality who survived two suicide attempts. After his first wife died in 1873, he attempted to take his own life with an overdose of morphine. In 1880, Elie Metchnikoff’s second wife contracted a severe case of typhoid fever but survived. In despair, Metchnikoff injected himself with infected material causing relapsing fever. Some have attempted to explain his actions as an experiment to see if the disease could be transmitted by blood. He became very ill but survived.

In his work, Elie Metchnikoff used the microscope extensively. However, his eyesight was poor from birth and he further damaged his eyesight in his early years of study due to over exertion. As a result, he was unable to use a microscope during the period 1867 to 1882. Upon resuming his microscopic studies, Metchnikoff, like other scientists of his day, was interested in viewing microbes and microscopic structures of simple animals under high magnification. However, his interest led him to the development of a description of what was eating the microbes.

In 1882 in a laboratory set up in a drawing room in Messina, Italy, he observed the mobile cells in a transparent starfish larva. He noticed that when he introduced a thorn into the larva, specialized cells in the larva attacked the foreign invader. His later studies showed that specialized cells would attack anything foreign introduced under the dermis of the starfish and other animals. He also observed that white blood cells attacked, killed and consumed bacteria and other foreign invaders of the human body. The specialized cells were labeled phagocytes and the process phagocytosis. In humans, this action was part of the inflammation process caused by white blood cells resulting from a body’s defense against infection. He first published his findings in 1883. Metchnikoff’s discovery and subsequent fame generated a number of conflicts with his colleagues, many of which he initiated.

In 1888, Metchnikoff left Russia and all of the conflicts and problems that plagued him there and went to work for the world’s foremost bacteriologist, Louis Pasteur. He worked at the Pasteur Institute until he died in 1916. His publication of Lectures on the Comparative Pathology of Inflammation in 1891 and its English translation in 1893 gained him world-wide acclaim. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1908 which he shared with Paul Ehrlich for his work in phagocytosis.

Metchnikoff’s discovery has been recognized as the first demonstration of a human body’s protective process against disease. His work provided part of the foundation of the general field of immunology. During the 1880s others were studying the body’s ability to ward off disease. Metchnikoff’s theory while brilliant did not explain how a person retained the ability to be exposed to a disease without any effect subsequent to an initial infection. Behring’s work on the humoralist theory of immunity appeared to be in direct conflict with Metchnikoff’s but subsequent research would show that they were both part of a larger understanding of immunity. Behring was responsible for discovering the diphtheria anti-toxin and promoting its widespread use.

In his well-known book on public health, which was published in 1902, William T. Sedgwick explored the bodies defenses against microorganisms and noted Elie Metchnikoff’s theory of immunity. “…starting with the [now] well-known fact that the white blood-cells are eating –cells (or phagocytes) and readily devour yeast-cells, bacteria-cells, etc., [Metchnikoff] made elaborate and important investigations tending to show that…the battle is really between the white blood-cells and the microbes…” Sedgwick was interested in the evolving field of immunology because of his beliefs in his theory of vital resistance.

Metchnikoff was married twice. His first marriage to Ludmilla Federovitch lasted only four years (1869 to 1873). She died of tuberculosis (or typhoid fever) in Madeira. He married Olga Belokopitova in 1875 and she stayed with him for the rest of his life. She was devoted to him and his research and collaborated with him on his work.

Metchnikoff died on July 15, 1916 at the age of 71.

Decades later, in the early 1980s, two research teams showed definitively that white blood cells (phagocytic leucocytes) kill microbiological invaders of the human body through a process involving the production of hypochlorous acid and chloramines at the cellular level. Both of these chemicals are toxic to invading organisms. Online videos demonstrating the process of phagocytosis are helpful in understanding the mechanisms. A figure and the accompanying text in a recently published book on immunology illustrate the reaction mechanisms that produce hypochlorous acid and chloramines.

John L. Leal would have had an easier time convincing the New Jersey Chancery Court that adding chlorine to drinking water was an excellent tool for killing the typhoid bacillus if he had known that cells in the human body use the same chemical as part of an innate mechanism for defense against pathogens. The information would also have been of great help to engineers and city leaders who later added chlorine and chloramines to drinking water in the face of continuing public chemophobia.

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

July 14, 1954: Death of Dr. S.J. Crumbine

Samuel J. Crumbine

July 14, 1954: New York Times headline-S.J. Crumbine Dies; ‘Frontier Doctor.’ Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine, a physician known as the “frontier doctor,” whose efforts resulted in the outlawing of a common drinking cup in trains, hotels and schools, died Monday, after a brief illness in his home at 35-37 Seventy-eighth street, Jackson Heights, Queens. His age was 91.

Dr. Crumbine is given credit for putting the phrase ‘swat the fly’ into the American vocabulary. The story is told that he hit upon it while attending a baseball game and became confused with the two expressions, ‘swat the ball’ and ‘get the fly.’

From 1923 to 1936 he served as general executive of the American Child Health Association. In 1930, at the direction of President Herbert Hoover, he made a three-month survey of children’s health conditions in Puerto Rico.

As the result of the report Dr. Crumbine made, President Hoover established a six-year plan for the rehabilitation and relief of children in Puerto Rico.

Dr. Crumbine set up his first practice in 1885 in Dodge City, Kan. when that city had many outlaws. He remained there until 1904, when he moved to Topeka and became executive officer of the Kansas Board of Health. He held this post until 1923. In addition, from 1911 to 1919, Dr. Crumbine was dean of the School of Medicine of Kansas University….

In 1907, after seeing persons drinking from a common cup on a railroad train—a cup that sick persons also had used—Dr. Crumbine began a drive to abolish the common cup and the roller towel. Two years later the Kansas Legislature voted to outlaw both. It was said that the ruling out of the common cup led to the invention of the paper drinking cup.”

Commentary: As a direct result of Dr. Crumbine’s efforts, the first national drinking water regulation outlawing the common cup on interstate carriers was passed in 1912.

July 13, 1916: Required to Use Lead Pipes and Polio Connection to Clean Streets

July 13, 1916: Municipal Journal articles.

Lead service line attached to a household water meter

Enforce Use of Lead Service Pipes. “Philadelphia, Pa.-To preserve the water supply and to help keep the streets of the city in proper condition, chief Carlton T. Davis of the bureau of water has announced that all private pipe carrying water from the public mains in the streets to buildings must be of lead from the main to the stop at the curb. The issuance of the order is possible because of the enactment of a recent ordinance by councils. At present, according to Chief Davis, about two thousand service pipes develop leaks under the paved roadways each year. This means that the water bureau loses water, the householder is subject to annoyance and the public is inconvenienced by the digging up of the streets. The bulk of service pipe leaks are caused by the use of improper material which is quickly corroded. There are more than 350,000 service pipes in use. A great many of these are of lead and give no trouble. The ordinance just passed gives the chief of the bureau of water the power to enforce the use of proper pipes.”

Commentary: I was unaware of such an ordinance in Philadelphia. I have found that dozens of other cities had similar ordinances. I have been told that the State of Pennsylvania required lead service lines early in the 20th century. In 1897, Flint, Michigan passed an ordinance requiring the installation of lead service lines. What a calamity for drinking water consumers. We are reaping the whirlwind of such decisions many years later. The graphic above shows the impact of lead exposure (paint and water) on children’s blood lead levels in 20 Pennsylvania cities (taken from a 2014 report).

Blood lead levels of children in Pennsylvania cities showing impact of lead paint and lead service lines

Infantile Paralysis and Clean Streets. “Children of all classes have been leaving New York by the tens of thousands during the past week to escape the dreaded infantile paralysis, which has already attacked considerably more than a thousand of them and carried off about quarter of a thousand to date. These known facts are alarming enough, but probably what gives the exodus almost the nature of a panic is the unknown-the fact that no one understands how the disease is communicated from one to another. The germ is believed to enter through the noze [sic] or mouth or both; but how it is carried is a matter of surmise. Furs and furry animals, flies, the sneezing of human beings and even contact with them are considered to be possible causes.

It is noticed that most of the cases are found amid surroundings that are below the average in cleanliness, and therefore many suspect that dirt is in some way connected with the origin of the disease. As a result, housewives are being arrested and fined by the hundred for violations of city ordinances relative to uncovered garbage cans and other collections of putrescible matters, for they rather than the street cleaning and refuse collection forces are to blame for these conditions, although these forces are being increased in number and stirred to greater activity and thoroughness; the aim being to get and keep the city as clean as possible.

Commentary: While this article is not about water directly, it tells a lot about how society was dealing with the unknown during this period. If anyone doubted that the miasma theory of disease (bad smells from decaying organic material makes people sick) was still alive and well in 1916, all they have to do is read this article. While passing mention is given to the germ causing the disease, the author falls back onto filth and dirt being the ultimate breeding place for such germs—just as in the 19th century. Parents must have been terrified that such an epidemic of unknown cause was taking away their children.

July 12, 1868: Birth of Frank S. Wesbrook

July 12, 1868: Birth of Frank S. Wesbrook. In 1909, Frank F. Wesbrook was Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology at the University of Minnesota and Director of the State Board of Health Laboratories of Minnesota. He obtained a bachelors degree at the University of Manitoba in 1887 and several advanced degrees from the same institution in 1890 including that of doctor of medicine. In the 1890s, he spent several years at Cambridge University in England and at an academic institution in Marburg, Germany researching bacteriology topics especially those related to cholera. Along with George W. Fuller, he was an early member of the APHA committee developing standardized bacteriological methods in the early 1900s. He was recruited for the second trial of the Jersey City lawsuit by John L. Leal in Winnipeg in August 1908 at the APHA meeting. Of particular note, Dr. Wesbrook (often misspelled in various documents as Westbrook) was President of the APHA in 1905, the year preceding the presidency of Franklin C. Robinson. In years past, he had conducted studies on the quality of water supplies for many cities in Minnesota and Canada.

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

Born in Oakland, Ontario, Wesbrook received a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of Manitoba in 1887 and 1888. He received his M.D. and C.M. degrees from the University of Manitoba and McGill College. From 1891 to 1893, he was a Professor of Pathology at the University of Manitoba. From 1893 to 1895, he studied pathology at Cambridge University.

In 1895, he was appointed director of the Department of Pathology, Bacteriology and Hygiene at the University of Minnesota. His chief work was in Bacteriology relating to public health. He helped in diphtheria research and was in favor of chlorine sterilization of water. He was also a Director of the Minnesota Board of Health Laboratories and was a member of the Minnesota State Board of Health.

In 1906, he was appointed Dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School. In 1913, he was appointed the first president of the University of British Columbia. He served until his death in 1918.”

July 11, 1908: Filtered Water for Springfield, MA

July 11, 1908: Engineering Record article. The Little River Water Supply for Springfield, Mass. “The present water supply of Springfield, Mass., is derived from the Ludlow Reservoir, and has for many years been the source of much trouble on account of the growth of anabaena during warm weather. Repeated investigations and reports had been made on the causes of the growth and the best means of rendering the water, as delivered in the city, free from objection, with the result that a decision was reached to abandon the Ludlow supply altogether and develop the Little River watershed, an entirely new source. While the construction of the new work is under way, the Ludlow Reservoir water is being rendered usable during the anabaena season by a temporary intermittent filter plant.

The supply from the Little River is as good as other waters used in a raw state by Massachusetts cities, but in this case, in recognition of the advancing requirements of quality, it was decided to filter the water, and, accordingly, sand filters of a nominal capacity of 15,000,000 gal. per day will be built to filter the entire supply. The watershed will be developed in part only at the present time, as the run-off is far above the immediate needs of the city. The Little River is a branch of the Westfield River, and the catchment area is located almost directly west of Springfield, the intake dam being about 12~ miles from the city. From this dam the water will flow through a tunnel, not quite a mile long, cut through the rock under Cobble Mountain. The sedimentation basin and the filtration plant will be located near the end of the tunnel and the pure water will flow through a steel pipe line a distance of 74 miles to a covered reservoir on Provin Mountain.

Commentary: Stubborn opinions by sanitary experts in Massachusetts stalled the efforts for many years to install filtration on water supplies in the state. The prevailing view was that water supplies should only be taken from sources fully protected against contamination and that it was wrong to treat marginal or substandard water supplies. With the “recognition of the advancing requirements of quality” at least this Massachusetts city was able to insure the delivery of safe and palatable drinking water. This wrong-headed water supply viewpoint was promoted by Thomas Drown, William T. Sedgwick, George C. Whipple and other professors and graduates of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1909, some of these same individuals testified against the first use of chlorine on the Jersey City water Supply at Boonton Reservoir.