Tag Archives: bacteriology

November 7, 1900: Fishy Oysters; 1985: College Bans Water

November 7, 1900New York Times headline—Fishy Oysters. London—“The Medical Officer of Health for Folkestone has reported that, having reason to suspect that a case of illness there arose from the consumption of oysters, he sent a sample for bacteriological examination to the Clinical Research Association. Although the analysis did not reveal bacillus typhi, it proved that in the shells, and also in the oysters themselves, there was bacillus coli communis, a bacillus found in sewage.”

November 7, 1985New York Times headline–College Bans Suspect Water.  Dartmouth, Mass.—“Southeastern Massachusetts University has ordered a ban on drinking the water on campus, suspecting that the water caused students and staff members to become ill, officials said. More than 300 people have suffered stomach cramps and vomiting in the last week. The ban took effect Monday night.”

CommentaryIn 1900, public health officials were getting comfortable using the new science of bacteriology. The unique genius of Dr. Robert Koch and his colleagues created new tools to assess the sanitary quality of food (like oysters) and water. These tools were being used on both sides of the Atlantic. Bacillus coli communis (also called B. coli) was the early name for what we now call total coliforms. The tests were quite different then as compared to now. Gas production in dextrose broth was considered a presumptive positive result (as opposed to using lactose broth). However, the story on this same date in 1985 shows that we have a ways to go. Failures in multi-barrier protection can result in disease and death even in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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September 19, 1886: Houston Water Supply Problems

September 19, 1886:  Loss of life and property in Houston, Texas  demonstrated the inadequacies of the Water Works operations and underscored its failure to supply uncontaminated, potable water and adequate water pressure to Houstonians. Many of the town’s citizens were deeply concerned.

The Houston Post newspaper rallied to the company’s defense in the following article, printed on September 19, 1886:

“A great many people think that the water furnished by the water works is unfit for drinking or culinary purposes, but in that they are greatly mistaken. The supply is obtained from a portion of the bayou which is pregnant with springs, and the water is free from all impurities and is pure and wholesome to drink. Of course, after heavy rains the banks of the bayou wash into the stream and the water is then discolored slightly. But even then it is good and much better at all seasons than Mississippi river water, especially at St. Louis, where the river is muddy and dirty.”

Commentary: Full acceptance of the germ theory of disease and development of bacteriological monitoring methods would be necessary before the public or the newspapers really understood the quality of their water supplies.

Update: With the devastation of the Houston by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, it is astonishing that water service in Houston was never lost, nor was a boil water order ever issued. Houston OBVIOUSLY made a lot of improvements in their water supply over 124 years.

August 8, 1908: Street Cleaning Bacteriology

August 8, 1908: Engineering Record article. 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 Record of 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.

#TDIWH—February 4, 1909: Second Use of Chlorine in the U.S.; 1877: Birth of C.E.A. Winslow

Little Falls Water Treatment Plant

Little Falls Water Treatment Plant

February 4, 1909: Dr. John L. Leal testified at the second Jersey City trial about the first use of chlorine for continuous disinfection of a U.S. water supply at Boonton Reservoir, which was the water supply for Jersey City, New Jersey. The transcript from February 5, 1909, revealed that Leal had also installed a chloride of lime feed system at the filtration plant at Little Falls, New Jersey. He stated that he had experimented with chloride of lime addition some months before and that he was now using it daily. Thus, the trial transcript provides the first written evidence of the second continuous use of chlorine to disinfect a drinking water supply. This was also the first time chlorine was used in conjunction with mechanical filtration.

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

0108 CEA WinslowFebruary 4, 1877: Charles-Edward A. Winslow is born. “Charles-Edward Amory Winslow (4 February 1877 – 8 January 1957) was an American bacteriologist and public health expert who was, according to the Encyclopedia of Public Health, “a seminal figure in public health, not only in his own country, the United States, but in the wider Western world.”

Winslow was born in Boston, Massachusetts and attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), obtaining a B.S. in 1898 and an M.S. in 1910.

He began his career as a bacteriologist. He met Anne Fuller Rogers when they were students in William T. Sedgwick’s laboratory at M.I.T., and married her in 1907. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while heading the sewage experiment station from 1908 to 1910, then taught at the College of the City of New York from 1910 to 1914.

He was the youngest charter member of the Society of American Bacteriologists when that organization was founded in 1899. With Samuel Cate Prescott he published the first American textbook on the elements of water bacteriology.

In 1915 he founded the Yale Department of Public Health within the Yale Medical School, and he was professor and chairman of the Department until he retired in 1945. (The Department became the Yale School of Public Health after accreditation was introduced in 1947.) During a time dominated by discoveries in bacteriology, he emphasized a broader perspective on causation, adopting a more holistic perspective. The department under his direction was a catalyst for health reform in Connecticut. He was the first director of Yale’s J.B. Pierce Laboratory, serving from 1932 to 1957. Winslow was also instrumental in founding the Yale School of Nursing.

He was the first Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Bacteriology, serving in that position from 1916 to 1944. He was also editor of the American Journal of Public Health from 1944 to 1954. He was curator of public health at the American Museum of Natural History from 1910 to 1922. In 1926 he became president of the American Public Health Association, and in the 1950s was a consultant to the World Health Organization.”

January 8, 1817: Tsunami on the Delaware Estuary; 1957: Death of C.E.A. Winslow

A model predicted the tsunami wave height from a Jan. 8, 1817, earthquake offshore South Carolina. The earthquake's magnitude was estimated at 7.4 from newspaper accounts.

A model predicted the tsunami wave height from a Jan. 8, 1817, earthquake offshore South Carolina. The earthquake’s magnitude was estimated at 7.4 from newspaper accounts.

January 8, 1817: Tsunami on the Delaware Estuary. New geological modeling has suggested that a magnitude 7.4 earthquake occurred off of South Carolina in 1817. The resulting tsunami tossed boats around on the Delaware Estuary south of Philadelphia according to newspaper reports at the time.

“The size and location, or epicenter, of the 1817 earthquake has never been pinned down so closely before. U.S. Geological Survey research geophysicist Susan Hough and her colleagues zeroed in on the source from newly uncovered archival records, looking at where the shaking was strongest. But they weren’t sure about the tsunami link: The 11 a.m. arrival time seemed too late for a 4:30 a.m. earthquake. So they created a computer model of the tsunami, testing different locations and magnitudes. The best fit to force a

foot-high (30 centimeters) wave up the mouth of Delaware Bay by about 11 a.m. was a magnitude-7.4 earthquake offshore of South Carolina.

‘That was the eureka moment,’ Hough told Live Science’s Our Amazing Planet. ‘Darned if that wave doesn’t hit the Delaware River and slow way down.’

The foot-high tsunami wave started about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) south of Delaware Bay and 400 to 500 miles (650 to 800 km) offshore of South Carolina, according to the study, published in the September/October issue of the journal Seismological Research Letters….

No obvious culprit jumps out of the seafloor topography, such as a linear feature that could be an earthquake-causing fault, Hough said. But according to ship records, the sea above the temblor’s likely epicenter trembled for several years. Earthquakes can be felt at sea, and ship captains reported shaking before and after Jan. 8, 1817, that could have been foreshocks and aftershocks, the researchers said. Ships in the area also rocked or shook from earthquakes in 1858, 1877 and 1879.”

0108 CEA WinslowJanuary 8, 1957: Death of Charles-Edward A. Winslow. “Charles-Edward Amory Winslow (4 February 1877 – 8 January 1957) was an American bacteriologist and public health expert who was, according to the Encyclopedia of Public Health, “a seminal figure in public health, not only in his own country, the United States, but in the wider Western world.”

Winslow was born in Boston, Massachusetts and attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), obtaining a B.S. in 1898 and an M.S. in 1910.

He began his career as a bacteriologist. He met Anne Fuller Rogers when they were students in William T. Sedgwick’s laboratory at M.I.T., and married her in 1907. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while heading the sewage experiment station from 1908 to 1910, then taught at the College of the City of New York from 1910 to 1914.

He was the youngest charter member of the Society of American Bacteriologists when that organization was founded in 1899. With Samuel Cate Prescott he published the first American textbook on the elements of water bacteriology.

In 1915 he founded the Yale Department of Public Health within the Yale Medical School, and he was professor and chairman of the Department until he retired in 1945. (The Department became the Yale School of Public Health after accreditation was introduced in 1947.) During a time dominated by discoveries in bacteriology, he emphasized a broader perspective on causation, adopting a more holistic perspective. The department under his direction was a catalyst for health reform in Connecticut. He was the first director of Yale’s J.B. Pierce Laboratory, serving from 1932 to 1957. Winslow was also instrumental in founding the Yale School of Nursing.

He was the first Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Bacteriology, serving in that position from 1916 to 1944. He was also editor of the American Journal of Public Health from 1944 to 1954. He was curator of public health at the American Museum of Natural History from 1910 to 1922. In 1926 he became president of the American Public Health Association, and in the 1950s was a consultant to the World Health Organization.”

December 27, 1822: Birth of Louis Pasteur

1227 Louis PasteurDecember 27, 1822: Birth of Louis Pasteur. “Pasteur was a French chemist and self-taught microbiologist who was one of the most important founders of medical microbiology. He is remembered for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and preventions of diseases. His discoveries reduced mortality from puerperal (or childbed) fever, and he created the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. His experiments and writings were responsible for the definition of the germ theory of disease. He was best known to the general public for inventing a method to stop milk and wine from causing sickness, a process that came to be called pasteurization. He is regarded as one of the three main founders of microbiology, together with Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch.”

November 7, 1900: Fishy Oysters; 1985: College Bans Water

1107 OystersNovember 7, 1900New York Times headline—Fishy Oysters. London—“The Medical Officer of Health for Folkestone has reported that, having reason to suspect that a case of illness there arose from the consumption of oysters, he sent a sample for bacteriological examination to the Clinical Research Association. Although the analysis did not reveal bacillus typhi, it proved that in the shells, and also in the oysters themselves, there was bacillus coli communis, a bacillus found in sewage.”

1107 SW Mass UnivNovember 7, 1985New York Times headline–College Bans Suspect Water.  Dartmouth, Mass.—“Southeastern Massachusetts University has ordered a ban on drinking the water on campus, suspecting that the water caused students and staff members to become ill, officials said. More than 300 people have suffered stomach cramps and vomiting in the last week. The ban took effect Monday night.”

CommentaryIn 1900, public health officials were getting comfortable using the new science of bacteriology. The unique genius of Dr. Robert Koch and his colleagues created new tools to assess the sanitary quality of food (like oysters) and water. These tools were being used on both sides of the Atlantic. Bacillus coli communis (also called B. coli) was the early name for what we now call total coliforms. The tests were quite different then as compared to now. Gas production in dextrose broth was considered a presumptive positive result (as opposed to using lactose broth). However, the story on this same date in 1985 shows that we have a ways to go. Failures in multi-barrier protection can result in disease and death even in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.