Tag Archives: chlorine

May 23, 1904: Boonton Water Supply Delivered to Jersey City

Boonton Dam on the Rockaway River

May 23, 1904: First delivery of water from the Boonton supply to Jersey City, New Jersey. At the end of the 19th century, the water supply for Jersey City, New Jersey was contaminated with sewage and the death toll from typhoid fever was high. In 1899, the city contracted with a private company for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline. The project was completed on May 23, 1904; however, no treatment was provided to the water supply, because the contract did not require it. The city, claiming that the contract provisions were not fulfilled, filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Jersey City officials complained that the water served to the city was not “pure and wholesome.”

Two trials resulted from the lawsuit. In the second trial, Dr. John L. Leal and several other defendant expert witnesses were able to convince the Special Master, William J. Magie, that the use of chlorine to disinfect the water supply was safe, effective and reliable. After the favorable verdict, the use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection exploded across the U.S. and typhoid fever was eradicated.

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

Boonton Reservoir, water supply for Jersey City on the Rockaway River

May 5, 1858: Birth of John L. Leal

May 5, 1858: 159th anniversary of the birth of John L. Leal, physician and water treatment expert who pioneered chlorine disinfection in the U.S. There are many unsung heroes who contributed significantly to public health at the turn of the 20th century. John L. Leal is one of them and after reading this, I think you will agree that he did more than most to save people’s lives.

John L. Leal was born in the small town of Andes, New York on May 5, 1858. His father, John Rose Leal was a physician who joined the 144th Regiment, New York Volunteers and fought in the Civil War. During the siege of Charleston, South Carolina, John Rose Leal contracted what was most likely a case of amoebic dysentery from contaminated drinking water. He suffered from the disease for more than 17 years before he finally died of it in 1882.

John L. Leal attended Princeton College and graduated in 1880. He went on to Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons finishing his medical education in 1883. He opened a medical practice in Paterson, New Jersey and went to work for the Paterson Board of Health where he remained until 1899. He left City employment and became the sanitary adviser to private water companies including the East Jersey Water Company and the Jersey City Water Supply Company. In 1888, he married Amy L. Arrowsmith and they had one son, Graham, later that year. So far, his life was well spent but not exemplary.

In the field of water supply, there were big moves afoot in the state of New Jersey at the turn of the 20th century. Jersey City had suffered with a contaminated water supply for decades causing tens of thousands of deaths from typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. In 1899, the City contracted with Jersey City Water Supply Company to build a dam on the Rockaway River and provide a new water supply. The dam created Boonton Reservoir, which had a storage capacity of over seven billion gallons. Leal’s job with the company was to remove sources of contamination in the Rockaway River watershed above the reservoir. Water from the project was served to the City beginning on May 23, 1904.

When it came time for Jersey City to pay the company for the new water supply, they balked. The price tag was steep—over $175 million in current dollars. Using newly developed bacteriological methods, consultants for the City claimed that the water was not “pure and wholesome,” and they filed suit against the company to get a reduced purchase price. The trial that resulted pitted the water quality experts of the day against one another in a battle of expert witnesses. The opinion of the judge was published on May 1, 1909. In that opinion, Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens said that Boonton Reservoir did a good job on average of reducing the bacteria concentrations in the water provided. However, he noted that two to three times per year, especially after intense rainstorms, the reservoir short-circuited and relatively high bacteria levels resulted.

Rather than build expensive sewers that would deal with only part of the bacteria contamination problem (an early recognition of non-point source pollution) Leal and the company attorney argued to install “other plans or devices” that would do a better job. The judge agreed and gave them a little over three months to prove their idea. Leal had decided in May 1909 that it was time to add a chemical disinfectant to drinking water. He was all too familiar with the suffering and death caused by typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. He knew of some successful instances of using forms of chlorine in Europe, but nothing had been attempted in the U.S. on a large-scale basis or over any continuous time period.

But, there was a problem. The public feared chemicals in their food, medicines and water. Adulteration of food and medicines was rampant during this period, which was faithfully catalogued in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

“How could they know that the pale-blue milk that they bought around the corner was watered, and doctored with formaldehyde besides?. . .How could they find out that their tea and coffee, their sugar and flour, had been doctored; that their canned peas had been colored with copper salts, and their fruit jams with aniline dyes?”(1)

At any conference of water professionals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, strong language was used to oppose chemical disinfection. Even George W. Fuller early in his career was not supportive of chemical disinfectants.

1893, George Warren Fuller: “While chemicals have been of much aid in surgery by bringing about antisepsis and asepsis, it is very improbable that people would allow their drinking water to be drugged with chemicals, even with the view of removing dangerous bacteria–indeed, such a method might prove very dangerous in many cases.”(2)

1894, Thomas M. Drown: “…the idea itself of chemical disinfection is repellent.”(3)

1904, George C. Whipple: “Thus in St. Louis the popular prejudice against the use of alum in clarifying the water is said to be so intense that a local engineer has said ‘it is very doubtful if alum could be used, no matter how excellent the results which might be obtained.’. . .‘We don’t want to drink puckered water.’”(4)

1906, George C. Whipple: “The idea of adding poisonous chemicals [like chlorine] to water for the purpose of improving its quality for drinking purposes has generally been considered as illogical and unsafe. . .”(5)

1906, William P. Mason: “I very much question if the public at large would be willing to disinfect water to-day. We are scarcely driven that far yet.”(6)

1906, P.A. Maignen: “Among the so-called ‘disinfectants’ tried may be cited copper, chlorine and oxalic acid. . .Such poisonous materials should not be permitted to be used on water intended for public supplies.”(7)

Nonetheless, Leal was convinced that adding a disinfectant to the Jersey City water supply was the best course. He had done laboratory studies that convinced him that a fraction of a ppm of chlorine would kill disease-causing bacteria. In the face of the certain disapproval of his peers and possible condemnation by the public, he moved forward. Where he found the courage to follow the path of chemical disinfection when all of the experts railed against it is not known for certain. His father’s gruesome illness and death and the unnecessary deaths he personally observed as Health Officer for Paterson must have contributed to his decision.

However, no chlorine feed system treating 40 million gallons per day had ever been designed or built and if the feed system failed to operate reliably, all of the courage of his convictions would not have amounted to much. He needed the best engineer in the country to do the work. He needed George Warren Fuller. In 1908, Fuller was famous for his work in filtration. He had designed an aluminum sulfate feed system treating 30 million gallons per day for the Little Falls treatment plant. On July 19, 1908, Leal left his attorney’s office in Jersey City and took the ferry to Manhattan. In Fuller’s office at 170 Broadway, he hired the famous engineer (undoubtedly on the basis of a handshake) and told him that the bad news was that he needed the work done in a little over three months.

Ninety-nine days later, the chlorine feed system was built and operational. Calcium hypochlorite (known then as chloride of lime or bleaching powder) was made into a concentrated solution, diluted with water and fed through a calibrated orifice to the water before it traveled by gravity to Jersey City. The feed system worked flawlessly from day one and continued to operate successfully for all of the following days. Liquid chlorine eventually replaced chloride of lime, but September 26, 2012, marks the 104th anniversary of the first continuous use of chlorine on a water supply—the longest period of water disinfection anywhere in the world.

In a second trial, the court vindicated Leal’s decision. Afterwards, the use of chlorine spread like wildfire throughout the U.S. Typhoid fever death rates plummeted and children under one year of age stopped dying by the hundreds of thousands.

John L. Leal was not a physically imposing figure. Photographs of him show a man of average height and build with a kind face. Nothing in his appearance hinted at the steel spine and dogged courage that he possessed. One definition of the word hero reads: “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” These days, many people feel that the word hero has been overused in this country. I think that promoting a water treatment process that saves millions of lives qualifies Leal to be known as a Hero of Public Health.

Why doesn’t everyone know about Leal? Another man, George A. Johnson was wrongly given the credit for the idea of chlorinating the water supply for Jersey City. Johnson was able to get away with his charade, in part, because John L. Leal died on March 13, 1914, and Johnson lived for another 20 years.

Still not convinced? Well, you will have to wait for the full story that has been published in my book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives which will be available for shipment on March 20, 2013.(8)

References

(1) Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle: With an Afterword by Emory Elliott. New York:Signet Classic, 1990, original copyright 1905, originally published in 1904.

(2) Fuller, George W. “Sand Filtration of Water, with Special Reference to Results Obtained, at Lawrence, Massachusetts.” In American Public Health Association, Public Health Papers and Reports. Vol. 20, Columbus, OH:APHA, 64-71. 1895.

(3) Drown, Thomas M. “The Electrical Purification of Water.” Journal NEWWA. 8 (1894): 183-7.

(4) Whipple, George C. Discussion of “Purification of Water for Domestic Use.” Transactions ASCE. 54:Part D (1905): 192-206.

(5) Whipple, George C. “Disinfection as a Means of Water Purification.” Proceedings AWWA. (1906): 266-80.

(6) Mason, William P. “Discussion.” Proceedings AWWA. (1906): 282-3.

(7) Maignen, P.A. “Discussion.” Proceedings AWWA. (1906): 285-6.

(8) McGuire, Michael J. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, Colorado:American Water Works Association. 2013.

Commentary: On May 5, 2013, at Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Paterson, New Jersey, a grave monument was dedicated to Dr. Leal. For 98 years, his grave was unmarked. The granite obelisk has the names of John L. Leal and five members of his immediate family carved on the sides. Under John L. Leal’s name is the descriptor: Hero of Public Health.

Grave Monument for Dr. Leal

April 22, 1970: First Earth Day; 2017: March for Science; 1915: First Use of Chlorine as a Terror Weapon

April 22, 1970: The first nationwide Earth Day celebration is organized by Sen. Gaylord Nelson and Dennis Hayes. It creates a national political presence for environmental concerns. Millions of Americans demonstrate for air and water cleanup and preservation of nature.

April 22, 2017: March for Science. “The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.

The March for Science is a celebration of science. It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.

Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?

There is no Planet B. Join the #MarchForScience.”

Commentary: I am proud to support the March for Science. We have no choice but to speak out to protect our freedoms and what we believe in. I believe in truth and the search for it.

April 22, 1915: The use of poison gas in World War I escalates when chlorine gas is released as a chemical weapon in the Second Battle of Ypres. Forevermore, chlorine is not considered a viable alternative disinfectant in Europe.

April 18, 1912: Hypochlorite Treatment at Trenton

Dissolving Tanks for Calcium Hypochlorite Feed System

April 18, 1912: Municipal Journal article. Water Purification at Trenton. By Howard C. Hottel. “As a result of investigations made by the New Jersey State Board of Health, the city of Trenton, on November 9, 1911, started to purify its drinking water supply, raw Delaware River water, by the use of calcium hypochlorite.

Previous analysis of the water had shown that there was more or less constant pollution, liable to increase under certain weather conditions, and at the time that the plant was ready to start operation there was a typhoid epidemic in progress at Trenton.

The chemical purchased when tested was found to have 35 per cent available chlorine and treatment was begun with a strength of about 0.4 to the million of available chlorine. This was found to be insufficient and on November 28 the dose was raised to 0.8 and has since then varied from 0.8 to 1.0 part per million, with a daily pumpage of about 20,000,000 gallons. In commercial terms this means that from 20 to 25 pounds of calcium hypochlorite are being added to every million gallons of water that is being pumped.

After the chemical had been increased the intestinal bacteria began to disappear, as shown by tests made by the State Board of Health. Inasmuch as the pipe area is rather large it took some time before the tap water gave negative tests for B. coli.

There has been considerable complaint from the taxpayers, who claim that the chemical gives a slight taste to the water. In fact, some would seem to prefer taking chances with typhoid rather than purification by treatment with calcium hypochlorite. The treatment, however, will probably continue until a permanent purification plant is established. Plans are already being drawn for the erection of a mechanical filtration plant, with the expectation of having the same completed within a year.

Shortly after the hypochlorite treatment was begun the typhoid dropped abruptly and a few statistics may prove interesting. During the month of November, 1911, there were 82 cases of typhoid reported, and during December 49. For the first three months of 1912 there has been a total of only 15 cases; in 1911 for the same three months there were 52; in 1910, 47.”

Reference: Hottel, Howard C. 1912. “Water Purification at Trenton.” Municipal Journal

Solution Tanks for Calcium Hypochlorite Feed System

March 31, 1934: Death of George A. Johnson

March 31, 1934: Death of George A. Johnson. George A. Johnson was born in Auburn, Maine on May 26, 1874. From his involvement in the Louisville study with Fuller to his death in 1934, Johnson’s career was boosted by his association with George W. Fuller.

Johnson never attended college and had no formal training as an engineer, chemist or bacteriologist. Johnson identified himself during his testimony in the second Jersey City trial as a “sanitary engineer,” which was clearly an overstatement of his accomplishments up to that point. By the time he became involved in the Boonton chloride of lime plant, he said that he had 14 years of experience as a sanitary engineer—since September 1895. The first three years of this period were devoted to working with George W. Fuller on the filtration studies in Louisville and Cincinnati. From reports of those studies, it was clear that Johnson was a laboratory technician and had no responsibilities or duties as a sanitary engineer.

From 1899 on, Johnson became involved in some of the most interesting studies and implementation projects for filtration and sewage treatment in the U.S. under the guidance and supervision of George W. Fuller and Rudolph Hering. Project locations included York, PA, Norfolk, VA, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, PA, and St. Louis MO. “At many of the places mentioned my work embodied not only straight laboratory work of a bacterial and chemical nature, but also the practical operation of filtration works.” Clearly, from his own words, Johnson was a plant operator and lab technician who aspired to become a sanitary engineer someday through experience alone.

Johnson had a supporting role in the great Chicago Drainage Canal case when he made investigations of the purported contamination caused by the discharge of Chicago’s rerouted sewage into the Mississippi 43 miles above the St. Louis water intake. He worked at the Little Falls treatment plant, helped conduct a sanitary survey of the Hudson River for New York City (with George C. Whipple) and investigated sewage treatment methods in Cleveland, OH in addition to water treatment methods for their water supply.

Johnson took some time off in 1905-6 and traveled around the world. He visited water works in many countries and published a paper on his adventures when he returned. The paper is a curious recitation of unremarkable water works. It is hard to understand what a U.S. reader might learn from his description of the Calcutta waterworks. Calcutta is in the Ganges Valley which was the source for all of the horrifying cholera epidemics in the 19th century which killed millions of people around the world.

When he returned to the U.S., he rejoined Hering and Fuller as Principal Assistant Engineer and he continued his work on water treatment and sewage disposal plants. During this period he operated the Boonton chloride of lime plant for three months in late 1908.

He left the firm of Hering and Fuller in 1910 and formed the consulting firm Johnson and Fuller with William Barnard Fuller. He continued as a consultant for the rest of his career except for two years (1918-20) when he joined the U.S. Army where he managed fixed properties and utilities in the U.S. for the War Department.

He was a member of a number of professional societies including the APHA and the AWWA. He received the Dexter Brackett Medal from the New England Water Works Association. He published many articles in professional journals during his career.

In the obituary written by his mentor, George W. Fuller, his qualities were generously described: “Colonel Johnson was a devoted son and husband, generous to a fault. He was a man of marked and likeable personality, keen in his appreciation of human relations, and aggressive in advancing his views both on technical and non-technical subjects.” (emphasis added)

He was a member of the Explorers Club and the Circumnavigators Club, where he edited its monthly publication, The Log, for many years. He died of a heart attack while working at his desk on March 31, 1934. George W. Fuller would die just two and one-half months later.

References:

Between the Mayor and Aldermen of Jersey City, Complainant, and Patrick H. Flynn and Jersey City Water Supply Company, Defendants: On Bill, etc. (In Chancery of New Jersey) 12 vols. n.p.:privately printed. 1908-10, (February 8, 1909, p. 5126).

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

Commentary: Johnson took inappropriate credit for the first use of chlorine in a drinking water supply. He claimed to first use chlorine in the Bubbly Creek treatment plant which was used to treat water for cows and pigs. He then wrote about the chlorination of the water supply for Jersey City and either omitted the leadership of Dr. John L. Leal from his writings or emphasized improperly his own contributions. Dozens of secondary and tertiary sources have perpetuated the myth that Johnson started. Chapter 13 of The Chlorine Revolution examines this issue in full detail.

March 24, 1909: Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie, NY

March 24, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie. “Sedimentation is ineffective because there is nothing to be precipitated, coagulation is ineffective because there is nothing for the coagulant to attack, the efficiency of the filters is not as good at this season of the year, so disinfection is being tried. So far the results have been marvelous.

By the simple adding of the disinfectant (chloride of lime) to the raw water, as if by magic the purification is complete. The hypochlorite is added in the pump and the water then passes through the sedimentation basin. The last bacteriological result shows a reduction from 17,500 to 100. The filters continue to assist in the purification, but there is no necessity for careful regulation.

At present we are adding the disinfectant at the rate of one-half part of free chlorine per million, which figures about 36 pounds of hypochlorite per day for our consumption. There is absolutely no taste or trace of the chlorine in the filtered water, the process is simple, safe and complete. The expense at our present rate is 75 cents per day, where it has been as high as $10 for alum.

The suggestion that this disinfectant method be followed came to us from Mr. George C. Whipple, of New York City. The accompanying cut shows the general layout of the purification plant. The water takes the following procedure: It is pumped from the river into the inlet end of the sedimentation basin, a total lift of about 50 feet; the water then passes through the basin and out at the outlet end, thence by pipe line into the intermediate basin from which it is distributed to each one of the filters. From the filters the water passes to the clear water well and thence back to the station, where another set of pumps sends it to the College Hill distributing reservoir.

The disinfectant is being added from the coagulant basin, which is situated between the laboratory and station, inasmuch as the coagulant use has ceased until more turbid water arrives. Then the alum will be used in small quantities and the disinfectant added at the inlet end of the sedimentation basin.”

Reference: Harding, Robert J. 1909. “Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie.” Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:12(March 24, 1909): 484.

Commentary: Chlorination began on March 17, 1909, as noted in a post on this blog. Poughkeepsie was the third documented use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection in the U.S. as noted in the book The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.

March 21, 1912: Philadelphia Filters Overtaxed

Plan of Belmont Filter Plant 1903; phillyh2o.org

March 21, 1912: Municipal Journal article. Unusual Conditions Overtax Filtration Plant. “Philadelphia, Pa.-Conditions of the water supply continue such that Director Neff persists in his warning that householders should continue to boil water for at least two weeks. This applies particularly to West Philadelphia, where the raw supply from the Schuylkill river went to the Belmont [slow sand] filter beds in such condition that the filters were incapable of extracting the bacteria as completely as would be possible under conditions that are normal. The recent heavy rains which scoured the hills and streams of the accumulation of all substances during the winter and sent it down the Schuylkill, produced such a condition as the city has not had to contend with since scientific treatment of the water supply was undertaken. While the water is clearing the danger will not have entirely passed for two weeks. The question of the use of chemicals in the West Philadelphia supply has been taken up. For two years chloride of lime has been utilized in the treatment of the supply filtered by the Torresdale plant, as a safeguard in destroying the bacteria. The advisability of providing some additional safeguard under such unusual emergencies as the present, when the water supplies of many cities are in practically the same condition as that of this city is now engaging the attention of Directors Neff, of Health and Charities, Cooke, of Public Works, and Chief Dunlap, of the Water Bureau.”

References: “Unusual Conditions Overtax Filtration Plant.” 1912. Municipal Journal article 32:12(March 21, 1912): 452.

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

Commentary: Boil water order for two weeks? Even after more than three years since the first introduction of chlorine into the Jersey City water supply, many cities were still reluctant to adopt the new technology wholesale. It was incidents such as the one described in the article, which led to better designs of filter plants (mechanical filtration) and universal application of chlorination.

Manual Cleaning of Belmont Slow Sand Filter Beds, 1905; phillyh2o.org