Tag Archives: chlorine

August 20, 1831: Birth of Eduard Suess; 1914: Disinfection of Sewage Plant Effluents

Edward Suess

August 20, 1831: Birth of Eduard Suess, Austrian geologist.
He developed the plan for a 69-mile (112-kilometre) aqueduct (completed 1873) that brought fresh water from the Alps to Vienna. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/571632/Eduard-Suess

At the age of nineteen he published a short sketch of the geology of Carlsbad and its mineral waters… n 1862 he published an essay on the soils and water-supply of Vienna http://www.nndb.com/people/266/000097972/

In 1864, the Vienna City Council voted the construction of the First Vienna Spring Water Main, which to this day covers approximately 40 percent of Vienna’s water requirements. It was planned by the geologist and City Council member Eduard Suess and implemented under Mayor Cajetan Felder. The main was to safeguard adequate drinking water supply even for the suburbs and to improve its quality, thereby excluding any further health hazards for the population.

After a construction period of only three years, the First Vienna Spring Water Main was inaugurated on 24 October 1873 by Emperor Francis Joseph I concurrently with the Hochstrahlbrunnen Fountain in Schwarzenbergplatz. The pipeline is 120 kilometres long, cost 16 million Gulden to build and soon became a symbol of Vienna’s liberation from water shortages and dangers of epidemics. In residential buildings, the formerly used domestic wells were gradually replaced by communal water taps. In 1888, over 90 percent of residential buildings situated within Vienna’s (then) municipal territory were already connected to the new main.

http://www.wien.gv.at/english/environment/watersupply/supply/history/first-pipeline.html

August 20, 1914:  Municipal Journal article. Operation of Sewage Disposal Plants—Disinfection. “Having determined upon the size of the dose, the next thing is to apply it to the sewage or effluent at a uniform rate. The best practice is to dissolve the required number of pounds in a given amount of water and feed the solution at a definite rate proportional to the flow of liquid to be disinfected. This is not so simple as one might at first suspect. Several things have to be looked out for. The commercial dry powder varies in strength and loses strength considerably when exposed to the air. There must be sufficient water to dissolve out the hypochlorite, and care must be used in mixing the solution. The solution is corrosive and acts on tanks, piping, valves, etc., and it also forms incrustations which cause frequent stoppages in pipes, valves and feeding devices.

Unless it is feasible to analyze each lot of bleach, it should be bought with the available chlorine specified by the dealer. As the material deteriorates upon opening, the contents of a whole container should be mixed at once if possible. In many plants, however, this cannot be done; in such cases the unused material must be kept tightly covered in a cool dry place. While the larger sized containers hold about 700 pounds, at a slight increase in price hypochlorite can be obtained in 350-pound or 100-pound drums, and in many cases the smaller sizes are to be preferred, both because of convenience in handling and to avoid the keeping of large quantities exposed to the atmosphere.

In the mixing of the bleach, the active hypochlorite is dissolved while the inert lime and other insoluble impurities remain. Usually the bleach is thoroughly mixed with a small amount of water into a paste or cream so as to break up the lumps, then more water is added and the whole transferred to the solution tank, and agitated until a thoroughly homogeneous solution is obtained.

As it is very important that the solution be of the same strength throughout, and as this mixing is a laborious process, a power mixer should always be installed except, perhaps, for very small quantities. After all the hypochlorite has been dissolved and the solution once properly stirred up, the strength remains the same throughout the tank.

In some plants the contents of a whole container of bleach are washed out into the solution tank by means, of a stream of water from a hose, and the whole agitated until a thorough solution is obtained. In the mixing, care must be used to get the material thoroughly broken up and agitated so that all the hypochlorite will be dissolved or else a considerable amount of material will be wasted. The writer has known of over fifty per cent waste, due to improper methods of mixing. He has suggested a mixer in the form of a mill or grinder, so that the bleach could be fed through and ground with a stream of water. This he believes would break up lumps and hasten the process.

One should not attempt to dissolve too much hypochlorite in a given amount of water. The solubility of bleach is only about five per cent, and a five per cent solution is difficult to obtain and difficult to handle. It is much better, when possible, to use a weaker solution, say two or three per cent. It is usually better to keep the solution the same strength by mixing the required number of pounds according to the strength of the dry powder, and to vary the dose by changing the feeding device. A rod should be laid off, showing the number of pounds to be used for different depths of water in the tank, from the top down, so that if all of the solution is not run out the rod will show immediately the number of pounds to be used for the amount of water necessary to fill up the tank.”

Commentary:  This article was published about six years after the startup of the chloride of lime (calcium hypochlorite) feed system ordered by Dr. John L. Leal and built by George Warren Fuller at Boonton Reservoir—see schematic of Fuller’s chemical feed system below. The description of the chloride of lime feed system for sewage treatment plants (above) is very similar to the one shown below. The article is also quite honest about the many problems with using chloride of lime as a source of chlorine to disinfect water. None of these issues were brought to light during the optimistic testimony given by Leal and the other defendant witnesses at the second Jersey City trial. Over time, chloride of lime feed systems were replaced with pressurized systems feeding chlorine gas from storage tanks of liquid chlorine stored under pressure.

August 13, 1865: Death of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis

August 13, 1865: Death of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. Semmelweis is credited with recognizing the high death toll among women during childbirth caused by physicians using unsanitary procedures.  He instituted the disinfection of physicians’ hands with a concentrated chlorine solution and the death rate of new mothers plummeted.  His research and practical applications assisted later proponents of the germ theory of disease and also indirectly contributed to the use of chlorine for disinfection of drinking water.

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (July 1, 1818 – August 13, 1865) (born Ignác Fülöp Semmelweis) was a Hungarian physician now known as an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures. Described as the “savior of mothers”, Semmelweis discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever could be drastically cut by the use of hand disinfection in obstetrical clinics. Puerperal fever was common in mid-19th-century hospitals and often fatal, with mortality at 10%–35%. Semmelweis postulated the theory of washing with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 while working in Vienna General Hospital’s First Obstetrical Clinic, where doctors’ wards had three times the mortality of midwives’ wards. He published a book of his findings in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever.

Despite various publications of results where hand-washing reduced mortality to below 1%, Semmelweis’s observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community. Some doctors were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands and Semmelweis could offer no acceptable scientific explanation for his findings. Semmelweis’s practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory and Joseph Lister, acting on the French microbiologist’s research, practiced and operated, using hygienic methods, with great success. In 1865, Semmelweis was committed to an asylum, where he died at age 47 after being beaten by the guards, only 14 days after he was committed.”

Reference: Semmelweis, Ignaz. The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Translated by K. Codell Carter. Madison:University of Wisconsin. 1983.

August 11, 1909: Queen Lane Reservoir Water Treated Chemically

Queen Lane Pump House Boilers

August 11, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Queen Lane Reservoir Water Treated Chemically. “Philadelphia, Pa.-Though residents of that section of the city lying south of Allegheny avenue and between Sedgley avenue, Twenty-seventh street and the Schuylkill River have for more than two months supposedly been drinking absolutely raw, unfiltered water from the Queen Lane reservoirs, it became known recently that they have been using water that has been chemically purified by the city. Without letting the public into the secret, Chief Dunlap of the Water Bureau has had the bacteriologists of the Water Department improvise a station at the Queen Lane Reservoir for the oxidization of water by a chemical process which has proved highly effective. A shed has been erected at the intake of the reservoir, and all the water that is pumped from the river to the reservoir is ozonated or oxidized by chemical process as it passes through the shed. By oxidization all the animal or vegetable life is destroyed in the water, and it goes into the reservoir free from harmful impurities. Of course Chief Dunlap says this process does not clarify the water, but this is accomplished to a very large extent by precipitation or sedimentation [in Queen Lane Reservoir].”

Commentary:  It is highly unlikely that ozone was being used to disinfect the water supply in Philadelphia in 1909 (in a shed by the river). More likely, the use of the term ozone referred to the chlorination of water, which supposedly released “nascent oxygen” which was responsible for killing bacteria. The same argument (some might say subterfuge) was used in the second Jersey City trial, which was going on during the time that this article was published. No water utility wanted to admit that it was using chlorine during this period. After the New Jersey Supreme Court approved the use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection in 1910, the linguistic jujitsu exemplified in this article was not as widely used.

August 10, 1916: Sterilizing Water and Flushing Mains

August 10, 1916:  Municipal Journal article. Sterilizing Water and Cleaning Mains. “In connection with the information concerning their water works furnished by more than six hundred officials and published in our June 1st issue, these officials also answered the questions: “Is the capacity of your mains diminished by corrosion?” “Do you clean them?” “If so, how and how often?” “Do you sterilize the water?” “If so, by what process?” Their answers are given in the table on the following pages.

These answers are given as furnished, and no attempt made to change them with a view to uniformity. For instance, some report sterilizing by “liquid chlorine,” others by “chlorine gas,” and some by “chlorine”; but we suppose that all refer to the same treatment. Also “hypochlorite,” “chloride of lime” and “bleach,” all probably refer to the same material.

In the answers concerning cleaning mains, quite a number report doing this by flushing or blowing out. This is generally believed to remove only sediment deposited in the mains, mostly that brought into them by the water, and to have no effect upon tuberculation or corrosion. A few, however, report “cleaning,” which refers in probably all cases to the actual removal by some application of force of tuberculation or other incrustation on the pipes.

It is interesting to note that, of the cities reporting, 96 employ some sterilizing agent, 53 of these using liquid chlorine, which is the latest form of applying chlorine for sterilizing purposes but from these figures appears to have become undoubtedly the most popular. The use of liquid chlorine or hypochlorite is reported from 33 states scattered over the entire country; and it is known that several cities use one or the other which failed to report it, some probably because of local popular prejudice against putting “chemicals” in the water supply.”

Commentary:  Disinfection information in this article is fascinating on several levels. First, we see details of which cities were actually disinfecting their water supplies (and those that were not). We also read that there was STILL a fear of chemicals in drinking water even after the overwhelming evidence that typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases could be stopped by such a practice. Finally, this survey documents the conversion from chloride of lime to the use of liquid chlorine that was occurring during this period of water treatment history. Chloride of lime was first used on the Jersey City water supply, which started the disinfection craze (see my book, The Chlorine Revolution). However, the availability of liquid chlorine in pressurized cylinders and the ease of its application ultimately converted everyone to this newer technology.

July 22, 1914: Chlorine and a Pet Canary; 1962: Oily Birds; 1935: Mulholland Dies

July 22, 1914:  Canary has sore wings. As chlorine began to be used throughout the U.S., some people were convinced that chlorine was bad for them and enlisted the help of their pets’ maladies to prove their point. “[In 1914] A Dunkirk young woman blames the poor condition of her pet canary bird on the chlorine solution in the city water supply.  For some time she said the bird did poorly, was dopy as she termed it and had sore wings and refrained from singing.  She did much cogitating on the matter and finally came to the conclusion that the city water with the chlorine solution might be the cause of the trouble…After a few days [of using unchlorinated local lake water] the bird grew lively and its sore wings healed.”

Reference:  Evening Observer (Dunkirk, New York). “Blames City Water for Bird’s Sickness:  Dunkirk Young Woman is Certain that Chlorine Caused Illness of Pet Canary.”  July 22, 1914.

July 22, 1962:  Oil Slick is Shroud for Birds (Washington Post). “Oil pollution at sea is a serious issue.  Oil tankers at sea, “the dumping of old crankcase oil and the pumping of oily water from bilges” are major causes of the oil pollution.  The most widespread cause of death among sea birds is from oil.  Insulating air pockets are destroyed which is s a cause of drowning.  The seriousness of this issue has been recognized. While it is illegal to dump oil within 50 miles of a coastline, ships continue to do so.”

William Mulholland

July 22, 1935:  Death of William Mulholland. “William Mulholland (September 11, 1855 – July 22, 1935) was the head of a predecessor department to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He was responsible for building the city water infrastructure and providing a water supply that allowed the city to grow into one of the largest in the world. Mulholland supervised the building of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a 233-mile (375 km)-long system to move water from Owens Valley to the San Fernando Valley. The creation and operation of the aqueduct led to the disputes known as the California Water Wars. In March 1928, his career ended when the St. Francis Dam failed 12 hours after he and his assistant gave it a safety inspection.”

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.

June 15, 1934: Death of George W. Fuller

George Warren Fuller, 1903, 35 years old

June 15, 1934:  Death of George Warren Fuller in New York City. George Warren Fuller was, quite simply, the greatest sanitary engineer of his time, and his time was long—lasting from 1895 to 1934.  In truth, we have not seen his like since.  How did he reach the pinnacle of his field?  What early influences led him on his path? There is a biography of Fuller on Wikipedia that I wrote which summarizes his life from a “neutral point of view.” The material below is taken in part from Chapter 7 of The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight To Save Lives. By design, it gives more of a personal flavor to his life.

George Warren Fuller was born in Franklin, Massachusetts on December 21, 1868—ten years after the death of Dr. John Snow and ten years after the birth of Dr. John L. Leal.  He was the son of George Newell Fuller and Harriet Martha Craig. There is not much known about his father who was simply described as a farmer.  His father was born on the Fuller family property in Franklin, Massachusetts on November 22, 1819.

Harriet Martha Craig was born on February 2, 1841, grew up near Leicester, Massachusetts, and attended Mount Holyoke College, but she did not graduate.  Her final year at the institution was 1865.  They were married on November 15, 1866 when he was 46 and she was only 25.  They settled down in the Franklin-Medway area of rural Massachusetts for a quiet life of farming on the ancestral Fuller family property.  They had two children, George W. and Mabel B. who was born in 1876.  We know that George kept in touch with his younger sister in later years.  She married Carl W. DeVoe and moved to Jerome, Idaho. George owned a ranch in Idaho and must have visited her there.

Place names in Massachusetts have changed over the past several hundred years as the land area covering certain towns changed due to the expansion and contraction of town boundaries or as a result of new towns being carved off from old ones.  Towns that figured prominently in Fuller’s history, Dedham, Franklin and West Medway, all describe the same general area, which is about 10-25 miles southwest of Boston.

We know only a little about his early education.  One report observed:

“George Warren Fuller was at the head of his class when he attended the Dedham schools. His scholarship was, of course, a source of great satisfaction to his mother. At sixteen he passed the examination for entrance at MIT but, his father having died a few weeks before, it was thought best for him to have a fourth year in high school….”

After his father’s death on May 3, 1885, his mother moved 2,500 miles away to Claremont, California where she lived until she died in 1915.  George must have felt that he had lost both parents at the same time.  We do not know if he was looking for a stable family life to replace the one he had lost, but we do know that he married when he was only two years out of high school, in 1888.  His first wife, Lucy Hunter was born in October 1869 and died far too young on March 18, 1895. Lucy came from a family who immigrated to America from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.  Her father was born about 1830 and listed his occupation as farmer.  Her mother, Sarah, was born about 1845.  The farming family had seven children, three boys and four girls.  They must have moved to Boston from New Brunswick sometime between 1877 and 1880.  The youngest boy, Harry, was born in New Brunswick about 1877. I recently heard from a descendant of Lucy Fuller who was researching her family. According to her second cousin, three times removed, the family was sailing from Northern Ireland to Philadelphia in 1767 when their ship was wrecked off of Nova Scotia. Lucy’s family eventually made it to Boston while many of the other Hunters moved on to Ontario, Canada.

In 1880, the U.S. census showed that her family lived in Boston at 218 Bennington Street, which is now near Boston Logan International Airport and was located near cultivated land in the late 1800s.  The address is about three miles from the MIT campus, as the crow flies.

Lucy was 18 years old and Fuller was 20 years old when they were married.  Fuller was only in his second year at university (1886-1890).  They had one son, Myron E. Fuller who was born in Boston on June 4, 1889. We do not know much about the marriage, but we do know that George W. Fuller was issued a passport on May 2, 1890 for his trip to Germany and his continued studies. There is no record that Lucy or Myron applied for a passport or accompanied Fuller to Germany.  Massachusetts death records listed her cause of death as “enteritis” which was a general term used for diseases caused by the ingestion of pathogens from food or water.  The death records listed her as “married” which meant that her marriage to Fuller was not dissolved prior to her death. There is no evidence that George W. Fuller lived with her and their son after 1889.

From a 1910 census report, it is clear that Myron lived with his father in Summit, New Jersey.  One recorded connection we know of between Myron and his father was mentioned in the preface of Fuller’s 1912 book, Sewage Disposal. Fuller acknowledged Myron (who was 22 years old at the time) for creating the index to the book.  One source showed that Fuller and McClintock employed Myron from 1911 to 1916 and again from 1919 until at least 1922. In 1918, Myron registered for the draft and listed his occupation as civil engineer. The same reference showed Myron working for the City of Philadelphia in the Bureau of Surveys—the same occupation as his great-great-great-great grandfather, Ensign Thomas Fuller.  He lived in Philadelphia with his wife and one child.

While Fuller was in Louisville working on the filtration investigations, he met Caroline L. Goodloe who came from a fine, old Louisville family.  In November 1899, Fuller married her in Louisville. They were both 31 years old when they were married.  In May of 1900, husband and wife went on a trip to Europe—a somewhat delayed honeymoon. Their son, Kemp Goodloe Fuller, was born on March 10, 1901. On November 11, 1903, while living in New York City, their second son, Asa W. Fuller was born.

We know from records published in the annual report of the APHA and other sources that Fuller had his offices in New York City at 220 Broadway for many years beginning in 1899, which was the same address given by Allen Hazen for his offices for a short period of time.

Tragically, Caroline Goodloe Fuller died in June 21, 1907, while George W. Fuller was most heavily engaged in numerous water and sewage disposal projects all over the U.S.  At her death, George W. Fuller was living at 309 West 84th Street in New York City with his wife and their sons.  She was 38 years old.

The 1910 Census form showed that Fuller was living at 160 Boulevard, Summit, New Jersey with Alice C. Goodlow (sic) who was identified as his sister-in-law, Mary L. Goodlow (sic) identified as his mother-in-law and his three sons Myron, Kemp G. and Asa.  George’s in-laws had come up from Louisville to help him raise the boys.  Also listed at the same residence was an interesting guest, Grace F. Thomson, 43, born in China of English ancestry and claiming a trade of metal working.  In addition, there were three servants (two Irish and one Greek) making it a full and busy household.  The census form showed him as widowed, so by 1910 he had not remarried.

We know from several accounts, that George Warren Fuller was, in many ways, a big man.  Physically, he was tall.  An account by a colleague said that he was over six feet tall, but passport application forms that Fuller filled out showed that his height was 5 feet 10 inches. Pictures of him from 1903 until at least 1928 showed that he was, to use a descriptor from the time, stout. One description had him at 285 pounds with a size 18 collar.

His hair was dark brown and, in the style of the day, slicked down and parted in the middle.  As time marched on, he began to gray at the temples and then the gray seemed to take over his thinning head of hair.  He was clean-shaven except for his days in Louisville during the filtration studies, when he sported a bushy mustache.  He had blue eyes that could bore into someone who did not please him and twinkle when he was trying to charm a lady.  The round spectacles that he always wore did not detract from the intensity of his blue eyes.

George Warren Fuller Comes to California…in 2013

On April 3, 2013, I gave a talk at the California Nevada Section Conference of the American Water Works Association. I teamed up with John Marchand who gave a talk on Dr. John Snow of Broad Street Pump fame. We made a pact to give our talks in costume, which incredibly we both followed through on. Below are links to my talk broken up into three parts (YouTube restrictions). It describes Fuller’s life and the first use of chlorine on the Jersey City water supply in 1908.

Part 1:  http://youtu.be/37WZkp5148w

Part 2:  http://youtu.be/rsicrBvVMc4

Part 3:  http://youtu.be/n6PuOvjjQMI

Commentary:  This article originally appeared on my other blog, safedrinkingwaterdotcom.

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.

May 5, 1858: Birth of John L. Leal

Dr. John L. Leal

May 5, 1858:  162nd 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 celebrationis 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.

Chlorine Gas in WWI

April 22, 1915:  The use of poison gas in World War Iescalates 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.

Commentary:  I am sad to report that this week in 2018, use of chlorine as a war gas was confirmed in Syria. Some sources say that the terrorist President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, has been using chlorine to gas his opponents for years. These are dark days in world history.