Tag Archives: chlorine

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 19thcentury 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 aggressivein 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 Revolutionexamines this issue in full detail.

March 24, 1909: Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie, NY

March 24, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. 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

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

March 21, 1912:  Municipal Journalarticle. 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 Journalarticle 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.

Plan of Belmont Filter Plant 1903; phillyh2o.org

March 20, 1847: Ignaz Semmelweis Takes on Childbirth Fever

March 20, 1847:First official day that Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis assumed his position as assistant physician in the maternity clinic in Vienna, Austria.  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.

March 18, 1915: Chlorination at Bubbly Creek Filtration Plant

Chicago, Union Stockyards, 1908

March 18, 1915:  Engineering Newsarticle. Liquid Chlorine at the Bubbly Creek Water-Filtration Plant. By C. A. Jennings. “The Bubbly Creek filter plant at the Chicago Stock Yards set the lead in the use of hypochlorite of lime in this country for water disinfection. This was during the summer of 1908. Subsequently experiments were begun at this plant with an electrolytic cell for the production of chlorine from salt brine. These experiments were carried out very extensively and thoroughly. The writer finally concluded that in comparison with hypochlorite and liquid chlorine, the production of chlorine for water disinfection by means of an electrolytic cell was expensive, uncertain and demanded considerable attention.

Very recently a liquid-chlorine apparatus was purchased. Chlorine is received in cylinders that hold 105 lb. of the liquefied gas. From the experience gained by operating this apparatus during the past month the writer has concluded that in comparison with the use of hypochlorite at the Bubbly Creek filter plant–

  1. There is considerably less labor involved.
  2. The absorption of the gas by the water is more rapid.
  3. There is no loss of chlorine, and smaller quantities can be used to accomplish equivalent results.
  4. There is no deterioration of the chlorine in the cylinders while using or while stored.
  5. The changing of the rate of application is easily, quickly and accurately accomplished.
  6. There is no odor of chlorine about the plant.
  7. The cost is considerably less.

Reference:  Jennings, C.A. 1919. “Liquid Chlorine at the Bubbly Creek Water-Filtration Plant.” Engineering Newsarticle 73:11(March 18, 1915): 555.

Commentary:  Jennings is one of the engineers who spread the myth that chlorination of water at the Bubbly Creek plant was somehow a breakthrough for water disinfection. Publications by him and the man who wrongly claimed credit for the first use of chlorine in drinking water (George A. Johnson) resulted in Dr. John L. Leal not receiving the proper credit for his work at Boonton Reservoir on the Jersey City, New Jersey water supply in 1908. The water from the Bubbly Creek plant was fed to cows and pigs and was not considered suitable for human consumption.

March 17, 1909: Chlorination at Poughkeepsie, NY

March 17, 1909:  Drinking water chlorination begun at Poughkeepsie, New York. Chlorine was tested at the Poughkeepsie, New York filter plant in early February 1909 but the application of chlorine on a permanent basis at Poughkeepsie did not begin until March 17, 1909. Therefore, the Poughkeepsie water supply was the third example of chlorine disinfection in the U.S. and the first time that chlorine was used as an adjunct to slow sand filtration. George C. Whipple suggested the third application of chlorine to a water supply in a report to the City.  As noted in The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, Whipple was on the opposite side from Dr. John L. Leal in the two Jersey City trials.  Poughkeepsie, NY is a medium-sized city that is located on the Hudson River about 70 miles north of New York City.

Whipple recommended that the coagulant preceding the slow sand filter at Poughkeepsie be replaced with chloride of lime, which began as a test on February 1, 1909.  On March 17, 1909, continuous chlorination was begun using a permanent chemical feeding apparatus.

March 13, 1914: Death of John L. Leal

March 13, 1914: Death (in Paterson, NJ) 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 20thcentury. 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 144thRegiment, 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 20thcentury. 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 19thand early 20thcenturies, 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 alumin 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 poisonouschemicals[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 poisonousmaterialsshould 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 104thanniversary 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? Read The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Liveswhich was published in April 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.