Tag Archives: chlorine

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.

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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.

Hudson River at Poughkeepsie

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.

February 27, 1913: Croton Chlorination Plant

February 27, 1913:  Engineering Newsarticle. Chlorinating Plants, Croton Water Supply. “Synopsis—Operating results of a temporary plant, which treated with hypochlorite of lime more than 100 billion gallons of Croton water for New York City in 1912, are given. A permanent hypochlorite or chlorinating plant, to treat the flow through both the old and the new Croton aqueducts, is described and fully illustrated. Brief descriptions are given of four other chlorination plants in the Croton drainage area: Three to treat the waters of tributaries of the Croton before it reaches the main supply and one to treat another tributary and a part of the sewage of the village of Brewster, N. Y.”

In June, 1910, I. M. de Varona, chief engineer of the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity of the City of New York, made trials of hypochlorite treatment in connection with the Croton water-supply. The results were so satisfactory that its use has been extended until the city now maintains five of these plants: one on the New Aqueduct at Pocantico, treating the entire supply from the Croton, and the other four upon various tributaries of the reservoirs.

The continuous treatment of the flow of the New Croton Aqueduct was commenced in June, 1911, the plant being located at Shaft No. 9, north of Tarrytown, N. Y., known as the Pocantico plant. It consists of a rough frame building which houses two cement-lined cypress tanks, 12 ft. in diameter and 6 ft. in height, and a constant-level feeding tank with adjustable orifice discharging through a manhole into the crown of the aqueduct. Within the aqueduct, there is suspended a wooden grid to secure a proper mixture of the chlorine solution and the flowing water. The operating floor is just above the solution tanks and in it are two screened mixing pits.

In operation, a drum of lime, weighing about 800 lb., is rolled into position over a pit and the contents washed out into the pit by a hose stream under pressure. Enough ‘bleach’ is dissolved to treat the aqueduct flow for 12 hours. The tank is then filled with water and stirred to assure the thorough absorption of the chlorine. Four men operate the plant, two on the clay shift, making solution, and one on each of the night shifts, maintaining a constant, uniform flow of the solution.

Experience has shown the desirable amount of chlorine to be between 0.40 and 0.65 p.p.m. (parts per million). The lower amount is used in warm weather and when Croton Lake is near the high water line. The amount is gradually increased as the storage in Croton Lake drops or the temperature of the water approaches freezing. The amount of ‘bleach’ to be used daily is determined from a chart (Fig. 1), which shows that the daily amount of chemical is about 4000 lb. Where so much chemical is used, the chart shows the economy resulting from varying the charge of ‘bleach’ in accordance with the amount of its available chlorine, as determined by laboratory analysis.”

Reference:  Coffin, T.D.L. 1913. “Chlorinating Plants, Croton Water Supply.”Engineering News. 69:9(February 27, 1913): 419-21.

Commentary:  New York City began testing chloride of lime to disinfect the Croton water supply shortly after the findings of the special master in the second Jersey City trial which has been described at length in The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.

February 25, 1910: Chlorine Disinfection in Minneapolis

The East Side Pumping Station was built on Hennepin Island in 1885 and efficiently delivered sewage-contaminated drinking water to Minneapolis

February 25, 1910:  The first use of chlorine as a drinking water disinfectant in Minneapolis, MN. “The water source for Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1910 was the Mississippi River. At that time, the city had a population of about 380,000, and average daily water use was about 20 mgd. Water was pumped from the river into two rectangular basins with a total capacity of 97 million gallons. Plagued with outbreaks of typhoid fever, the city had considered several treatment options including the installation of slow sand filters. However, none of these plans came to fruition because of the resistance of the electorate and the costs of the projects. On February 25, 1910, a chloride of lime treatment system was put into operation after an alarming increase in typhoid cases and deaths in the city.”

References:

Jensen, J.A. “A 20,000,000-Gal. Hypochlorite Water-Disinfecting Plant at Minneapolis, Minn.” Engineering News. 63:14 (April 7, 1910): 391-2.

McGuire, Michael J. 2013. The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association, Chapter 12.

Commentary: The chlorination of the water supply for Minneapolis was part of the explosion of chlorine use after the first use on the Jersey City water supply planned and executed by Dr. John L. Leal in 1908.

February 22, 1913: Wallace and Tiernan and Over 100 years of Chlorination; 1989: Abel Wolman Dies

February 22, 1913:Over 100 Years of chlorination by Wallace & Tiernan. The company’s first gas-feed chlorinator, an experimental apparatus, was installed on a tributary of the Rockaway River at Dover, New Jersey, on February 22, 1913. Wallace & Tiernan was the dominant producer of chlorination equipment in the first decades of the twentieth century. Wallace & Tiernan were first founded in New York City, but shortly thereafter, they moved their administrative and manufacturing operations to Belleville, New Jersey. There were many connections between the early days of Wallace & Tiernan and the Jersey City water supply. William Griffin, superintendent of the Jersey City water department, hired Charles F. Wallace and Martin F. Tiernan to disinfect the polluted stream near Dover that was contaminating the Rockaway River as it flowed into Boonton Reservoir. Two of the expert witness in the Jersey City trials, Charles E. North and Earle B. Phelps, hired the two men in the very beginning of their careers to help install disinfection systems in cities as part of North and Phelps’s consulting practice. Tiernan actually ran the chloride of lime feed system at Boonton Reservoir in the early fall of 1912 when the chemist was on vacation.

References:

Tiernan, Martin F. 1948 . “Controlling the Green Goddess.” Journal AWWA. 40:10  1042-50.

Wallace & Tiernan’s Fiftieth Anniversary. 1963. Brochure prepared for the Fiftieth Anniversary of Wallace & Tiernan, Inc.

February 22, 1989:  Abel Wolman dies. “Abel Wolman (June 10, 1892 – February 22, 1989) was an American inventor, scientist, professor and pioneer of modern sanitary engineering.

Wolman was born, grew up, was educated, lived and died in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from the Baltimore City College in 1909, got a B.A. from the Johns Hopkins University in 1913 and then a B.S. in engineering from Hopkins in 1915. From 1914 to 1939, Wolman worked for the Maryland State Department of Health, serving as Chief Engineer from 1922 to 1939. It was during his early years there that he made his most important contribution. Working in cooperation with chemist Linn Enslow, he standardized the methods used to chlorinate Baltimore’s drinking-water supply. His efforts there helped develop the plan for Baltimore’s water supply so thoroughly and effectively that it remains well-provided for growth through the 21st century. His work also benefited water systems in New York, Detroit and Columbus, Ohio. A collection of his writings has been published: Water, Health and Society, Selected Papers. Wolman served as the Chairman of the Advisory Council for planning Israel’s National Water Carrier project (1950-1956).

Wolman taught for many years on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, where he established the Department of Sanitary Engineering in 1937. He served as the department’s chairman until his official retirement in 1962….

Wolman became Editor of the American Water Works Association’s Journal AWWA in 1919 and was responsible for making it into a monthly publication in 1924. The Association presents the Abel Wolman Award of Excellence each year to recognize those whose careers in the water works industry exemplify vision, creativity, and excellent professional performance characteristic of Wolman’s long and productive career.”

Commentary:  It is fitting that the anniversary of the first use of a Wallace & Tiernan chlorinator falls on the anniversary of Abel Wolman’s death. In the early 1920s, he and Linn Enslow modernized the system for determining the needed chlorine dose to provide safe drinking water. Prior to their work, chlorine doses were a matter of much guesswork.