Tag Archives: cholera

TDIWH—January 9, 2014: MCHM Chemical Spill in West Virginia; 1985: Plane Crashes into Kansas Water Treatment Plant; 2012: First Haitian Cholera Victim; 1997: Water is Still Deadly Drink in Parts of the World

Middle Tank (#396) was the source of most of MCHM spill

Middle Tank (#396) was the source of most of MCHM spill

January 9, 2014: MCHM Chemical Spill in West Virginia. “Charleston, WV; January 9, 2014. 7:46AM. You’re trying to get your children up, fix breakfast and get them ready for school. You stick your head out the door to see how cold it is, and a wave of something smelling like black licorice hits you. The Elk River below you seems fine, but that odor is rolling off the surface. None of the radio news stations are saying anything. Wait. You know where your water comes from-the Elk River. Is the drinking water safe? You call the water department to find out what’s going on.

Sounding the Alarm: Do Not Use!

So began the day for 300,000 people in Charleston, West Virginia and in the surrounding nine counties. A tweet from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin at 2:36 PM on January 9 previewed the 5:45 pm press conference where a Do Not Use order was issued by West Virginia American Water (WVAW) for all of the water in their service area. (A Do Not Use order is the most serious warning that can be given for drinking water. It means that tap water can only be used for flushing toilets and fighting fires.) At the press conference, the governor declared a state of emergency for the affected area.

It later became clear that a spill of about 10,000 gallons of something called Crude MCHM took place at a Freedom Industries facility 1.5 miles above the intake of the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant (KVWTP), which is run by WVAW. When the spill actually occurred and when the material entered the water treatment plant has not been determined at this writing. The maximum MCHM concentration measured in the influent to the plant was about 3.4 mg/1. No one has adequately explained why the plant intake was not shut down early on January 9.

By 7 PM on January 9 a full-blown water-buying panic had gripped the area. Cases of bottled water were stripped from shelves within a 20-mile radius of Charleston. The morning of January 10, President Obama declared the nine counties a federal disaster area.”

Reference: McGuire, M.J., 2014. “The West Virginia Chemical Spill: A Massive Loss in Public Confidence.” Source. CA NV Section AWWA, 28:3:31 Summer.

0109 plane crashJanuary 9, 1985: Plane crashes into Kansas water treatment plant. “Last January the Board of Public Works (BPU) of Kansas City, Kansas was the victim of an airplane crash at their Quindaro water treatment plant complex. Although all members of the airplane’s crew were killed, the members of the BPU operations staff on duty that morning were unharmed, although shook up. The airplane managed to miss two nearby power plant structures, the east side of the treatment plant, and the chemical treatment plant building where the four employees were working, but landed in a primary basin less than 50 feet away from the building. An intensive manpower effort was launched to get the debris cleaned up and the plant back in operation as soon as possible. Three weeks to the day after the crash, the basin without a walkway bridge was returned to service. Kermit

Mangum, the water plant superintendent, is scheduled to talk about this story at the KSAWWA conference in Wichita.”

Commentary: Thanks to Paul Crocker of the Kansas City BPU for providing this information.

The most effective treatment for cholera is intravenous hydration.

The most effective treatment for cholera is intravenous hydration.

January 9, 2012: New York Times headline—Haiti: Cholera Epidemic’s First Victim Identified as River Bather Who Forsook Clean Water. “The first Haitian to get cholera at the onset of the 2010 epidemic was almost undoubtedly a 28-year-old mentally disturbed man from the town of Mirebalais, researchers reported Monday.

The man, whose name was not revealed in the report, in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, was known as the village “moun fou” — Creole for “crazy person” — said the authors, who work for Partners in Health, a Boston group associated with Dr. Paul E. Farmer that has provided free health care in Haiti since 1987.

Although his family had clean drinking water, the man often walked naked through town to bathe and drink from the Latem River just downstream from the Meye River, into which raw sewage drained from an encampment of United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal.

Map: Distribution of cholera cases in Haiti

Map: Distribution of cholera cases in Haiti

Haiti’s outbreak was of a Nepali strain, and that encampment is considered the source.

The man developed severe diarrhea on Oct. 12, 2010, and died in less than 24 hours. Two people who washed his body for a wake fell ill 48 hours later. Haiti’s first hospitalized cholera case was in Mirebalais on Oct. 17.

The epidemic has since sickened nearly 500,000 people across Haiti and killed nearly 7,000.”

Commentary:  The death toll is now about 10,000 with no end in sight. The UN finally took some responsibility for starting the epidemic. It was caused by poor sanitation habits of Nepalese soldiers who were stationed in Haiti to aid in recovery from the devastating earthquake.

0109 India slum childrenJanuary 9, 1997: New York Times headline— For Third World, Water Is Still a Deadly Drink. By Nicholas Kristof “THANE, India— Children like the Bhagwani boys scamper about barefoot on the narrow muddy paths that wind through the labyrinth of a slum here, squatting and relieving themselves as the need arises, as casual about the filth as the bedraggled rats that nose about in the raw sewage trickling beside the paths.

Parents, like Usha Bhagwani, a rail-thin 28-year-old housemaid, point out their children and fret about how to spend their rupees. Should they buy good food so that the children will get stronger? Or should they buy shoes so that the children will not get hookworms? Or should they send their sons and daughters to school? Or should they buy kerosene to boil the water?

There is not enough money for all of those needs, so parents must choose. It was to save money, as well as to save time, that Mrs. Bhagwani was serving unboiled water the other day to her 5- and 7-year-old boys in her one-room hovel. Her bony face and sharp eyes softened as she watched them take the white plastic cup and gulp the deadly drink.

The water has already killed two of her children, a 15-month-old, Santosh, a boy who died two years ago, and Sheetal, a frail 7-month-old girl who died just a few months ago. But everyone in the slum drinks the water, usually without boiling, and water seems so natural and nurturing that Mrs. Bhagwani does not understand the menace it contains.”

December 6, 1866: Chicago: First Water Supply Tunnel

1206 Crib Structure in LakeDecember 6, 1866: “First water supply tunnel for U.S. city completed for Chicago, IL; Chicago Lake Tunnel extended 10,587 feet under Lake Michigan to an inlet crib; 5 feet in diameter, final cost of $380,784; March 17, 1864 – work started; March 25, 1867 – water allowed into the tunnel. Pumping station with the standpipe tower still stands at the intersection of Michigan Blvd and Chicago Ave., escaped destruction in the 1871 Chicago fire.”

1206 chicago lake tunnel detailThe two-mile tunnel under Lake Michigan proposed by Ellis Chesbrough in 1863 brought him international fame when it was completed and, with its remarkable Two-mile Crib intake structure, was heralded as the eighth wonder of the world. Tunnel construction began in May 1864 and then continued for 24 hours a day and six days a week. A lower semicircular arch was dug and built about six feet in advance of the upper arch. Two men could work side by side, with the miners in front and the masons laying brick about 10-20 feet behind.

1206 Digging TunnelTwo small mules were found to work in the tunnel, pulling railroad cars to move clay out and building materials in. Digging proceeded first from the shore end and later from the lake end of the tunnel. Chesbrough and a few other dignitaries descended into the tunnel to remove the final inches separating the two tunnels in November 1866. The mayor placed the final masonry stone, and fresh water from the lake entered the tunnel for the first time with great fanfare in March 1867, bringing pure unpolluted water into the city through the structure.”

1206 Bricking TunnelCommentary: The purity of the water from this tunnel was grossly overstated in this article and in the minds of Chicagoans in 1866. Cholera and typhoid fever continued to kill tens of thousands of people in Chicago because the city’s sewage was also discharged into the lake for many decades after 1866.

References:

“Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.php, Accessed November 14, 2012.

“The Lake Tunnel in Chicago.” Website http://www.lindahall.org/events_exhib/exhibit/exhibits/civil/lake_tunnel_2.shtml Accessed December 5, 2012.

November 6, 1893: Cholera Kills Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky's Tomb

Tchaikovsky’s Tomb

November 6, 1893: Death of Tchaikovsky. “On 6 November 1893, nine days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died in Saint Petersburg, at the age of 53. The official cause of death was reported to be cholera, most probably contracted through drinking contaminated water several days earlier. This explanation was accepted by many biographers of the composer. However, even at the time of Tchaikovsky’s death, there were many questions about this diagnosis.

The timeline between Tchaikovsky’s drinking unboiled water and the emergence of symptoms was brought into question. So was the possibility of the composer’s procuring unboiled water in the midst of a cholera epidemic with strict health regulations in effect. Also, while cholera actually attacked all levels of Russian society, it was considered a disease of the lower classes. The resulting stigma from such a demise for as famous a personage as Tchaikovsky was considerable, to the point where its possibility was inconceivable for many people. The accuracy of the medical reports from the two physicians who had treated Tchaikovsky was questioned. The handling of Tchaikovsky’s corpse was also scrutinized as it was reportedly not in accordance with official regulations for victims of cholera.”

October 27, 1850: Cholera in Sacramento, California

Memorial to Courageous Physicians who Died in the Epidemic

Memorial to Courageous Physicians who Died in the Epidemic

October 27, 1850Cholera in Sacramento, California. “Alas for Sacramento in 1850, cholera is a disease that thrives in conditions of urban filth. The bacterium can be transmitted from one host to another through unwashed hands or raw sewage. When raw sewage containing the bacteria finds its way into the public water supply, cholera spreads rapidly. Its symptoms include severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. The disease strikes without warning. In the course of a single day, cholera can be fatal to a previously healthy person. Perkins wrote on October 27, ‘Some have been taken who were to all appearances in good health and have died in a few hours.’ Likewise, on October 23, Lord noted in his journal, ‘A man walking down J Street last evening, dropped suddenly, and lived only long enough to be carried into the nearest door.’

The first death from cholera occurred on October 20. The number of cases rapidly multiplied over the next few weeks, radiating into the city from the commercial riverside district….Public health measures proved to be worse than ineffective. A city ordinance passed on October 21 ordered residents to burn their garbage or face a $500 fine. Lord wrote that the ‘filth is burned in the middle of the streets—old shoes and boots and clothes by the ton, and cart loads of bones, and raw hides, and putrid meat, and spoiled bacon—so that the end of the matter is worse than the beginning.’ By the end of the month, half of the population of the city had either succumbed to the disease or fled the city. By the end of the first week of November, it was 80 percent. ‘In this pestilential reign of terror and dismay the most dreadful abandonments of relatives and friends took place’….”

Reference:  Isenberg, Andrew C. Mining California:  An Ecological History. New York:Hill and Wang, 2005, p.66.

Commentary The Sacramento 1850 epidemic was one of the worst in U.S. history.

September 26, 1908: First Chlorine Use in US; 1855: Handle Put Back on Broad Street Pump

Building on the right housed the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton Reservoir

Building on the right housed the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton Reservoir

September 26, 1908:  106th anniversary of the first day of operation of the chlorination facility at Boonton Reservoir for Jersey City, NJ.  This was the first continuous use of chlorine in the U.S. for drinking water disinfection.

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 the 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. One of the company’s employees, Dr. John L. Leal, would have an enormous impact on this water supply and the history of water treatment. Leal was a physician, public health professional and water quality expert. 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 1908 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 such a large-scale basis.

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.

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, 2013, marks the 105th anniversary of the first continuous use of chlorine on a water supply—the longest period of water disinfection anywhere in the world.

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

Broadwick (formerly Broad) Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house

Broadwick (formerly Broad) Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house

September 26, 1855:  The St. James Board of Commissioners of Paving voted 10 to 2 to reopen the Broad Street pump at the urging of local residents.  Dr. John Snow had prevailed upon them a year earlier to remove the pump handle after he presented his evidence that cholera deaths were geographically clustered around the well site.

Reference: Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 310.

September 8, 1854: Removal of Broad Street Pump Handle; 1900: Galveston Devastated by Hurricane of the Century

Broadwick [formerly, Broad] Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house.

Broadwick [formerly, Broad] Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house.

September 8, 1854:  On this day, the pump handle was actually removed from the Broad Street pump.  History does not record who actually took the handle off, but we know it was not Dr. John Snow.  After all, the removal of the pump handle was the job of the St. James Board of Commissioners of Paving.  Incredibly, public protests resulted in the replacement of the pump handle on September 26, 1855.  The Broad Street well was not permanently taken out of service until the cholera epidemic of 1866.

Reference:  Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 292-4, 310, 316-317.

Reconstruction of the 1900 Hurricane making landfall at Galveston

Reconstruction of the 1900 Hurricane making landfall at Galveston

September 8, 1900: On this date, a Category Four hurricane struck Galveston, Texas, and destroyed, among other things, the drinking water system for the city.  The storm surge killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people, making it the deadliest natural disaster ever to hit the United States. Basic water service was not restored until September 12, 1900.

Commentary: If you ever visit Galveston, go to the museum devoted to the hurricane. It is hard to comprehend the devastation and loss of life caused by this natural disaster.

September 7, 1854: Dr. John Snow Convinces Board to Remove Pump Handle

Broadwick (formerly Broad) Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house

Broadwick (formerly Broad) Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house

September 7, 1854:  The St. James Board of Governors and Directors of the Poor was convinced by Dr. John Snow that the Broad Street pump was the source of a cholera epidemic in a London neighborhood.  The Board ordered the removal of the pump handle preventing a continuation of the epidemic.  Incredibly, public protests resulted in the replacement of the pump handle on September 26, 1855.  The Broad Street well was not permanently taken out of service until the cholera epidemic of 1866.

Reference:  Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 292-4, 310, 316-317.