Tag Archives: disinfection

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

Boonton Dam on the Rockaway River

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

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

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

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

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May 18, 1897: Dow Chemical Founding and Connection to Bleach

May 18, 1897:  “The Dow Chemical Company incorporated, based on Dow’s plan to manufacture, sell bleach on commercial scale; 1898 – first commercial scale production of bleach begins; Dow-in-diamond mark created to resolve product shipping problems.”

Commentary: Bleaching powder (or chloride of lime, also known as calcium hypochlorite) was used by Dr. John L. Leal on the Jersey City water supply in 1908. This was the first continuous use of chlorine on a municipal water supply in the U.S.

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.

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

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.

February 27, 1913: Croton Chlorination Plant

February 27, 1913:  Engineering News article. 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.

#TDIWH—January 15, 2009: PFOA Provisional Health Advisory; 1917: Death of William J. Magie

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

January 15, 2009:  On January 15, 2009, the USEPA set a provisional health advisory level for PFOA of 0.4 parts per billion in drinking water. “Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8 and perfluorooctanoate, is a synthetic, stable perfluorinated carboxylic acid and fluorosurfactant. One industrial application is as a surfactant in the emulsion polymerization of fluoropolymers. It has been used in the manufacture of such prominent consumer goods as Teflon and Gore-Tex. PFOA has been manufactured since the 1940s in industrial quantities. It is also formed by the degradation of precursors such as some fluorotelomers.

PFOA persists indefinitely in the environment. It is a toxicant and carcinogen in animals. PFOA has been detected in the blood of more than 98% of the general US population in the low and sub-parts per billion range, and levels are higher in chemical plant employees and surrounding subpopulations. Exposure has been associated with increased cholesterol and uric acid levels, and recently higher serum levels of PFOA were found to be associated with increased risk of chronic kidney disease in the general United States population, consistent with earlier animal studies. ‘This association was independent of confounders such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, and serum cholesterol level.’”

Boonton Reservoir Hypochlorination Station

January 15, 1917:  Death of William J. Magie. In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment (except for detention and sedimentation fostered by Boonton Reservoir) was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract. William J. Magie was selected by Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens to hear the second part of the case in which the use of chlorine for disinfection was a contentious issue.  One might assume that someone relatively junior might be appointed as the Special Master to hear the highly technical and excruciatingly long arguments from both sides of the case.  Not so.  William Jay Magie was one of the most revered judges of this time period.  He took the role of Special Master in 1908 after completing 8 years as Chancellor of the Court of Chancery.  Prior to that, he was a member of the New Jersey Senate (1876-1878), Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court (1880-1897) and Chief Justice of the same court from 1897 to 1900. (Marquis 1913)

“As a trial judge his cases were handled with notable success, as he had ample experience in trying causes before juries and a just appreciation of the worth of human testimony…” (Keasbey 1912) Judge Magie would need all of his powers of appreciation of human testimony in the second trial, which boiled down to which of the expert witnesses could be believed when both sides marshaled some of the most eminent doctors, scientists and engineers in the land.

Judge Magie was born on December 9, 1832 in Elizabeth, New Jersey and lived his life in that town.  He graduated from Princeton College in 1852 and studied law under an attorney in Elizabeth.  He was admitted to the bar of New Jersey in 1856.  At the time of the second trial in 1909 he was 77 years old and near the end of his distinguished career.

On May 9, 1910, William J. Magie submitted his Special Master Report. One of Magie’s findings was of critical importance to the defendants because he laid to rest the concern that chlorine was a poison that would harm members of the public who consumed the water.

“Upon the proofs before me, I also find that the solution described leaves no deleterious substance in the water. It does produce a slight increase of hardness, but the increase is so slight as in my judgment to be negligible.” (Magie, In Chancery of New Jersey, 1910)

The Special Master Report then delivered the finding that defendants had been waiting for:

“I do therefore find and report that this device is capable of rendering the water delivered to Jersey City, pure and wholesome, for the purposes for which it is intended, and is effective in removing from the water those dangerous germs which were deemed by the decree to possibly exist therein at certain times.” (emphasis added) (Magie, In Chancery of New Jersey, 1910)

Magie’s finding summarized in this one sentence approved the use of chlorine for drinking water. After this ruling, the use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection exploded across the U.S. (McGuire 2013)

In a filing after Magie’s final decree, compensation for Judge Magie was noted as $18,000 for the entire second trial with its 38 days of testimony over 14 months, dozens of briefs and hundreds of exhibits.  It must have been the hardest $18,000 he ever earned.

References:

  • Keasbey, E.Q. (1912). The Courts and Lawyers of New Jersey, 1661-1912. Vol. 3, New York:Lewis Historical Publishing Co.
  • Magie, William J. (1910). In Chancery of New Jersey: Between the Mayor and Aldermen of Jersey City, Complainant, and the Jersey City Water Supply Co., Defendant. Report for Hon. W.J. Magie, special master on cost of sewers, etc., and on efficiency of sterilization plant at Boonton, Press Chronicle Co., Jersey City, New Jersey, (Case Number 27/475-Z-45-314), 1-15.
  • Marquis, Albert N. (1913). Who’s Who in America. 7, Chicago:A.N. Marquis.
  • McGuire, Michael J. (2013). The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver, CO:American Water Works Association.

January 6, 1875: Birth of Harriette Chick

January 6, 1875:  Birth of Harriette Chick. “Dr. Dame Harriette Chick, DBE (6 January 1875 – 9 July 1977) was a notable British protein scientist and nutritionist. She developed the first relationship showing bacterial kill as a function of disinfectant concentration and contact time. Educated at Notting Hill & Ealing High School, She served as secretary of the League of Nations health section committee on the physiological bases of nutrition from 1934 to 1937. In 1941 she was a founding member of the Nutrition Society, of which she served as president from 1956 to 1959.

Chick and Charles James Martin discovered that the process of protein denaturation was distinct from protein coagulation (or flocculation), beginning the modern understanding of protein folding. She is known for having formulated Chick’s Law in 1908, giving the relationship between the kill efficiency of organisms and contact time with a disinfectant. Chick’s Law was later modified by Dr. H.E. Watson in 1908 to include the coefficient of specific lethality. The Chick-Watson Equation is still used today.

In 1915, she went to the Lister Institute in Elstree to test and bottle tetanus antitoxin for the army. Together with Dr. Elsie Dalyell, she led a team from the Lister Institute and the Medical Research Institute in 1922 to study the relation of nutrition to bone disease. They discovered the nutritional factor causing rickets, and proved that fat-soluble vitamins present in cod liver oil, or exposure to ultra violet light, could cure and prevent rickets in children. She worked at the Lister Institute for over fifty years, and isolated vitamin C in various other fruits and vegetables.”

Chick’s Law-Basis of Disinfectant validation and D value. “In 1908 a British scientist, Dr. Harriet Chick, described a method for estimating the destruction of microorganisms by chemical disinfectants (Chick 1908). She postulated that the microbial mortality would follow what in physical chemistry would be called ‘first-order kinetics’—that is, mortality vs time data plots as a straight line on a semi-logarithmic graph. In practice, her postulate was correct and the law works for all liquid disinfectants and for many sterilization processes (for example, Chick’s Law has evolved into what is now referred to as D-value in autoclave sterilization).

This simple ‘Law’ (actually an equation) was modified quickly to account for varying disinfectant concentrations, and the pH of the disinfectant solution and the modified equation is now commonly called the ‘Chick-Watson Law.’”

Reference:  Chick, Harriette. (1908). “An Investigation of the Laws of Disinfection.” The Journal of Hygiene. 8:1 92-158.

December 22, 1877: Nascent Oxygen; 1998: Pollution Runs Through It

Oxidation Reduction Reactions

December 22, 1877: Publication date for “The Nascent State as Affecting Chemical Action.” (Davies 1877) Before we understood that oxidation-reduction reactions involved electron transfers, chemists theorized that oxygen existed in a “nascent state.” This state made it possible for oxidation reactions to take place. Such an outmoded chemistry concept is relevant to a discussion of the history of chlorination in the U.S.

The first continuous use of chlorine to disinfect a U.S. water supply occurred at Boonton Reservoir—the water supply for Jersey City, New Jersey. As recounted in a forthcoming book (The Chlorine Revolution), two trials defined the need for disinfection and documented how it happened. In the second Jersey City trial, Dr. John L. Leal claimed that chlorine was not responsible for killing bacteria. Instead, he put forth the long-standing theory that chlorine when added to water liberated something called nascent oxygen, and it was the nascent oxygen was responsible for disinfection. (McGuire 2013)

The concept of nascent oxygen originated with James Watt, who described the importance of liberated oxygen in the bleaching process. An equation suggested by Watt (Race 1918) showed chlorine producing oxygen when it was dissolved in water:

Cl2 + H2O = 2HCl + O

In which Cl2 = chlorine, H2O = water, HCl = hydrochloric acid, and O = nascent oxygen.

In a later, well-known publication, Albert D. Hooker stated the theory most clearly: “It should be well understood that chloride of lime, in its industrial application of bleaching, deodorizing, or disinfecting, does not act by its chlorine, but by its oxygen.” (Emphasis in original.) (Hooker 1913)

In 1918, Joseph Race described the controversy surrounding chlorine’s mode of action in water. Race stated that Fischer and Proskauer (1884) believed that chlorine was not directly toxic. Warouzoff, Winograoff, and Kolessnikoff (1886) found that chlorine gas killed airborne tetanus spores. Interestingly, Race quoted at length John L. Leal’s second-trial testimony supporting the theory of disinfection by nascent or potential oxygen. However, Race’s laboratory work in 1915–17 appeared to convince him that disinfection was caused by the direct toxic action of chlorine and not by nascent oxygen. (Race 1918)

Other publications reflected the confusion over chlorine’s mechanism of action. In his 1917 textbook, Ellms (who would testify in the second Jersey City trial) presented equations showing the formation of hypochlorous acid (HOCl) when chlorine was added to water. At this point in his discussion, he was correct. However, he then stated “The HOCL is decomposed into HCl and oxygen, which latter acts upon any oxidizable matter that may be present.” (Ellms 1917)

2HOCL à 2HCl + O2

In this case, HOCl = hypochlorous acid and O= oxygen.

“The energy liberated by the decomposition of the hypochlorous acid, as previously stated, explains the powerful oxidizing action of the evolved oxygen, and the destructive effect upon the microorganisms. Chlorine or the hypochlorites are therefore, merely agents for the production of oxygen under conditions which render it extremely active.” (Ellms 1917)

Abel Wolman and I.H. Enslow tried to put a stop to the nascent oxygen theory in 1919, but it persisted long after that. (Fair and Geyer 1954) We know now that HOCl exists in water in equilibrium with the dissociated hypochlorite ion and that the degree of dissociation is a function of the water’s pH.

HOCL ↔ OCl + H+

For this equation, OCl = hypochlorite ion and H+ = hydrogen ion.

In a textbook published in 1924, authors F.E. Turneaure and H.L. Russell tried to straddle the issue:

“The reaction of both hypochlorite and liquid chlorine in sterilization of water is substantially the same. The accepted theory is that the chlorine forms hypochlorous acid with the water setting free nascent oxygen which is considered the effective sterilization agent. Some authorities, however, contend that the chlorine itself has a toxic effect upon the bacteria.” (Turneaure and Russell 1924)

A 1935 rewrite of Sedgwick’s famous book on sanitary science favored the direct action of chlorine theory but did not totally discount the action by nascent oxygen.

“The mechanism by which chlorine brings about germicidal action is still undetermined. It is believed by some that the bacteria are destroyed because of the direct toxic effect of the chlorine. Others maintain that the introduction of chlorine into water results in the formation of hypochlorous acid—an unstable compound—which breaks up and liberates nascent oxygen and hydrochloric acid, the supposition being that the bacteria are destroyed by the nascent oxygen. . . . Since chlorine compounds can destroy bacteria even when oxygen is not liberated it would seem that those mechanisms that explain the germicidal action of chlorine without hypothesizing the formation of nascent oxygen have a more sound scientific basis.” (Prescott and Horwood 1935)

A 1944 publication by S.L. Chang appeared to put the controversy to rest: “The action of chlorine and chloramine compounds on cysts was attributed to the active chlorine which may oxidize or chlorinate the proteins in the protoplasm. The possibility of action by nascent oxygen liberated by HOCl was indirectly studied, and the evidence strongly indicated that this was unlikely to occur.” (Chang 1944) Since Chang’s publication, nascent oxygen has not been mentioned in professional publications except as a historical curiosity.

In their classic 1954 textbook on water and wastewater engineering, Gordon M. Fair and John C. Geyer addressed the historically curious concept and stated categorically that oxygen did not accomplish disinfection. It was chlorine in its various forms in water that was toxic to bacteria. (Fair and Geyer 1954) Like many a scientific theory that conveniently explained a troubling public relations problem, it took a lot of time to kill the nascent oxygen idea.

References:

  • Chang, S.L. 1944. “Destruction of Micro-Organisms.” Journal AWWA. 36:11 1192-1207.
  • Davies, Edward. 1878. “The Nascent State as Affecting Chemical Action.” The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions. 8: 485-6.
  • Ellms, Joseph W. 1917. Water Purification. New York City, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill.
  • Fair, Gordon M., and John C. Geyer. 1954. Water Supply and Waste-water Disposal. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Hooker, Albert D. 1913. Chloride of Lime in Sanitation. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.
  • McGuire, Michael J. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver:American Water Works Association, 2013.
  • Prescott, Samuel C. and Murray P. Horwood. 1935. Sedgwick’s Principles of Sanitary Science and the Public Health: Rewritten and Enlarged. New York:McMillan.
  • Race, Joseph. 1918. Chlorination of Water. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Turneaure, F.E., and H.L. Russell. 1924. Public Water-Supplies: Requirements, Resources, and the Construction of Works. 3rd Edition. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Polluted South Platte River

December 22, 1998New York Times headline—Observatory:  Pollution Runs Through It. “A river is like a highway, flowing through the landscape. Unfortunately, according to a new study, it is also like a car, polluting the air as it rolls along.

Scientists from the United States Geological Survey, in a study of the South Platte River in Nebraska and Colorado, determined that the river gives off large amounts of nitrous oxide, a gas that acts as a catalyst in the destruction of ozone in the atmosphere.

Like many rivers, the South Platte is rich in nitrates and ammonium, from agricultural runoff and the discharges from sewage treatment plants.

Microbes turn these nitrogen sources into nitrous oxide. The researchers, whose work was published in the Internet edition of Environmental Science and Technology, found that the river in many places was supersaturated in nitrous oxide, with the result that much of it entered the atmosphere.

The scientists estimated that the amount of the gas emitted along a 450-mile stretch of the river each year was equivalent to that produced by all the worst sewage treatment plants in the United States.

And although they said more studies were needed, they added that if the South Platte is typical, as seems likely, rivers are a major source of man-made nitrous oxide pollution.”