Tag Archives: drinking water

May 27, 1907: Birth of Rachel Carson; 1910: Death of Robert Koch; 1755: First Municipal Water Pumping Plant

May 27, 1907: Birth of Rachel Carson. “Biologist and authorof Silent Spring, The Sea Wind and other non-fiction work intended to improve the public understanding of science, Carson became a leading figure in the environmental movement before her death in 1964.”

Rachel Louise Carson(May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.

Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries,[2] and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her a U.S. National Book Award,[3] recognition as a gifted writer, and financial security. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the reissued version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. This sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the depths.

Late in the 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially environmental problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people. Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides, and it inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.”

May 27, 1910:  Death of Robert Koch. Robert Heinrich HermannKoch was born December 11, 1843, in the small city of Clausthal in what was then called Lower Saxony. The city is 120 miles south and a little east of Hamburg and about the same distance west and a little south of Berlin. American microbiologist Thomas D. Brock’s excellent 1999 biography of Koch chronicled his life, triumphs, and tragedies. Koch studied many diseases besides those that were waterborne. In addition to his innovative work in water bacteriology, he became world-famous for isolating and accurately describing the tubercle bacillus, the cause of anthrax disease (Bacillus anthracis), the cholera germ, and the genus of Staphylococcusorganisms that cause many infections in humans.

It was Robert Koch who revolutionized our understanding of microscopic organisms in water and their relation to specific diseases. Once again, tools were crucial to progress. Although Koch had basic microscopes, not everything could be described or investigated under a microscope. He needed methods to examine what made microorganisms grow and die. So, he and the scientists in his laboratory developed the tools that advanced the science of bacteriology, many of which are still in use today (i.e., standard plate count, coliform test).

In 1880, Koch changed from a German country doctor performing clever experiments in a spare bedroom to a professional researcher at the Imperial Health Office in Berlin.  It was not until December 1875 that he did his famous experiment with anthrax by injecting a rabbit with material from a diseased source and infecting the rabbit with the disease. He did not publish the paper describing his groundbreaking anthrax research until December 1876.

In Berlin, Koch realized that the key to advances in bacteriology was development of pure cultures of the organisms causing disease. He was aware of early work in which a limited number of bacteria were grown on the solid surface of potato slices. However, the human pathogens he was interested in studying did not grow very well on a potato substrate.

Robert Koch developed the tools that spawned the next generation of advances in bacteriology, and these advances provide a direct link to the two Jersey City trials. Without his breakthroughs, there would not have been any bacteriological data to determine if the Boonton Reservoir was providing pure and wholesome water to Jersey City.

In 1881, Koch published his seminal paper on bacterial growth on a solid medium. Called the “Bible of Bacteriology,” the paper (in German) described in some detail how Koch combined the liquid medium in which pathogens would grow with a solidifying agent—gelatin. The transparent nutrient gelatin could be fixed onto a transparent glass plate, and the use of a magnifying lens made counting the bacterial colonies that grew on the nutrient medium quite easy. Because of his research on tuberculosis, Koch received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1905.

In 1908, Koch and his wife visited the United States as part of a world tour. In many ways, this trip was Koch’s victory lap. But the trip was the beginning of the end for Koch; he died two years later in Baden-Baden on May 27, 1910, at the age of 67.

References: 

Brock, Thomas D. 1999. Robert Koch: A Life in Medicine and Bacteriology. Washington, D.C.: ASM Press.

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

Bethlehem Pumping Plant

May 27, 1755:  Hans Christopher Christiansen installed the first municipal water pumping plantin America at Bethlehem, PA; city supplied from a 70 foot high tank that was filled with water pumped from a spring through wooden pipes.

“Begun in 1754 and enlarged in 1762, the Bethlehem Waterworks is thought to be the first municipal pumping system to provide drinking and washing water in the United States. Johann Christopher Christensen devised the system in 1754 to transfer spring water from the Monocray Creek flood plain to the Moravian settlement on the bluff above it. Six years later, Christensen enlarged the waterworks and installed it in a 24-foot-square limestone rubble structure with a red-tile covered hipped-bellcast-gable roof. The system’s 18-foot undershot waterwheel powered three single acting cast-iron pumps which forced spring water through wood (later lead) pipes 320 feet (94 vertical feet) by a collecting tower, and from there water flowed by gravity to strategically placed cisterns throughout the community. Machines to raise water had been in use in Europe for centuries, but until the construction of the Bethlehem Waterworks, none had been erected in the American Colonies.

In 1652 the Water-Works Company of Boston had constructed a gravity conduit system that used bored logs to convey water from wells and springs to a 12-foot-square reservoir, but the system had not fulfilled the expectations of its promoters and had fallen into disuse. Christensen, born in Schleswig-Holstein in 1716 and trained during his youth in a royal mill in Hadersleben, probably took his ideas for the Bethlehem system from his knowledge of the forcing pumps that had been in use in many German cities since the end of the 15th century. The system served the city until 1832.

By the 1960s the area had become an automobile junkyard. The stone pumphouse was restored in the 1970s, and the waterwheel and pumps were subsequently reconstructed based on the original plans that had been preserved in the Moravian Archives in Germany. The Old Waterworks is a National Historic Landmark.”

References:  “Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.phpand Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/delaware/wat.htm

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May 25, 1806: Description of Glasgow Filtration Works

Glasgow Waterworks—Loch Katrine Outlet

May 25, 1806:  Letter from Thomas Telford discussing design of the filtration works at Glasgow, Scotland.  Glasgow was the third city in the world to receive filtered water (after Paisley, Scotland and Paris).  Delivery of water by pipes to customers began in 1807.

“Thomas Telford, who later founded and served as first president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, was engineer for the Glasgow Water Works Co. Correspondence between him and Boulton &  Watt (13) affords meager data regarding his plans for the earliest filter at Glasgow. In a letter dated May 25, 1806, he said that “if there is any difficulty in getting the water [from the Clyde] to subside or filtrate so as to be perfectly good-then instead of one reservoir 6 ft. in depth, it will be advisable to have two of 3 ft. in depth each-and each one acre in superficial area.”

About forty years after the works were completed, Donald Mackain, engineer of the company then supplying water to Glasgow (14), described how Telford proposed that water be pumped from the Clyde at a point two miles above the city to three reservoirs each holding a day’s supply. These reservoirs were to be so placed, wrote Telford, in a report no longer available, “that the water in passing from one to another shall be filtrated.” Telford’s plan was followed, says Mackain, but in times of flood the river brought down alluvial matter that did not soon subside, followed by water from sources higher up which had a deep brown color. Telford’s filter yielded water differing little from that of the river.

Again, what a pity that Telford and Mackain made only vague references to filters built so early. Neither Telford in his autobiography (15) nor Sir Alexander Gibb in his recent biography of Telford (16) mentions Telford’s filters at Glasgow.

James Simpson, in a discussion (17) of Mackain’s paper, describes Telford’s filters as “a series of cells, filled with sand” through which the water passed in succession. When the water was at its worst it was little changed after passing through the first filter, but at times the filters worked satisfactorily.”

Reference: Baker, Moses N. 1981. The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver, Co.: American Water Works Association, 80-1.

May 24, 1911: Common Cup Banned in Chicago and New Jersey

May 24, 1911:  Municipal Journalarticles.

Drinking Cup Outlawed.“Chicago, Ill.-Chicago physicians are united in praising the action of the Council in outlawing the common drinking cup. Under the terms of the ordinance, public drinking cups must disappear by August 8. All cups and glasses found in schools, office buildings, department stores, physicians’ reception rooms and all public places will be seized.”

Water Cups to Go.“Plainfield, N. ].-The use of the common drinking cup in public places in Plainfield will be a thing of the past after July 4, according to the provisions of the new law enacted by the Legislature, and persons violating the act will be liable to a fine of $25 for each offense. There are a number of places in this city where the law will be effective, such as railroad stations, stores, shops, factories, etc. After July 4 paper cups in slot machines, or some other approved method will have to be adopted, not only here, but all over the State.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1911. 30:21(May 24, 1911): 748.

Commentary: The laws passed to ban the common cup had some teeth. They seized any common cups that they found in Chicago and there was a $25 fine in New Jersey. Wait a minute. Common cups were banned in physician waiting rooms? Doctors’ offices? Where people are sick? Gee, that seems kind of harsh.

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

May 22, 1854: Birth of Leonard P. Kinnicutt

May 22, 1854:  Birth of Leonard P. Kinnicutt. In 1909, Leonard P. Kinnicutt was Professor of chemistry and director of the chemical laboratory at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  He graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1875 from MIT and spent several years in Germany studying under well-known chemists including Professor Bunsen.  He completed his Doctor of Science degree at Harvard in 1882.  Despite the title of his position and his education, he identified himself as a water bacteriologist.  He was experienced in bacteriological analysis of water supplies and he studied sewage disposal for a number of cities.

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.

In 1909, Kinnicutt testified as an expert for the defendants in the second trial. He stated that chlorine was safe, effective and reliable. He was recruited by a letter from Dr. John L. Leal in the summer of 1908.  Sadly, he also died only two years after his participation in this case.

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

May 20, 1915: Filtration Finally Installed in St. Louis

Chain of Rocks Filtration Plant, St. Louis, MO

May 20, 1915:  Municipal Journal article. St. Louis Filter Plant Opened. “St. Louis, Mo.-The city has celebrated the dedication of the new $1,350,000 filtration plant at Chain of Rocks. Many citizens, including delegates from 150 organizations, responded to the invitation of the city officials. The new plant, which is of the rapid sand filter type, has a capacity of 160,000,000 gallons daily, increasing to 200,000,000 in emergencies. The filter house is 750 feet long by 134 wide and contains forty filters. The building is entirely of concrete and metal and the headhouse is similarly constructed. It contains the boilers, tanks, pumps and laboratory. The coagulation and sedimentation process, installed in 1904, is still used in connection with the rapid sand filters and the sterilization with liquid chlorine when necessary. The waterworks are now valued at $29,680,000, wth a bonded indebtedness of $2,642,000. The flat rate is 8 3/4 cents per 100 gallons. The new addition took 20 months in building.

Reference:  “St. Louis Filter Plant Opened.” 1915. Municipal Journal. 38:20(May 20, 1915): 700.

Commentary:  After killing their citizens for many decades by providing them with unfiltered and undisinfected drinking water, St. Louis finally fixed their problems. Well, sort of. Note that they plan to only use chlorine disinfection “when necessary.” Remember that the source of supply is the Mississippi River. Anyone with an ounce of sense and knowledge of public health would have built a slow sand filter plant after they sent James P. Kirkwood on his tour of European filtration facilities in the mid 1860s. His famous report was published in 1869.

May 19, 1909: Disposal of Chicago’s Sewage

May 19, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. Disposal of Chicago’s Sewage. “The greatest sanitary undertaking the world has ever seen is the work being done by the Sanitary District of Chicago in securing a pure water supply and a disposal of the sewage from this mammoth city. Prior to the beginning of this project, all the sewage from the city was emptied into Lake Michigan, either directly or through the Chicago River. At the same time the water supply of the city came from the same lake and the intake cribs were only a few miles from the sewer outlet. Consequently, it was not surprising that the typhoid death rate was almost the highest in the country. While the· work is not yet completed, and there still remain a number of sewers emptying into the lake, conditions have been so improved that the City of Chicago had one of the lowest typhoid death rates, during the past year, of any city in the United States. Dr. Evans, Health Commissioner of Chicago, states that 16,299 lives have been saved during the past eight years by the improvement of the water supply due to the drainage canal.”

Reference:  “Disposal of Chicago’s Sewage.” 1909. Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:20(May 19, 1909): 879.

Commentary:The greatest in the world. Chicagoans have never been shy about using hyperbole to describe their public works. It is true that the typhoid fever rate was dramatically decreased due to the Drainage Canal. But, it would take the installation of chlorine 1911-1917 to break the Sewer Pipe, Water Pipe Death Spiral.