Tag Archives: drinking water

July 7, 1909: Water Tank Collapses, Man Runs for His Life

July 7, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineer article. A Defective Water Tower. “A water tank at Vermilion, S. D., which had for some time been known to be weak, fell a few weeks ago and the photograph of this shows very plainly the point of weakness. The tank was 20 feet in diameter and 16 feet high and rested upon a tower 100 feet high. The tower legs had been constructed of 12 x 12 timbers and there were eight 10 x 12 batter posts supporting and strengthening them. Each of the legs rested upon a stone foundation. The timbers forming the legs were all spliced at about the same distance from the ground one-half way up. This formed a series of weak points all at about the same elevation and apparently not sufficiently stiffened by bracing. The tank usually contained at least 12 feet depth of water, or about 100 tons, and for some time previous the supports had been noticed to be bulging at the point of splicing. As seen by the illustration, all of the legs or posts broke at this point; so readily, in fact, that the whole structure folded up like a jack-knife and the tank with its contents of water fell almost directly onto the center of the foundation. The tank itself remained intact until striking the ground, when it burst and was completely shattered.”

Reference:  “A Defective Water Tower.” 1909. Municipal Journal and Engineer. 27:1 (July 7, 1909): 7.

Commentary:  Notice the fellow running for his life in the lower right corner. When I started this blog and I began my search for interesting water stories from the past, this became one of my favorites if only for the amazing photograph. Given the rudimentary nature of photography at this time, it is incredible that this photo was captured.

July 6, 1917: 100+ year Anniversary of the National Clay Pipe Institute; 1890: Death of Edwin Chadwick

Vitrified Clay Pipe

July 6, 1917:  “Clay pipe has a history that goes back millennia, with the earliest known example coming from Babylonia in 4,000 BC, according to sewerhistory.org….The clay sewer pipe industry in the United States dates back to 1815 with installations in Washington, D.C. In 1849, the first domestic clay pipe manufacturing facility was established in Middlebury, Ohio. In the years that followed, cities across the country began laying pipe systems to convey sewage away from populated areas…. Around the turn of the 20th century, it was recognized that sewer pipe standards were needed; size, strength, quality and installation methods varied widely from location to location. As a result, an ASTM Committee was formed for clay sewer pipes. Eventually, this led to the publication of Standard C13 on the Manufacture of Clay Pipe in 1917 (which is now incorporated into ASTM C700).

That same year, the Clay Products Association was formed with the merger of the International Clay Products Bureau and the Society of Vitrified Clay Pipe Manufacturers. That organization – now known as the National Clay Pipe Institute – is celebrating its 100th anniversary amidst a resurgence of vitrified clay as a preferred gravity sanitary sewer pipe.”

Edwin Chadwick

July 6, 1890:  Death of Edwin Chadwick. Edwin Chadwick was an English social reformer who was noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and improve sanitary conditions and public health. The appointment of the Poor Law Commission in 1834 which included Edwin Chadwick is widely believed to be the beginning of the sanitary movement in England.  Through Chadwick’s work and influence, more sophisticated health statistics were collected which revealed that public health problems were increasing at a rapid rate.  Chadwick imposed his “sanitary idea” which focused on disease prevention.  A survey published by the Poor Law Commission in 1842 detailed the horrific working and living conditions in England at the time.  The report linked epidemic disease, especially related to fever diseases (typhoid, typhus and cholera) to filthy environmental conditions.  Privy vaults, shallow urban wells and piles of garbage and animal excrement in the streets were all related to the increases in disease.

“‘The great preventatives,’” he wrote, “‘drainage, street and house cleansing by means of supplies of water and improved sewerage, and especially the introduction of cheaper and more efficient modes of removing all noxious reuse from the towns, are operations for which aid must be sought from the science of the Civil Engineer, not from the physician, who has done his work when he has pointed out the disease that results from the neglect of proper administrative measures, and has alleviated the sufferings of the victims.’” (Rosen 1993)

Of course, the best way to identify and locate these health threats was to determine where the greatest odors of putrefaction were located and tie the solution to the problem—miasmas.

Chadwick was not ultimately successful in all he tried to do to clean up the noxious wastes in London and other concentrations of population in England.  However, he did have a profound influence on a series of laws that were passed in the mid to late 1800s which began to implement some of his vision. (Rosen 1993) The formation of boards of health and the appointment of health officers under these laws provided advocates for cleaning up the filth.

It is a common misconception among chroniclers of the time period, 1850 to 1900, that the act of installing sewers, in and of itself, was an effective public health protection strategy.  Edwin Chadwick was one of the major proponents of this misconception.  In the 1840s he became one of the leaders of the European Sanitary Movement.  In his famous report published in 1842, Chadwick promoted four themes:

  • Relationship of unsanitary living conditions and disease (based on the miasma theory)
  • Economic effects of poor living conditions
  • Social effects of poor living conditions (e.g., drunkenness, immorality, disease)
  • Need for new administrative systems to effect changes (Halliday 2001)

Chadwick had a vision of vast sewer systems collecting human waste and transporting it out to rural areas where it would be put to beneficial use as fertilizer for farms.  Water supply would be provided to cities through a piped water system from protected sources that were not affected by any locale’s sewage.  Unfortunately, only one out of three parts of Chadwick’s vision were implemented in London and elsewhere.  Sewers were built but the crucial sanitary disposal of human waste on farmland was not.  Sewage was discharged into rivers and lakes after which time no surface supplied drinking water was safe.

References:

Halliday, Stephen. 2001. The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. London, U.K.: History Press.

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

Rosen, George. 1993. A History of Public Health. Expanded Edition, Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University.

July 1, 1861: Birth of Charlotte Blair; 1997: Death of Holly Cornell; 1853: Paris Water Prices; 1818: Birth of Ignaz Semmelweis; 1912: Omaha Buys Its Waterworks

Charlotte Blair

July 1, 1861:  Charlotte Blair was born in Camden, South Carolina.  Miss Blair began an effort in 1905 to build a new iron pipe factory in Birmingham, Alabama, where there were extensive deposits of iron ore, limestone, and coal.  She recognized the need for water and sewer pipes for the rapidly growing cities in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.  She approached John J. Eagan, a wealthy Atlanta businessman who sought to invest in what he termed “a noble cause” and run the business according to the Christian principle of the Golden Rule.  This was the founding of AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company, who 109 years later makes iron and steel pipe for water service from 4-inches through 12-foot diameters, valves, and two lines of fire hydrants.  Mr. Eagan and Miss Blair knew that clean water would be the greatest advancement in public health in the history of the world.  Miss Blair was AMERICAN’s first corporate Secretary and Sales Manager, and the first female corporate Director in the state of Alabama and among the first in the nation.

Source: Nomination to Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe archives.

Holly A. Cornell

July 1, 1997:  Holly A. Cornell dies. Co-founder of CH2M Hill. Corvallis, Ore. – “Holly A. Cornell, one of four founding partners of the worldwide engineering firm CH2M Hill, has died. Mr. Cornell, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and pancreatic cancer, died July 1 at his home in Wilsonville. He was 83. He was remembered at a memorial service Monday as a hard-working, focused and even-tempered man who brought out the best in company employees. Mr. Cornell, born in Boise, Idaho, graduated from Grant High School in Portland in 1932. He earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Oregon State College and his master’s degree from Yale. Mr. Cornell managed CH2M Hill’s Seattle office from 1970 to 1980. He served as president and chief executive officer of CH2M Hill before retiring in 1979.”

Notre Dame de Paris

July 1, 1853:  Prices paid to Parisian water companies for filtered water delivered in casks by porter was 0.9 francs per cubic meter.  Do-it-yourselfers could buy a bucket full (18-20 liters) of filtered water for 0.025 francs.  Best of all, you could water your horse with filtered Seine River water for only 0.05 francs.

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, 54.

July 1, 1818:  Ignaz Semmelweis born in Buda, Hungary.  Semmelweis was a physician who introduced antiseptic procedures into obstetrical clinics.  Handwashing with a chlorine solution was found to dramatically decrease the death rate of new mothers from “childbed fever.”

July 1, 1912: Omaha buys the waterworks. The history of water development in Omaha before the Florence Waterworks was open was colorful and rocky. “For thirteen years after Omaha was founded there were no street cars, water mains, gas, or electric lights in the new but growing town….For several years after being founded Omaha was a town without a bath tub. [In later years,] Saturday night ablutions in the old wooden tub in the center of the kitchen floor were no uncommon thing. Or the hardy seekers after cleanliness took a dip in the river. The Saturday bath was an institution not lightly given over to modern changes.

Women carried water from well or cistern, except when they could induce their husbands to carry it for them, and the old wood cook stove…were to be found in every home. The first agitation for a city water works system was started as early as 1857. Several times in the following 20 years the question of a water system was brought up without any action being taken. An artesian well system was the favorite with the early settlers. They looked askance at the Missouri river water.

Before the water plant was built, large cisterns were constructed in the middle of the street intersections in the business district. Water was pumped from those cisterns when a business building caught fire. They proved better than nothing, but at that were far from satisfactory….

The [first water] system was opened in 1881 with 17 miles of pipe. Omaha’s first big municipal scandal developed in connection with the waterworks agitation. A prominent citizen was charged with bribing a councilman, but the charge was not substantiated. On August 1, 1889, the Florence waterworks was opened and a big day it was. Speeches were made and a banquet was served at what is still called the Minne Lusa pumping station.

Service given by the old Omaha waterworks company was not the best in the world and agitation for municipal ownership of the plant started as early as 1896. United States Senator R.B. Howell was the prime mover in the fight to take over the water plant. The city eventually bought the plant on July 1, 1912, for $6,319,000, a rather stiff price.”

June 29, 1989: SWTR and Total Coliform Rules Promulgated

June 29, 1989:  Surface Water Treatment Rule and Total Coliform Rules promulgated on this date. These are two of the most important drinking water regulations adopted by the USEPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. A summary of the SWTR stated:  “This notice, issued under the Safe Drinking Water Act, publishes maximum contaminant level goals for Giardia lamblia viruses, and Legionella; and promulgates national primary drinking water regulations for public water systems using surface water sources or ground water sources under the direct influence of surface water that include (1) criteria under which filtration (including coagulation and sedimentation, as appropriate) are required and procedures by which the States are to determine which systems must install filtration, and (2) disinfection requirements. The filtration and disinfection requirements are treatment technique requirements to protect against the potential adverse health effects of exposure to Giardia lamblia, viruses, Legionella, and heterotrophic bacteria, as well as many other pathogenic organisms that are removed by these treatment techniques. This notice also includes certain limits on turbidity as criteria for (1) determining whether a public water system is required to filter; and (2) determining whether filtration, if required, is adequate.”

Commentary:  The SWTR has been changed substantially by subsequent regulations and the Total Coliform Rule has been radically altered. However, these two regulations contributed significantly to the improvement of public water supplies in the U.S. in the later part of the twentieth century.

June 28, 1917: Water Supply for the Army

U.S. Army Cantonment

June 28, 1917:  Municipal Journal article. Preparation of Water Supply for Army. “San Diego, Cal.-The [local] health department has received the following communication from the state board of health signed by C. G. Gillespie, director of the bureau of sanitary engineering: ‘While the San Diego supply easily surpasses any other surface source in California in the amount of laboratory and field supervision given, we are anxious that it be placed in the rank of the best in the country. This is most imperative now by reason of the location of a large army cantonment in your midst. I believe that we shall insist upon chlorination of all water furnished to the troops. In addition, laboratory facilities should be hastened to enable your office to make daily analysis of samples collected on each individual supply, both before and after treatment. Occasionally the sampling should be done early in the day to check up night operation. Within a few weeks I plan to return to San Diego to devote entire attention to the water system. It is hoped that you will have prepared new forms and begun the more systematic collection of pertinent data by that time. I beg to report that we appreciate the steps along this line now undertaken and the good showing in the absence of B. coli with the present frequency of sampling.’”

Commentary:  This article is interesting because the State of California had obviously extended its regulatory powers over a water supply for a federal facility—an army camp constructed to train soldiers for the First World War.

Commentary by Catherine Ma:  Chester Gillespie was the first Chief (1915-1947) of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering (established 1915) in the CA State Department of Public Health.   It’s interesting to note the persuasive but firm tone he used in enjoining a regulated entity to properly treat its water supply—it’s for the Army troops readying for battles, i.e. “ I believe that we shall insist upon chlorination of all water furnished to the troops.” It was nothing like “Thou shall treat or else.”

According to the oral history left to us by Henry Ongerth:  “Chester Gillespie was a tall, slender, very friendly, rather shy person….He had a tremendous knowledge of the details of water supply and sewage disposal all over the State of California. He spent much time making field trips throughout the State and his men all referred to him as “The Chief,” though not when talking to him directly.   At least in the latter part of his career, Chester Gillespie worked largely by persuasion rather than through formal methods of law enforcement.”  Note :   “ …One of the major events of the Gillespie administration was the suit by the State Department of Public Health against the City of Los Angeles.  This suit which went to the State Supreme Count, resulted in a judgment requiring Los Angeles to install treatment for its sewage discharge to the Pacific Ocean.”

Mr. Chester Gillespie was one very classy regulator and public health engineer!

By the way, as far as I can remember and at least for the past three decades, our California Water Program has had regulatory jurisdiction over all federal water systems.

June 26, 1913: Chlorination in Richmond, VA

Modern Chlorination Facility

June 26, 1913:  Hypochlorite addition to disinfect the municipal water supply was initiated in Richmond, VA. Following a typhoid fever outbreak, Dr. E.C. Levy, who was the Chief Health Officer for the City, recommended the addition of hypochlorite.  Levy was President of the American Public Health Association in 1923–six years before George W. Fuller.

“In 1914, apparatus for applying liquid chlorine was installed. But not until August 29, 1924, was a complete purification plant available, with coagulation basins, mechanical filters, aerators and a clear-water basin, the whole of 30-mgd capacity.”

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, 130.

June 25, 1914: Drifting Sand Filtration

June 25, 1914:  Engineering News article. A Novel Water-Filtration Plant for Toronto. “It is not often that a city takes up a novelty in water filtration or in any other class of engineering work on so large a scale as the proposed 72,000-U. S.-gal. “drifting sand” filtration plant for which the city council of Toronto awarded the contract on June 8. It is true, as stated elsewhere in this issue, that two plants of a few hundred thousand gallons capacity are already in operation elsewhere and that contracts for two other and much larger plants are well under way. It is also true that a working unit was tested for 33 days at Toronto under the direction of the local medical officer of health and city analyst, and that this same test plant has been under observation for over a year. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the drifting-sand filter is as yet in the working-scale experimental stage, with few data yet available regarding its efficiency and less to be had regarding operating costs.

The drifting-sand filter may be described as a deep mechanical filter with reversion to the early type in the way of absence of coagulation basins and rate-controllers and with the addition of continuous washing and replacing of filter sand. It is claimed that this added feature makes up for the lack of a coagulating basin. To what extent this claim will be made good by experience at Toronto and on different waters at other places, it will be interesting to learn a few years hence.”

Commentary:  The filter plant was built in 1917 and used until 1981 by the City of Toronto. No other large-scale filtration plants adopted this unique design.

June 24, 1915: Wanaque, NJ Water Supply

Wanaque Reservoir

June 24, 1915:  Municipal Journal article. More Cities Want Wanaque Supply. “Trenton, N. J.-Jersey City has also asked to be considered in the Wanaque plan. Commissioner George F. Brensinger told the commission that Jersey City would probably need an additional supply of water if the plan to consolidate the Hudson towns was carried out in the near future. The daily capacity of the present reservoirs which store the supply developed at Boonton is 50,000,000 gallons. The city has actually used that quantity at some periods, but just now is consuming about 47,000,000 to 49,000,000 gallons daily. Jersey City has a protective contract with the New York and New Jersey Water Company. Morris R. Sherrerd, engineer of the commission, suggested that Jersey City could obtain water from the Wanaque watershed through its pipe line that now passes through Belleville. The engineer pointed out that the prospect of getting water in this way within four or five years would enable Jersey City to postpone incurring the expense of building additional pipe lines to Boonton or increasing its storage capacity there.

There is a possibility that Essex municipalities not hitherto considered may want Wanaque water. West Orange is looking forward to new sources now. Its contract with the West Orange Water Company expires in 1918 and its representatives have been talking to the state commission about the prospect of getting a new supply from the Wanaque. Elizabeth put up more money than any other municipality for the Wanaque survey, but the commission has heard nothing officially that would indicate what attitude it will take on the development plans.”

June 18, 1940: E.B. Bain Plant Dedicated, Raleigh, NC

June 18, 1940:  E.B. Bain Water Treatment Plant dedicated. “Back in 1938, Raleigh[, North Carolina]  was faced with a choice: reduce the growing demand for water by cutting off the supply to unincorporated areas; do nothing until demand outstripped supply; or build a new plant with federal Public Works Administration funding. City leaders looked the future in the eye and saw growth and need. They built.

The PWA provided 45 percent and city bond money the rest of the $700,000 price tag for the plant and improvements to the water system.  Work started in mid-1939. By the next spring, the plant on Walnut Creek was operational. It was dedicated June 18, 1940, and was named after Ernest Battle Bain, the city’s longtime water superintendent.  It had water filtering and pumping operations under one roof, and four electric pumps plus a gas-powered one in reserve. And although it was rated at 8 million gallons a day, it could put out up to 10 million. It was built to allow expansion up to 20 million gallons a day, according to information unearthed by David Black, now an architectural intern, who researched its history for the historic designation application.

A story in The Raleigh Times the day it was dedicated declared “City’s Water Plant is Engineering Feat,” because it was built on the same site as the old one. The new one had to be built and the old one taken out simultaneously, without interrupting water supply.”

A series of seven excellent videos explains the history of water development for Raleigh, North Carolina.

June 16, 1858: Death of Dr. John Snow

Dr. John Snow

June 16, 1858:  Death of Dr. John Snow. Dr. John Snow (March 15, 1813–June 16, 1858) is famous for the Broad Street Pump episode but he accomplished so much more than that. He was first and foremost a physician who trained in England in the early part of the 19th century. He made significant contributions to the development of anesthesia and he is considered by many to be the Father of Modern Epidemiology.

The story of Dr. John Snow and how he discovered the cause of a cholera epidemic in the Golden Square neighborhood of London in 1854 has reached almost mythical proportions in public health literature.  Three excellent books describe Snow’s life and the details of the Broad Street Pump incident. (Hempel 2007; Johnson 2006; Vinten-Johansen et al. 2003)

Snow was born on March 15, 1813 in the City of York.  He served his medical-apothecary apprenticeship in Newcastle-on-Tyne with later assistantships in the villages of Burnop Field and Pateley Bridge.  In 1836 at the age of 23, Snow moved to London to complete his medical education.  He qualified as a licensed apothecary in 1838 and a surgeon with a London practice in October 1838.  With an office in the parish of Saint Anne-Soho, Snow would have a medical career of only two-dozen years before he was struck down at the age of 45.

At the age of 17, Snow became a vegetarian and soon thereafter committed to only drinking boiled water or, preferably, distilled water as a result of the writings of John Frank Newton.  He embraced abstinence from alcohol around 1836.  Snow was known to be quiet, frugal and energetic, a man of integrity and a surgeon with an indifferent bedside manner.  He refused to dispense pills and other medicines just because his patients wanted them.  He was able to make a living and acquire some success as a physician when he perfected the administration of chloroform as an anesthetic used during surgeries and infant deliveries.  He even delivered two babies while attending Queen Victoria.

He never married.  His solitary existence and his abstinent personal habits allowed him more time than his colleagues to develop his medical practice and enabled him to pursue his intense interest in determining the cause of cholera epidemics.

Snow gave away all of the knowledge he developed.  He made it available for free to any doctor who wanted it.  No attempt was made by him to patent his many devices for dispensing chloroform and ether. As a result, physicians hired him to use his skill with their patients and he became famous for this.

One overriding personal characteristic of this ascetic doctor of the Victorian era was courage.  He worked hard to develop his ideas and used the scientific method and laboratory investigations to establish his case in whatever area he was working.  Once he became convinced of the rightness of his position, nothing could dislodge him.  It was only his tremendous courage that made it possible for him to go up against the establishment and argue that something other than foul air was causing the deadly cholera. (McGuire 2013)

Snow’s determination of the cause of the cholera epidemic near the Broad Street pump and his ability, albeit temporary, to have the pump handle removed is worthy of recounting here.  The 1854 cholera epidemic struck the Golden Square neighborhood of London with particular viciousness. It began on August 31 and started to wind down about September 7, however, many died over the next few days. Well over 500 people died during this epidemic in a small neighborhood. Snow tracked the numbers of deaths in the neighborhood, and it was clear to him from the pattern of death that the Broad Street pump was the center of the affliction and most likely the source of infection. On September 7, Snow convinced the Board of Governors and Directors of the Poor of St. James Parish that the epidemic was being caused by water from the pump. The next day the commissioners ordered that the pump handle be removed. Structural defects in the Broad Street well sump and the cross-connection to the nearby house sewer were not corrected until 1855.

Incredibly, the residents of Broad Street petitioned the Commissioners to reopen the well that had caused hundreds of deaths in their neighborhood.  This was partly due to the official linkage of the severe, isolated epidemic in the Broad Street area to miasma (foul air). In an amazing footnote to history, the commissioners voted 10 to 2 to reopen the well on September 26, 1855, one year and one week after the last deaths during the epidemic.  According to contemporary reports, there was much rejoicing in the street that the Broad Street well was reopened.  The polluted well was not permanently closed until the cholera epidemic of 1866.

With the emphasis on the Broad Street pump episode in most historical accounts, his pioneering work in epidemiology based on cholera occurrence in a district of London served by two water supplies usually gets lost.  Snow was able to demonstrate that homes in areas of London that were being served contaminated water from the tidal portion of the Thames Estuary were far more likely to have cholera deaths than the homes served water from an unpolluted upland source. He believed that dumping sewage into a water supply perpetuated the death spiral caused by cholera and other waterborne diseases. Snow had strong opinions on sewers and drinking water systems.

“Snow who distilled his own drinking water, agreed that London water should be improved, but he considered the abolition of cesspools and the increasing preference for water closets a sanitary disaster…water closets connected to sewer lines that emptied into rivers also used for metropolitan drinking water were, in his mind, primarily an efficient means of recycling the cholera agent through the intestines of victims as rapidly as possible.  Sanitary reforms were needed, but flushing the waste of a town into the same river by which one quenched ones’ thirst seemed sheer stupidity.” (Vinten-Johansen et al 2003)

Dr. John Snow died of a stroke on June 16, 1858, 42 days after the birth of John L. Leal who grew to be a physician who carried on Snow’s concern about the ability of contaminated water to spread disease.  If the discoveries of Dr. John Snow had been accepted and followed by engineers, sewer planners and drinking water providers beginning in 1854, millions of deaths would have been avoided.  Snow was only one person trying to overcome the juggernaut of the miasma theory.  He was far ahead of his time.

References:

Hempel, Sandra. 2007. The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera. Los Angeles, Ca.: University of California.

Johnson, Steven. 2006. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World, New York City, N.Y.: Riverhead Books.

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

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

Medallion on John Snow Memorial, York, England (Photo Credit: Joe and Barbara Davis)

John Snow Memorial in York, England (Photo Credit: Joe and Barbara Davis)