Tag Archives: drinking water

July 21, 1909: Filters for Providence, RI

July 21, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Water Filters of Providence, R.I. “Final construction is just about being completed on the ten filter beds which constitute the plant designed some years ago for the purification of the water supply of Providence, R.I. The first contract was dated July 15, 1902, and called for six slow sand filters each approximately one acre in effective area; a regulating house containing the measuring and controlling apparatus; a pumping station, and a laboratory building. When the plans for these filters were under consideration the subject of covering the beds was considered at some length. In view of the fact that at Lawrence, Mass., 50 miles further north, little trouble had been experienced with snow and ice or with any serious interruption of bacterial efficiency on account of cold, and inasmuch as a considerable saving in cost could he made by omitting the covers the Commissioner of Public Works decided to adopt open filter beds.

Part of the first six beds was put in operation in the summer of 1904 and a second contract was let on February 13, 1905 calling for another regulating house and two additional beds. The winter of 1905-06 was particularly severe in New England and the formation of ice on the water over the filter beds then in service made the cleaning of them very difficult and at times almost impossible. Ice fourteen inches thick formed over the filters, and not only the full force of water works employees but a number from the sewer department also were utilized, the force at times reaching 150 men; but even with these it was impossible to remove the ice as fast as it formed. In consequence the beds had to be operated with much greater loss of head than had been intended. The same difficulty was found in the winter of 1906-07 and at times it was found necessary to draw water directly from the river to supply the demand.

This experience convinced those in charge that it would conduce not only to greater efficiency of filtration in winter time, but to greater economy also, to have the filters covered. Accordingly on June 11, 1906, a contract was let to the Pettaconset Construction Company of Providence, which firm also obtained the two previous contracts for the filters, for placing covers over the beds then under construction, and also over the six already completed; also to construct two more covered beds, making ten beds in all.”

Commentary: Note the highlighted section. If the filters are not used because the cold weather causes the water to freeze, then they are not much good as a barrier to disease. In The Chlorine Revolution, I noted that the typhoid fever rate was not much reduced after slow sand filtration was introduced into Lawrence, MA. Perhaps they were drawing raw water out of the Merrimac River during the winter and not telling anyone.

July 20, 1982: Boil Water Order in Jersey City

July 20, 1982: New York Times headline: Drinking Water in Jersey City Must Still Be Boiled. “The requirement that the 300,000 customers of the Jersey City Water Department boil all of their drinking water for five minutes remained in effect today after state officials detected possible excessive bacteria in the water, city officials said. The reason for the possible contamination was not clear because the water supply is filtered and chlorinated (since 1908). It appeared to be a problem with a broken water main that introduced contaminated water into parts of the distribution system.”

Commentary: Notice the date. Thirty-one years later as of 2013, Jersey City just lifted a boil water order that was caused by the same problem—a broken water main. Aging infrastructure has its penalties.

July 19, 1911: Home-Made Sanitary Drinking Cup and New York’s Filtration Plant and Park

July 19, 1911: Municipal Journal articles.

Home-Made Sanitary Drinking Cup. “With a view to eliminating the dangers of infection from the use of public drinking cups, a set of “plans and specifications” for the manufacture of a sanitary drinking vessel has been prepared. All that is necessary is a piece of paper, seven inches square, which, if folded properly, will form a drinking cup that will be sufficiently sanitary for any one. The diagram shows the method of folding the paper so as to make the cup ready for immediate use. There are no sharp edges of paper at the edge of the cup, and hence no danger of cutting the lips. A cup made from an ordinary grade of book paper will keep its shape and hold water for five or ten minutes. If a hard manila wrapping paper is used the cup will be much more- durable. A convenient size cup for general use is made of a piece of paper seven inches square.

Pupils of the fourth grade at the Grant School, Trenton, N. J., did some excellent work in making paper drinking cups during the last week of the school session, and are making them at their homes for daily use at public drinking fountains. Agitation concerning the uncleanliness of public drinking cups has impressed these children with the advantage of using individual cups. It is the intention of Supervisor William R. Ward, of the manual training class, to introduce the making of cups as a regular feature in the lower grades of all the schools next September. The cups are made of manila paper, folded in such a manner that they keep their shape without any pasting, and can be conveniently carried in pockets of coats or trousers.”

Commentary: The national movement to end the common cup and the disease risks associated with its use reached down into the schools. There were numerous grass-roots efforts to impress on everyone just how dangerous it was to use a common cup. As has been noted in this blog before, individual states banned the common cup and in 1912, the common cup was banned by federal regulation on interstate modes of transportation. By the way, if you want to try the home-made cup, start out with very clean paper.

New York’s Filtration Plant and Park. “New York, N. Y.-The illustration is a sketch of the Jerome Park reservoir, for which Commissioner Thompson has been allowed an appropriation of $8,690,000 showing how it will look when half of it is roofed over and a park laid out on top of it. It is estimated that it will take about four years to complete the work, by which time the reservoir park will be made accessible by one of the new transit lines. The filter will be of the mechanical type and will have a capacity of 400,000,000 gallons a day.”

Commentary: 1911? What ever happened to the filtration plant planned for the Croton water supply? Plans for it were shelved when chlorination appeared to solve many of the bacteriological problems with this supply. Now, 100+ years later, filtration of this water supply has become a reality. The modern plant is now operational.

July 17, 1913: Water Purification at Erie, PA

Erie Water Works

July 17, 1913: Municipal Journal article. Water Purification at Erie. “The year 1912 was the second for the use of hypochlorite by the water works commissioners, of Erie, Pa., and they report that it has proved beyond a doubt the value of this treatment as a water purifier. “The treated water has at all times been free from pathogenic germs and perfectly safe to be used for drinking purposes.” From January 1 to June 9 7 pounds of hypochlorite was applied to the million gallons of water pumped. The amount was increased to 8 pounds from June 9 to October 10, after which it was again reduced to 7 pounds. The number of bacteria per c. c. in the water immediately after treatment averaged as follows for each of the twelve months: 26, 37, 10, 20, 36. 56, 26, 26, 26, 33, 30 and 24. It was found that the number of bacteria generally increased in the mains, and water as drawn from the taps contained an average of 24 bacteria in February and 554 in June, these being the minimum and maximum monthly averages. It is extremely probable that the additional bacteria were perfectly harmless varieties. The cost of operating and maintaining the sterilization plant for the year was approximately 79 cents per million gallons of water pumped. The average daily pumpage for the year was 15,679,132 gallons.

On July 25, 1912. a contract was let by the commissioners for a pumping station, boilers, and 24-million gallon rapid sand filter plant, the contract price of which was $446,380. Part of this contract is completed, and the whole is expected to be finished by next spring.”

Commentary: Erie was one of the many cities who jumped on the chlorination bandwagon and then realized that they also need to filter their water to fully protect their customers.

July 16, 1914: Acquisition of the East Jersey Water Company

Wanaque Reservoir

July 16, 1914: Municipal Journal article. To Decide on Joining Water Supplies. “Trenton, N. J. In a resolution the State Water Supply Commission requested that Newark and the eight other municipalities which have made application for a joint water supply signify within sixty days whether they favor the acquisition of the properties of the East Jersey Water Company or the alternative plan of developing the watershed of the Wanaque River. The commission will hold a final conference with representatives from the nine interested municipalities at the city hall, Paterson, in September. The municipalities included are Newark, Paterson, Elizabeth, Montclair, East Orange, Totowa, Glen Ridge, Nutley and Passaic. The action of the commission was the outcome of a resolution recently adopted by the Board of Works of Newark urging that action be taken to provide an additional water supply for that city without further delay. It is understood that Newark is opposed to the purchase of the East Jersey Water Company plant, but is more than willing that the Wanaque watershed be constructed.

It is further said that the attitude of the State commission is that Newark’s need for more water is imperative and that should the other municipalities fail to come to some agreement by September 11, the State should enter into a contract with Newark and proceed with the Wanaque development. The resolutions adopted by the state commission review at length the negotiations between that body and the nine municipalities, including the authorization of the appraisal of the plant of the East Jersey Water Company.”

Commentary: Ultimately, the Wanaque water supply was developed by Newark and the East Jersey Water Company was rolled up with other private water companies into a regional water agency that became known as the Passaic Valley Water Commission. The Commission is still operational today. The cornerstone of the Commission water supply is the treatment plant built on the original site of George Warren Fuller’s revolutionary mechanical filtration plant at Little Falls, New Jersey.

July 14, 1954: Death of Dr. S.J. Crumbine

Samuel J. Crumbine

July 14, 1954: New York Times headline-S.J. Crumbine Dies; ‘Frontier Doctor.’ Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine, a physician known as the “frontier doctor,” whose efforts resulted in the outlawing of a common drinking cup in trains, hotels and schools, died Monday, after a brief illness in his home at 35-37 Seventy-eighth street, Jackson Heights, Queens. His age was 91.

Dr. Crumbine is given credit for putting the phrase ‘swat the fly’ into the American vocabulary. The story is told that he hit upon it while attending a baseball game and became confused with the two expressions, ‘swat the ball’ and ‘get the fly.’

From 1923 to 1936 he served as general executive of the American Child Health Association. In 1930, at the direction of President Herbert Hoover, he made a three-month survey of children’s health conditions in Puerto Rico.

As the result of the report Dr. Crumbine made, President Hoover established a six-year plan for the rehabilitation and relief of children in Puerto Rico.

Dr. Crumbine set up his first practice in 1885 in Dodge City, Kan. when that city had many outlaws. He remained there until 1904, when he moved to Topeka and became executive officer of the Kansas Board of Health. He held this post until 1923. In addition, from 1911 to 1919, Dr. Crumbine was dean of the School of Medicine of Kansas University….

In 1907, after seeing persons drinking from a common cup on a railroad train—a cup that sick persons also had used—Dr. Crumbine began a drive to abolish the common cup and the roller towel. Two years later the Kansas Legislature voted to outlaw both. It was said that the ruling out of the common cup led to the invention of the paper drinking cup.”

Commentary: As a direct result of Dr. Crumbine’s efforts, the first national drinking water regulation outlawing the common cup on interstate carriers was passed in 1912.

July 13, 1916: Required to Use Lead Pipes and Polio Connection to Clean Streets

July 13, 1916: Municipal Journal articles.

Lead service line attached to a household water meter

Enforce Use of Lead Service Pipes. “Philadelphia, Pa.-To preserve the water supply and to help keep the streets of the city in proper condition, chief Carlton T. Davis of the bureau of water has announced that all private pipe carrying water from the public mains in the streets to buildings must be of lead from the main to the stop at the curb. The issuance of the order is possible because of the enactment of a recent ordinance by councils. At present, according to Chief Davis, about two thousand service pipes develop leaks under the paved roadways each year. This means that the water bureau loses water, the householder is subject to annoyance and the public is inconvenienced by the digging up of the streets. The bulk of service pipe leaks are caused by the use of improper material which is quickly corroded. There are more than 350,000 service pipes in use. A great many of these are of lead and give no trouble. The ordinance just passed gives the chief of the bureau of water the power to enforce the use of proper pipes.”

Commentary: I was unaware of such an ordinance in Philadelphia. I have found that dozens of other cities had similar ordinances. I have been told that the State of Pennsylvania required lead service lines early in the 20th century. In 1897, Flint, Michigan passed an ordinance requiring the installation of lead service lines. What a calamity for drinking water consumers. We are reaping the whirlwind of such decisions many years later. The graphic above shows the impact of lead exposure (paint and water) on children’s blood lead levels in 20 Pennsylvania cities (taken from a 2014 report).

Blood lead levels of children in Pennsylvania cities showing impact of lead paint and lead service lines

Infantile Paralysis and Clean Streets. “Children of all classes have been leaving New York by the tens of thousands during the past week to escape the dreaded infantile paralysis, which has already attacked considerably more than a thousand of them and carried off about quarter of a thousand to date. These known facts are alarming enough, but probably what gives the exodus almost the nature of a panic is the unknown-the fact that no one understands how the disease is communicated from one to another. The germ is believed to enter through the noze [sic] or mouth or both; but how it is carried is a matter of surmise. Furs and furry animals, flies, the sneezing of human beings and even contact with them are considered to be possible causes.

It is noticed that most of the cases are found amid surroundings that are below the average in cleanliness, and therefore many suspect that dirt is in some way connected with the origin of the disease. As a result, housewives are being arrested and fined by the hundred for violations of city ordinances relative to uncovered garbage cans and other collections of putrescible matters, for they rather than the street cleaning and refuse collection forces are to blame for these conditions, although these forces are being increased in number and stirred to greater activity and thoroughness; the aim being to get and keep the city as clean as possible.

Commentary: While this article is not about water directly, it tells a lot about how society was dealing with the unknown during this period. If anyone doubted that the miasma theory of disease (bad smells from decaying organic material makes people sick) was still alive and well in 1916, all they have to do is read this article. While passing mention is given to the germ causing the disease, the author falls back onto filth and dirt being the ultimate breeding place for such germs—just as in the 19th century. Parents must have been terrified that such an epidemic of unknown cause was taking away their children.