Tag Archives: drinking water

December 1, 1902: Leal Report to RI Board of Health; 1909: Philadelphia Typhoid Fight

Upper Roxborough Filters, with sand in place but before water was let in, 1903.

December 1, 1902: Letter to Rhode Island State Board of Health. Dr. John L. Lealwas hired by the Bristol [Rhode Island] and Warren Water Company after the Rhode Island State Board of Health severely criticized them about the sanitary quality of their water supply.

“Gentlemen: We hand you herewith a report upon the sanitary condition of the water supply of this company, of which we wrote you in our letter of October 10th.

This report was prepared by Dr. John L. Leal, and embodies the findings and conclusions of Prof. J.H. Appleton, Prof. F.P. Gorham, and Dr. F.T. Fulton, who, as well as Dr. Leal, made a thorough examination of the water in question and its sources.

John L. Leal, M.D., of Paterson, N.J., A.B., A.M., Princeton; ex-health officer of Paterson, N.J. (for thirteen years); Sanitary Adviser to the East Jersey Water Company (the largest [private] water company in America) and of the Montclair and of the New York & New Jersey Water Companies; President, New Jersey State Sanitary Association, etc., etc., is, we feel, an expert who, you will agree with us, is entirely competent to pass upon the subject at hand….

The findings conclusively establish, as Dr. Leal states in closing his report, that the conditions of the water and the water sheds “do not in any way justify the action of the Board of Health.”

We therefore request that your Board shall, in justice to ourselves and in the interest of those who take our water, withdraw as promptly as may be its recent recommendation to the town of Bristol, and take such other steps as will, as far as possible, make the effect caused by the unwarranted attack made by your Board in its action of October 3rd, upon the sanitary quality of the water and the water sheds of this company. Respectfully, George H. Norman, President.”

Reference: Twentieth-Fifth Annual Report of the State Board of Health, of the State of Rhode Island. 1910.  (for the year ending December 31, 1902). Providence, RI:E. L. Freeman Co., 262-3.

December 1, 1909:  An excellent summary of aggressive municipal measures to eradicate typhoid fever from a major city. Municipal Journal and Engineer. Philadelphia Wars on Typhoid. “In an address at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Dr. A. C. Abbott, Director of the Hygienic Laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania, and former Chief of the Bureau of Health, drew some striking comparisons between the present mortality rate from typhoid fever in Philadelphia and that which existed five years ago. In that time, he declared, by simple municipal measures, such as water filtration, strict supervision of the milk supply, and the cleaning up of river banks, the number of cases of typhoid fever had been reduced by fully 8o percent. Nearly one-half of the remaining cases are imported from other places by Philadelphians returning from their vacations. Still stricter regulation of dairies, the thorough disinfection of all sewage refuse, and, most important of all, the greatest personal care in the treatment of typhoid patients were urged as sure preventives of the disease. The use of uncooked vegetables raised on land fertilized with unsterilized sewage; the eating of raw oysters, not cleanly washed or handled, and the fly pest, which was characterized as a ‘filthy, intolerable nuisance, a disgrace to our civilization,’ were emphasized by Dr. Abbott as easily avoidable causes of the spread of typhoid. Vaccination, as a means of becoming immune to the disease, was described as entirely practicable and effective.”

Reference: Municipal Journal and Engineer. 1909. 27:22(December 1, 1909): 826.

November 29, 2005: China Water Pollution

Water Quality in Major Rivers in China (The Lancet. (2010). 375:9720, 1110-19.)

November 29, 2005New York Times headline—China Speeds Efforts to Raise Water Quality. “China is spending more than $630 million on improving water supplies to cities dependent on the contaminated Songhua River, according to the Asian Development Bank, as a toxic slick continued Tuesday to threaten communities on what is an important waterway in northern China.

Water drawn from the river to supply almost four million people in Harbin was passed fit to drink Tuesday, almost a week after pumping was suspended because of the chemical spill.

However, authorities in Heilongjiang province cut off supplies to communities downriver from Harbin in the path of the 80 kilometer, or 50 mile, long slick of benzene compounds, according to the state media.

In Russia, agencies managing emergency services were preparing to deal with the spill, which is expected to reach Russian territory near Khabarovsk early next week. They were making plans to cut off supplies to some communities.

An explosion at a chemical plant in Jilin province on November 13 spewed an estimated 100 tons of benzene compounds into the Songhua. The spill has become a major international and domestic embarrassment for China.

The threat to the health of millions of people and clumsy attempts to suppress news of the contamination have again drawn attention to the heavy price China is paying for three decades of headlong economic development.”

Commentary:  The headline is more than a bit optimistic. China has a very long way to go to convince its own citizens and the international community that it is serious about solving the dire water quality problems in that country.

November 27, 1924: Death of George C. Whipple

George C. Whipple

November 27, 1924:  Death of George C. Whipple.  “George Chandler Whipple (1866–1924) was a civil engineer and an expert in the field of sanitary microbiology. His career extended from 1889 to 1924 and he is best known as a cofounder of the Harvard School of Public Health. Whipple published some of the most important books in the early history of public health and applied microbiology. . . .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 of any kind 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. Whipple testified as an expert witness for the plaintiff in both trials.”

Commentary:  George C. Whipple was a very interesting person. I had the opportunity to go through a small part of the archive that he left to Harvard University while researching my book, The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. I swear that he saved every last piece of paper that he ever touched in his career. It is a fascinating look into the mind of a turn-of-the-century expert in drinking water treatment. Even though he was trained as a civil engineer, he made some of the most important early advances in microscopy and the ecology of lakes and rivers. He invented the Secchi disk that we use today. The original Secchi disk was all white. He created the disk with quadrants that were alternating black and white. Any civil engineer will recognize that arrangement as the same one found on a land surveying target marker. He was one of the first researchers to identify taste and odor problems in water as directly related to the presence of certain algae species. Check out the full biography that I wrote about him on Wikipedia.

November 25, 2012: California Rice Growing; 1988: Britain Selling Waterworks

Flooded Rice Fields

November 25, 2012: The Desert Sun headline—Calif. Commercial Rice Growing Hits 100 Years. “California is celebrating 100 years of commercial rice production this year, marking the anniversary of a commodity that has evolved to become one of the state’s largest agricultural exports.

Farmers began experimenting with growing rice during the Gold Rush more than 160 years ago, according to the California Rice Commission. It had long been grown in the southeastern U.S., but was introduced in California by Chinese gold miners, who later built the state’s railroads and river levees.

It wasn’t until 1912 that the first commercial production started in Butte County, in the Sacramento Valley about 70 miles north of the state capital.

Since then, California has become the nation’s largest producer of short- and medium-grain sticky rice, with much of the high-quality product shipped to Japan and other Asian countries through the Port of West Sacramento. Most sushi in the U.S. is made with California rice.

All told, California annually ships nearly 5 billion pounds of rice as far away as Europe and the Middle East.

Most is grown within 100 miles of Sacramento, predominantly in Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. Rice commission spokesman Jim Morris said the climate, soil and water are ideal for the crop.

Commentary: No mention is made in this piece how much water is required to grow rice in an area that has allocated water for too many uses. Growing rice in the Sacramento River Valley made sense 100 years ago. It even made sense 50 years ago. It makes no sense today. I don’t care how much sushi is sold in LA or Tokyo.

Margaret Thatcher

November 25, 1988New York Times headline—Britain Planning to Sell Its Waterworks. “The British Government today began the latest and most contentious step in its sweeping privatization program by presenting its plans for selling off the nation’s state-owned water industry.

‘We shall be freeing into private hands yet another important industrial sector,’ the Environment Secretary, Nicholas Ridley, said in setting out the Government’s proposals to sell Britain’s 10 public water authorities.

He predicted that the water privatization bill, which was included in the Government’s legislative agenda announced in Queen Elizabeth II’s address to the new session of Parliament on Tuesday, would result in more efficient management of water resources and tighter environmental safeguards.

But many economists, politicians and union officials are skeptical about the presumed benefits of selling the water industry.

The British public seems to agree. A survey in June by Market and Opinion Research International, a London-based company that is one of Britain’s leading polling organizations, found that 66 percent of the population opposed selling the water authorities to private shareholders, compared with 25 percent who supported it and 9 percent who were undecided.

Alex Thomson, the national officer of the largest trade union in the water industry, the National and Local Government Officers Association, today echoed the doubts of many when he said, ‘Privatizing water makes about as much sense as privatizing the air we breathe.’…Making more British citizens shareholders was an important element of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s drive to ‘roll back the frontiers of the state.’”

Question:  Was the privatization of the UK water systems successful or not?

November 23, 1992: First Reg Neg Negotiation Session

Reg Neg Negotiating Committee

November 23, 1992:  First Negotiation Session of Regulatory Negotiation for the Microbial Disinfectants/Disinfection Byproducts Rule Making. This was a multi-stakeholder regulatory negotiations process (including the USEPA) which resulted in the adoption of five landmark drinking water regulations:  Interim Surface Water Treatment Rule, Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule, Information Collection Rule, Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule and Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule.

As stated in the introduction to the 1995 Roberson et al. paper: “The proposed Disinfectants/Disinfection By-products (D/DBP) Rule reflects one of the most complicated standard- setting processes addressed under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The process involved balancing potential trade-offs between chemical risk (most of which is considered chronic) and microbial risk (most of which is considered acute). In this case, both types of risk are poorly characterized. Nevertheless, the potential is enormous for changes in risk and associated treatment costs resulting from regulatory action. Largely as a result of this dilemma, the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) elected to use a regulatory negotiation (“reg-neg”) process to develop a proposed rule. This was the first time a negotiated rule-making had been used in the development of a drinking water regulation….During the process negotiators were aided by the Technologies Working Group (TWG), which quantified the costs and benefits of various treatment alternatives.”

References:

Roberson, J.A., Cromwell, J.E., Krasner, S.W., McGuire, M.J., Owen, D.M., Regli, S., and Summers, R.S. (1995). “The D/DBP Rule: Where did the Numbers Come From?” Jour. AWWA. 87:10, 46-57.

McGuire, M.J. (1993). “Reg Neg Process and the D/DBP Rule.” presented at the Fall Conference. California‑Nevada Section, American Water Works Association. Reno, Nevada, October 28, 1993.

McGuire, M.J. (1994 ). “Using the Information Superhighway to Corral the ICR.”Jour. AWWA. 86:6, 10.

McGuire, M.J. (1996). “AWWA’s Information Collection Rule Activities.” presented at M/DBP Cluster Information Exchange Meeting. RESOLVE, Washington, D.C. May 10, 1996.

McGuire, M.J. (1997). “Technical Work Group Presentation.” presented at the M-DBP Stakeholder Meeting. Washington, DC. January 28, 1997.

Commentary:  The photo below is a good portion of the Technologies Working Group. Note the hats. I had about 200 of them made and handed them out to everyone who helped during the process. I have been using the extras for the past sixteen plus years in my boating and cruising life. The most recent loss occurred when the hat flew off my head while raising the mainsail on a sailboat cruise to Cabo San Lucas in 2016. Great hat.

November 22, 1981: Cross Bergen Pipeline, Part of the Wanaque South Project

Wanaque Reservoir

November 22, 1981: New York Times article.New Jersey Journal. “The 17-mile, cross-Bergen pipeline that is designed to give the Hackensack Water Company badly needed reserves from the Wanaque Reservoir has hit a new snag.

Two towns along the route, Ridgewood and neighboring Midland Park, do not want their residential streets torn up for the pipeline. Alternative routes are being explored, but it is uncertain now whether agreements can be reached without disrupting the company’s plans to lay the pipes next spring and summer.

The entire water-transfer project – once called Two Bridges and now known as Wanaque South – has encountered delays and pitfalls since Hackensack Water first proposed it in the mid-1970’s.

First, hearings dragged on for months before the state gave its final approval. Next, Paterson sued to halt the project, saying that use of water from the Passaic River would dry up Paterson’s Great Falls. The State Supreme Court threw out the suit last October as the 1980 water shortage was deepening.

Then Hackensack Water said that it did not have the money to build the pipeline and the pumping stations needed to draw water from the Passaic River and pump it north into the Wanaque Reservoir for storage. As a result, the state granted Hackensack a 47 percent rate increase to overcome the financial difficulty.

Throughout the water shortage last fall and winter, Hackensack Water contended that the crisis would not have developed if the state hearings had not dragged on and Paterson had not held up the project for months.

During the delays, negotiations with the two towns about the pipeline route were apparently nonexistent. The legal and financial problems were thought to have been the final obstacles.

Why wasn’t the route question resolved earlier so that work on what the state calls its most crucial new water-supply project could begin forthwith?

”It would have been imprudent to be spending a lot of money on engineering studies without a final approval from the state in our hands,” said Martha Green, a spokesman for Hackensack Water.

The disputed Midland Park-Ridgewood portion is 3.5 miles. The towns, neither of which is served by Hackensack Water, can block the pipeline by denying the company permits to dig up local streets.

Four miles of pipeline are to pass through Paramus and Oradell, both customers of Hackensack Water, and because the utility has the water-sales franchise for them, it does not need the same street digging permit that it requires from Midland Park and Ridgewood. Neither Paramus nor Oradell has voiced objections.

The 10 remaining miles of pipeline are to run parallel to railroad rights-of-way in Pompton Lakes, Oakland and Wyckoff.”

Commentary:  No one said that improving infrastructure would be easy. Something as straightforward as building a needed pipeline is certain to bring out the “Not in My Backyard” crowd. The good news is that an article in 1985forecast that the pipeline would be completed by 1987. Another article in 1985stated that the incremental project has already been a huge benefit for northern New Jersey.

November 21, 2006: PFOA in Drinking Water; 1899: Garret Hobart Dies

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

November 21, 2006:  PFOA Contaminates Drinking Water.“On November 21, 2006, the USEPA ordered DuPont company to offer alternative drinking water or treatment for public or private water users living near DuPont’s Washington Works plant in West Virginia (and in Ohio), if the level of PFOA detected in drinking water is equal to or greater than 0.5 parts per billion. This measure sharply lowered the previous action level of 150 parts per billion that was established in March 2002.[133] 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.”

Commentary and Update:  More sensitive analytical methods and widespread monitoring have found PFOA and related compounds in 27 states according to headlines in 2016. But remember, dear reader that this was being publicized by the Environmental Working Group or EWG and must be taken with a huge grain of salt. What does parts per trillion of any chemical really mean?

Further Update:  Thirteen years later (2019), PFAS contamination of groundwater has exploded on the national scene, and state regulations are being adopted because of the lack of federal regulation.

Garret A. Hobart

November 21, 1899Death of Garret A. Hobart.“Garret Augustus Hobart (June 3, 1844 – November 21, 1899) was the 24th Vice President of the United States (1897–1899), serving under President William McKinley…. As vice president, Hobart proved a popular figure in Washington and was a close adviser to McKinley.”

While much is known about Hobart’s role as vice president, his role in the formation of private water companies and his support of these companies through legislation is less well known. Hobart was elected to the New Jersey Assembly and Senate during the early part of his career. During the 1870s and 1880s there was a lot of legislative activity that appeared to be for the benefit of private water companies.

In 1881, one bill that was introduced by Garret A. Hobart, then a state senator, was designed to give private water companies the power to acquire and distribute water resources independent of municipal or state control.  While not explicitly stated, the bill purportedly had a single intention of giving one company, the Passaic Water Company, more power to access water supplies to prevent water shortages at the factories of Paterson which were forced to idle production in the summer season.

The bill was not successful, (New York Times, March 22, 1881) which was undoubtedly due in part to the widespread suspicion that the bill would grant powers to companies to export New Jersey water supplies to New York.  “[New York speculators] have been attracted by the magnificence and extent of New Jersey’s water-shed, and by the sweetness and purity of its waters.  Last year’s scheme was said to be intended to enable the tapping of New Jersey’s hills for the New York supply.”(New York Times, March 7, 1881)

Hobart was a resident of Paterson, New Jersey for most of his life. In 1885, Garret A. Hobart joined the Board of the Passaic Water Company and two years later was elected President of the Company.  Hobart was described in one source as representing a syndicate of New York capitalists. (Nelson and Shriner 1920) The company had been supplying Paterson and the surrounding area since 1857.

The East Jersey Water Company was formed on August 1, 1889 for the stated purpose of supplying Newark, New Jersey with a safe water supply.  All of the men who were shareholders of the new company (including Hobart) were identified with the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company.(New York Times, August 2, 1889) However, the company’s vision extended far beyond a water supply for Newark. The company began as a confidential syndicate composed of businessmen who were interested in executing grand plans for water supply in northern New Jersey and New York City. (Colby and Peck 1900) Nothing came of these grand plans.

Hobart was also a mentor to John L. Leal of Paterson and encouraged Leal to leave city employment and work full time as the sanitary advisor to several private water companies.(McGuire 2013)

“Hobart died on November 21, 1899 of heart disease at age 55; his place on the Republican ticket in 1900 was taken by New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt.”

References:

Colby, Frank M. and Harry T. Peck eds. The International Year Book—A Compendium of the World’s Progress During the Year 1899. n.p.:Dodd, Mead and Co., 1900.

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

Nelson, William and Charles A. Shriner. History of Paterson and Its Environs. Vol. 2, New York:Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1920.

New York Times.“Jersey’s Water Supplies—Senator Hobart’s Bill and Its Effect.” March 7, 1881.

New York Times.“New Jersey’s Law Makers—Mr. Hobart’s Water Bill Killed.” March 22, 1881.

New York Times.“To Give Newark Water.” August 2, 1889.