Tag Archives: filtration

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 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 15, 1913: Cleveland Filtration Editorial

Cleveland Waterworks in 1903 before the installation of filtration

May 15, 1913: Engineering News editorial. The Water Filtration Question at Cleveland. “The remarkably low typhoid death rate of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1912 (about 6 per 100,000) seems on its face to be wholly incompatible with the contention of the local board of health and certain members of the city council that the water-supply is so badly polluted as to make the immediate construction of a water-filtration plant imperative.

Some time ago a committee of the Engineers’ Club of Cleveland investigated filtration and made an adverse report which headed off a proposed bond-issue ordinance then before the city council. Early in 1912, D. D. Jackson, of New York City, made an exhaustive report on the Cleveland water-supply, with the conclusion that filtration would be chiefly of esthetic value, for the present, and that the wiser plan would be to carry out improvements which would continue still further the separation of the sewage discharges from the water intake. These improvements are now in progress or early prospect, and will result in lessening the volume and frequency of possible infection, both of which are held by Mr. Jackson and other competent persons to be relatively small. Meanwhile, it should be noted, the water-supply of Cleveland is being disinfected with hypochlorite.

Within the past few weeks the city council of Cleveland, or certain members of it, have tried to force the mayor, Newton D. Baker, into acquiescence with their advocacy of filtration. There has been much talk of an appeal to the State Board of Health for an investigation of the subject. In fact, the council did pass a resolution to that effect, but it appears that the resolution was not in such terms as would give the board authority to order filtration, since the resolution did not declare the water supply to be a menace to health.

While we sympathize with every well considered effort to improve the quality of city water-supplies, we are not convinced by such of the arguments as have come to our attention that filtration at Cleveland is as vital to the health and as essential to the comfort and convenience of the people of that city as other objects of municipal expenditure. This, we understand, is the opinion of Mayor Baker, and we also understand that the officials in direct charge of the water-works are of the same opinion.

The question of water filtration at Cleveland or elsewhere should be settled on the basis of whether the expenditure of a given sum for this or other purposes will yield the greatest benefit to the largest number of people. The city authorities have taken competent expert advice as to the need for filtration and they have also had the public-spirited advice of leading engineer-citizens. True, the board of health is strong for filtration, but its viewpoint (we may unwittingly do it injustice) seems to be the narrow medical one of advocating a counsel of perfection, with no careful weighing of the benefits to health which will ensue and with little or no regard for cost or for the other health and general welfare needs of the city.

Presumably Cleveland, like all other cities dependent upon surface water-supplies, will yet have a filtration plant. The question for it and other cities to consider is whether, in view of financial and other local considerations, filtration or something else should take precedence at a given moment. The evidence before us points to a delay in filtration at Cleveland.

Reference: “The Water Filtration Question at Cleveland.” 1913. Engineering News. 69:20(May 15, 1913):1011.

Commentary: I reprinted the entire editorial because it is so extraordinary. Engineering News was a potent force in the municipal and engineering community in the first two decades of the 20th century. The journal’s opinion that filtration was not needed because they were disinfecting with chlorine shows how little regard many in the profession had for the protection of public health. To call the proposal to install filtration “the narrow medical one of advocating a counsel of perfection, with no careful weighing of the benefits to health” is beyond our understanding today. It would take decades before the lesson of multi-barrier protection of drinking water really took hold. The filtration plant being discussed began operation in 1917.

May 11, 1885: Birth of John R. Baylis

May 11, 1885: Birth of John R. Baylis. “John Robert Baylis (1885–1963) was an American chemist and sanitary engineer. His career extended from about 1905 to 1963 and he is best known for his work in applied research to improve drinking water purification.

Baylis was born in rural Mississippi (Eastabuchie, Jones County) but lived most of his adult life in northern U.S. states. He attended Mississippi State College where he received his bachelor of science degree in 1905. He also received training as a railroad engineer and as a construction engineer for water and sewage plants.

Baylis’s first professional assignment (about 1905) was as manager of the Jackson, MS water works. In 1917 he was hired as a bacteriologist at the Montebello Filter Plant in Baltimore, MD. His tenure there was only nine years and when he left he was the principal sanitary chemist with the department. During his employment at Baltimore he developed a pH meter based on a tungsten wire. The Baltimore water treatment plant was one of the first to use pH for process control. About 1927, he moved his family to Chicago where he was put in charge of water purification research for the city. His job title was chemist, but he developed many of the advances in water treatment during the 1930s and 1940s. These advances included:

  • Preventing corrosion of pipes
  • Filter bed cleaning with a fixed-grid surface wash system
  • Developing activated silica as a coagulant aid
  • Invention of a low-level turbidimeter
  • Initiation of lime use for pH adjustment
  • Pioneering the development of high rate filtration (2 to 5 gallons per minute/square foot)
  • Building an experimental treatment facility to study water purification methods
  • Understanding the causes and cures of taste and odor problems in drinking water

In 1938, Baylis was put in charge of the design of the South District Filtration Plant, which was completed in 1943. He was in charge of the operation of the plant and was named engineer of water purification in 1942, which he held until his death.

In 1935, he wrote a book entitled Elimination of Taste and Odor in Water. The work became a classic in the field of sanitary engineering and paved the way for others to control taste and odor problems. The book goes into some detail on how and where to feed powdered activated carbon (PAC) for taste and odor control.

Perhaps his greatest achievement was the development of PAC. Up until Baylis’s work, activated carbon was only available in granular form which was used in a filtration mode. PAC could be formed into a slurry and fed like any other chemical into the treatment process. He received a U.S. patent for PAC as well as for other water treatment advances.

Baylis was one of the first sanitary engineers to raise concerns about open finished water reservoirs. On November 3, 1938, he testified at a public service commission hearing in Milwaukee. He called the open Kilburn park reservoir a “source of danger” to the health of the city. Baylis said that “…the reservoir should be roofed to prevent pollution from birds, insects, rodents, small animals, dirt, soot, leaves and other debris which he said was in the open water.” It would take many decades before his concerns were codified into a USEPA regulation that deals specifically with this danger to human health.”

Commentary: This is another one of the biographies that I wrote for Wikipedia. I really learned a lot about Baylis that I did not know before.

May 10, 1917: Cleaning Catch Basins in Louisville; 1920: Death of John Wesley Hyatt

May 10, 1917: Municipal Journal article. Cleaning Catch Basins in Louisville. “Louisville, Ky., is cleaning its catch-basins with a machine designed especially for this purpose, at one-fifth the cost of doing the work by the ordinary shovel and bucket method. There are a few more than 7,000 catch basins in the city, and previous to 1917 these had been cleaned by hand, as is the practice in most cities….

Since January 17th this method of cleaning has been discontinued and an appliance known as the Otterson eductor has been used….Briefly, it consists of a steel body on a motor chassis, and a sand ejector at the base of a pipe that is lowered into a catch basin and discharges into the tank; the ejector being operated by water from a centrifugal pump mounted on the truck, which uses the same water over again after the solid matter has settled out from it in the tank. Before beginning the day’s work the tank is filled about one-third full of water drawn from a fire hydrant or pumped up from any stream or other source.

In using this appliance in Louisville, the truck is driven alongside the basin to be cleaned, the manhole cover removed, the vertical steel pipe is swung out over the opening so uncovered and lowered into it until it reaches the bottom, and the engine started forcing water through the ejector. If the deposit in the basin is bard, it is softened by water injected through a stirring pipe; this water being drawn by the pump from that in the tank. After the basin is emptied, a flash light reveals any objects too large to be removed by the pump, and these are taken out by hand tools. If there was water in the basin already, about the same amount is run back into it from the tank after the basin has been cleaned, both because only a certain amount is desired in the tanks and also to seal the basin outlet.

Reference: “Cleaning Catch Basins in Louisville.” Municipal Journal. 42:19(May 10, 1917): 661-2.

Commentary: Not much has changed in 96 years of cleaning catch basins. We use vacuum cleaning trucks but the principle is the same.

May 10, 1920: John Wesley Hyatt dies. Hyatt was an inventor who developed new materials and machines that resulted in hundreds of patents. He is mostly known for his invention of a commercially viable way of producing solid, stable nitrocellulose, which he patented in the United States in 1869 as “Celluloid.” However, he was one of the early developers of commercial filtration systems in the U.S. He invented improvements to mechanical filtration systems, which are called rapid sand filters or granular media filters today. During the 1880s, mechanical filters were installed to remove particles and “organic matter.” Filtration to control microbial pathogens would come later with better bacteriological methods and the maturation of the germ theory of disease.

“John Hyatt, an inventor and manufacturer of Newark, N.J., applied for a patent February 11, 1881, on what was virtually a stack of Clark’s filters, placed in a closed tank and operated each independently of the others by means of common supply, delivery and wash pipes. His application, like Clark’s, was granted on June 21, 1881, and assigned to the Newark Filtering Co. On the same day, Hyatt obtained a patent in England.

Col. L. H. Gardner, Superintendent of the New Orleans Water Co., after making small-scale experiments on coagulation at New Orleans, was convinced that it was more efficacious than filtration for the clarification of muddy water.

Isaiah Smith Hyatt, older brother of John, while acting as sales agent for the Newark Filtering Co., was baffled in attempts to clarify Mississippi River water for a New Orleans industrial plant. Colonel Gardner suggested using a coagulant. This was a success. Isaiah Hyatt obtained on February 19, 1884, a patent on simultaneous coagulation-filtration. Although unsound in principle, it largely dominated mechanical filtration for many years….

Thus in 1880-85 did four men join in the evolution of mechanical or rapid filtration. Clark soon faded out of the picture. Gardner entered it only by suggesting to Isaiah Hyatt the use of a coagulant, and Isaiah Hyatt, still a young man, died in March 1885. John

Hyatt was then alone. Already he had taken out 20 filter patents while only two were granted to his older brother. By the close of 1889, John had obtained about 50 patents. Scattered grants in the 1890’s brought his record above 60. Most notable of all these were three on washing systems, including sectional wash; several on strainers for underdrain systems; and two on aeration, primarily in connection with filtration. The Hyatt aeration patents, like those granted to Professor Albert R. Leeds a little earlier, were of little practical importance, but they marked an era in water purification during which stress was laid on the removal of organic matter.”

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: American Water Works Association, 183-5.

April 21, 1859: First London Drinking Fountain; 2012: Kirkwood Memorial Dedicated

April 21, 1859: London’s Oldest Drinking Fountain. “A rather humble looking fountain set into the railing outside the Church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate at the corner of Giltspur Street and Holborn Viaduct, it’s easy to overlook this important part of London’s historic fabric.

But this free water fountain is London’s oldest and was installed here on 21st April, 1859, by the then Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association. Established by Samuel Gurney – an MP and the nephew of social reformer Elizabeth Fry, the organization aimed to provide people with free drinking water in a bid to encourage them to choose water over alcohol.

Within two years of the fountain’s creation, the organization – which later changed its name to Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association in reflection of its expanded role in also helping animals – had placed as many as 85 fountains across London.

Such was the need for a clean water supply that, according to the Drinking Fountain Association, as many as 7,000 people a day used the fountain when it was first installed.

The fountain on Holborn Hill was removed in 1867 when the nearby street Snow Hill was widened during the creation of the Holborn Viaduct and the rails replaced but it was returned there in 1913. Rather a poignant reminder of the days when water wasn’t the publicly available resource it is today, the marble fountain still features two small metal cups attached to chains for the ease of drinking and carries the warning, ‘Replace the Cup!’”

April 21, 2012: Memorial to James P. Kirkwood dedicated by the St. Louis Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Kirkwood was the civil engineer hired by St. Louis, MO to investigate filtration of their water supply. He wrote the classic book Report on the Filtration of River Waters, which was the first book in any language to focus on the filtration of municipal water supplies. The book summarized his investigation covering 1865-69 where he described the filters and filter galleries he visited in 19 European water works. Kirkwood died on April 22, 1877.

Kirkwood Aqueduct, St. Louis, MO

April 2, 1914: Sanitary Survey of Potomac and Miniature Plants by Malcolm Pirnie

Potomac River Watershed

April 2, 1914: Municipal Journal articles. Make Survey of Potomac River. “Washington, D. C.-Public health service officials who are aboard the yacht Bratton making a sanitary survey of the Potomac river and Chesapeake bay have, according to report, taken between 1,500 and 2,000 samples of Potomac water for examination and analysis, and it is stated that it will be several weeks before the results of the survey are completed and ready for publication. In connection with the work being done by the Bratton on the navigable portions of the Potomac H. P. Letton of the public health service is at Hagerstown, Md., and is conducting the work of examining the headwaters of the Potomac to ascertain their sanitary condition and the effect the sewage and wastes from the large tanneries and other industries on the upper river are having on the water coming down past this city. It is stated that one of the objects the service has in making this survey is, if possible, to find some use for the various kinds of refuse from the manufacturing plants and to show how they can be turned into a source of profit instead of being allowed to pollute the Potomac water.”

Demonstrate Filtration Methods By Miniature Plants. “Salem, Mass.-Both the [slow] sand and mechanical methods of filtering water were interestingly demonstrated by Engineer H. M. Pirnie. Two plants in miniature had been constructed which gave Mr. Pirnie an excellent opportunity of showing state and city officials of Salem and Beverly just how each process operates and its relative advantages. The two cities mentioned are soon to use water from the Ipswich River, and the question of efficient filtration has received serious attention.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1914. 36:14(April 2, 1914): 476-7.

Commentary: By miniature plants, the author was undoubtedly referring to pilot plant studies of the two filtration technologies. H. M. Pirnie was Malcolm Pirnie who worked for the consulting firm of Hazen and Whipple and ultimately founded the firm known as Malcolm Pirnie, Inc.