Tag Archives: John L. Leal

#TDIWH—February 4, 1909: Second Use of Chlorine in the U.S.; 1877: Birth of C.E.A. Winslow

Little Falls Water Treatment Plant

Little Falls Water Treatment Plant

February 4, 1909: Dr. John L. Leal testified at the second Jersey City trial about the first use of chlorine for continuous disinfection of a U.S. water supply at Boonton Reservoir, which was the water supply for Jersey City, New Jersey. The transcript from February 5, 1909, revealed that Leal had also installed a chloride of lime feed system at the filtration plant at Little Falls, New Jersey. He stated that he had experimented with chloride of lime addition some months before and that he was now using it daily. Thus, the trial transcript provides the first written evidence of the second continuous use of chlorine to disinfect a drinking water supply. This was also the first time chlorine was used in conjunction with mechanical filtration.

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

0108 CEA WinslowFebruary 4, 1877: Charles-Edward A. Winslow is born. “Charles-Edward Amory Winslow (4 February 1877 – 8 January 1957) was an American bacteriologist and public health expert who was, according to the Encyclopedia of Public Health, “a seminal figure in public health, not only in his own country, the United States, but in the wider Western world.”

Winslow was born in Boston, Massachusetts and attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), obtaining a B.S. in 1898 and an M.S. in 1910.

He began his career as a bacteriologist. He met Anne Fuller Rogers when they were students in William T. Sedgwick’s laboratory at M.I.T., and married her in 1907. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while heading the sewage experiment station from 1908 to 1910, then taught at the College of the City of New York from 1910 to 1914.

He was the youngest charter member of the Society of American Bacteriologists when that organization was founded in 1899. With Samuel Cate Prescott he published the first American textbook on the elements of water bacteriology.

In 1915 he founded the Yale Department of Public Health within the Yale Medical School, and he was professor and chairman of the Department until he retired in 1945. (The Department became the Yale School of Public Health after accreditation was introduced in 1947.) During a time dominated by discoveries in bacteriology, he emphasized a broader perspective on causation, adopting a more holistic perspective. The department under his direction was a catalyst for health reform in Connecticut. He was the first director of Yale’s J.B. Pierce Laboratory, serving from 1932 to 1957. Winslow was also instrumental in founding the Yale School of Nursing.

He was the first Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Bacteriology, serving in that position from 1916 to 1944. He was also editor of the American Journal of Public Health from 1944 to 1954. He was curator of public health at the American Museum of Natural History from 1910 to 1922. In 1926 he became president of the American Public Health Association, and in the 1950s was a consultant to the World Health Organization.”

December 22, 1877: Nascent Oxygen; 1998: Pollution Runs Through It

Nascent Oxygen Theory

Nascent Oxygen Theory

December 22, 1877: Publication date for “The Nascent State as Affecting Chemical Action.” (Davies 1877) Before we understood that oxidation-reduction reactions involved electron transfers, chemists theorized that oxygen existed in a “nascent state.” This state made it possible for oxidation reactions to take place. Such an outmoded chemistry concept is relevant to a discussion of the history of chlorination in the U.S.

The first continuous use of chlorine to disinfect a U.S. water supply occurred at Boonton Reservoir—the water supply for Jersey City, New Jersey. As recounted in a forthcoming book (The Chlorine Revolution), two trials defined the need for disinfection and documented how it happened. In the second Jersey City trial, Dr. John L. Leal claimed that chlorine was not responsible for killing bacteria. Instead, he put forth the long-standing theory that chlorine when added to water liberated something called nascent oxygen, and it was the nascent oxygen was responsible for disinfection. (McGuire 2013)

The concept of nascent oxygen originated with James Watt, who described the importance of liberated oxygen in the bleaching process. An equation suggested by Watt (Race 1918) showed chlorine producing oxygen when it was dissolved in water:

Cl2 + H2O = 2HCl + O

In which Cl2 = chlorine, H2O = water, HCl = hydrochloric acid, and O = nascent oxygen.

In a later, well-known publication, Albert D. Hooker stated the theory most clearly: “It should be well understood that chloride of lime, in its industrial application of bleaching, deodorizing, or disinfecting, does not act by its chlorine, but by its oxygen.” (Emphasis in original.) (Hooker 1913)

In 1918, Joseph Race described the controversy surrounding chlorine’s mode of action in water. Race stated that Fischer and Proskauer (1884) believed that chlorine was not directly toxic. Warouzoff, Winograoff, and Kolessnikoff (1886) found that chlorine gas killed airborne tetanus spores. Interestingly, Race quoted at length John L. Leal’s second-trial testimony supporting the theory of disinfection by nascent or potential oxygen. However, Race’s laboratory work in 1915–17 appeared to convince him that disinfection was caused by the direct toxic action of chlorine and not by nascent oxygen. (Race 1918)

Other publications reflected the confusion over chlorine’s mechanism of action. In his 1917 textbook, Ellms (who would testify in the second Jersey City trial) presented equations showing the formation of hypochlorous acid (HOCl) when chlorine was added to water. At this point in his discussion, he was correct. However, he then stated “The HOCL is decomposed into HCl and oxygen, which latter acts upon any oxidizable matter that may be present.” (Ellms 1917)

2HOCL à 2HCl + O2

In this case, HOCl = hypochlorous acid and O2 = oxygen.

“The energy liberated by the decomposition of the hypochlorous acid, as previously stated, explains the powerful oxidizing action of the evolved oxygen, and the destructive effect upon the microorganisms. Chlorine or the hypochlorites are therefore, merely agents for the production of oxygen under conditions which render it extremely active.” (Ellms 1917)

Abel Wolman and I.H. Enslow tried to put a stop to the nascent oxygen theory in 1919, but it persisted long after that. (Fair and Geyer 1954) We know now that HOCl exists in water in equilibrium with the dissociated hypochlorite ion and that the degree of dissociation is a function of the water’s pH.

HOCL ↔ OCl + H+

For this equation, OCl = hypochlorite ion and H+ = hydrogen ion.

In a textbook published in 1924, authors F.E. Turneaure and H.L. Russell tried to straddle the issue:

“The reaction of both hypochlorite and liquid chlorine in sterilization of water is substantially the same. The accepted theory is that the chlorine forms hypochlorous acid with the water setting free nascent oxygen which is considered the effective sterilization agent. Some authorities, however, contend that the chlorine itself has a toxic effect upon the bacteria.” (Turneaure and Russell 1924)

A 1935 rewrite of Sedgwick’s famous book on sanitary science favored the direct action of chlorine theory but did not totally discount the action by nascent oxygen.

“The mechanism by which chlorine brings about germicidal action is still undetermined. It is believed by some that the bacteria are destroyed because of the direct toxic effect of the chlorine. Others maintain that the introduction of chlorine into water results in the formation of hypochlorous acid—an unstable compound—which breaks up and liberates nascent oxygen and hydrochloric acid, the supposition being that the bacteria are destroyed by the nascent oxygen. . . . Since chlorine compounds can destroy bacteria even when oxygen is not liberated it would seem that those mechanisms that explain the germicidal action of chlorine without hypothesizing the formation of nascent oxygen have a more sound scientific basis.” (Prescott and Horwood 1935)

A 1944 publication by S.L. Chang appeared to put the controversy to rest: “The action of chlorine and chloramine compounds on cysts was attributed to the active chlorine which may oxidize or chlorinate the proteins in the protoplasm. The possibility of action by nascent oxygen liberated by HOCl was indirectly studied, and the evidence strongly indicated that this was unlikely to occur.” (Chang 1944) Since Chang’s publication, nascent oxygen has not been mentioned in professional publications except as a historical curiosity.

In their classic 1954 textbook on water and wastewater engineering, Gordon M. Fair and John C. Geyer addressed the historically curious concept and stated categorically that oxygen did not accomplish disinfection. It was chlorine in its various forms in water that was toxic to bacteria. (Fair and Geyer 1954) Like many a scientific theory that conveniently explained a troubling public relations problem, it took a lot of time to kill the nascent oxygen idea.

References:

  • Chang, S.L. 1944. “Destruction of Micro-Organisms.” Journal AWWA. 36:11 1192-1207.
  • Davies, Edward. 1878. “The Nascent State as Affecting Chemical Action.” The Pharmaceutical Journal and Transactions. 8: 485-6.
  • Ellms, Joseph W. 1917. Water Purification. New York City, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill.
  • Fair, Gordon M., and John C. Geyer. 1954. Water Supply and Waste-water Disposal. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Hooker, Albert D. 1913. Chloride of Lime in Sanitation. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.
  • McGuire, Michael J. The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. Denver:American Water Works Association, 2013.
  • Prescott, Samuel C. and Murray P. Horwood. 1935. Sedgwick’s Principles of Sanitary Science and the Public Health: Rewritten and Enlarged. New York:McMillan.
  • Race, Joseph. 1918. Chlorination of Water. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Turneaure, F.E., and H.L. Russell. 1924. Public Water-Supplies: Requirements, Resources, and the Construction of Works. 3rd Edition. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Polluted South Platte River

Polluted South Platte River

December 22, 1998: New York Times headline—Observatory: Pollution Runs Through It. “A river is like a highway, flowing through the landscape. Unfortunately, according to a new study, it is also like a car, polluting the air as it rolls along.

 

Scientists from the United States Geological Survey, in a study of the South Platte River in Nebraska and Colorado, determined that the river gives off large amounts of nitrous oxide, a gas that acts as a catalyst in the destruction of ozone in the atmosphere.

 

Like many rivers, the South Platte is rich in nitrates and ammonium, from agricultural runoff and the discharges from sewage treatment plants.

 

Microbes turn these nitrogen sources into nitrous oxide. The researchers, whose work was published in the Internet edition of Environmental Science and Technology, found that the river in many places was supersaturated in nitrous oxide, with the result that much of it entered the atmosphere.

 

The scientists estimated that the amount of the gas emitted along a 450-mile stretch of the river each year was equivalent to that produced by all the worst sewage treatment plants in the United States.

 

And although they said more studies were needed, they added that if the South Platte is typical, as seems likely, rivers are a major source of man-made nitrous oxide pollution.”

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

Dr. John L. Leal

Dr. John L. Leal

December 1, 1902: Letter to Rhode Island State Board of Health. Dr. John L. Leal was 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.

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

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

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

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

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?

1121 Garret A HobartNovember 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.

 

November 12, 1881: Paterson, NJ Water Supply; 1732: Pitot Tube Invention

Great Falls at Paterson, New Jersey

Great Falls at Paterson, New Jersey

November 12, 1881: Article in Engineering News—The History and Statistics of American Water-Works. “Paterson, New Jersey, is on the Passaic River, about 16 miles NW of New York City, at the point where the river breaks through the great trap-dyke called the Watchung or Orange Mountain, and falls 80 ft. The water power afforded by this fall with a water-shed of 855 square miles above it, was purchased in 1791 ‘by the Society for the Encouragement of Useful Manufactures,’ and is still controlled by them. A dam across the river a short distance above the falls diverts the water into a canal, from which it is drawn to furnish power to 13 manufacturing establishments.

Water-works were built in 1856 by a private company, taking the supply from the river at the edge of the falls and below the Society’s dam. The surplus flow of the river passing over the dam was used for power and for supply. A turbine wheel was placed in a rift in the face of the falls, which, being erected over the masonry made a tail race. The wheel drove a piston pump which forced the water into a small reservoir on an eminence in the city. As the consumption increased, the amount of water in the river which was not used for mill purposes was insufficient for motive power and supply, notwithstanding the erection by the company of a small stone dam along the face of the falls, making a little pool for storage below the Society’s dam. In 1878, a Worthington high-pressure engine and pump of 8,000,000 gallons’ capacity were erected. The original pumps driven by water force have been replaced by others. There are now two horizontal pumps with a combined capacity of 14,000,000 gallons per day, and one with 2,000,000 capacity. There are three reservoirs, built in excavation and embankment, supplying different levels of the city. Their capacities are, respectively, 8, 8, and 2,000,000 gallons.”

Reference: Croes, J. James. “The History and Statistics of American Water-Works.” Engineering News. 8 (November 12, 1881): 459.

CommentaryThe water supply for Paterson figures prominently in my book, The Chlorine Revolution, which was published in April 2013. Dr. John L. Leal was the Public Health Officer for Paterson from 1890 to 1899 and he was responsible for the safety of this water supply. In 1899 because of increasing contamination of the Passaic River, the water supply withdrawal point was moved 5 miles upstream to Little Falls.

Different Early Versions of the Pitot Tube

Different Early Versions of the Pitot Tube

November 12, 1732Today in Science History. “In 1732, Henri Pitot read a paper to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris about an instrument he had invented to measure the flow velocity at different depths of water in the River Seine. It had a scale and two open vertical glass tubes on a wood frame. The lower end of one pointed down, the other bent at 90º facing the flow. The belief of the time was that flow velocity at a given depth was proportional to the mass above it, meaning increasing velocity at greater depth. Recording the difference in liquid levels in the two tubes, he showed the opposite was true. Henri Darcy improved the design, with the support of Henri Bazin.”

October 21, 1914: Treasury Drinking Water Standards

Dr. Rupert Blue, 4th Surgeon General of the U.S.

Dr. Rupert Blue, 4th Surgeon General of the U.S.

October 21, 1914:  The first numerical drinking water regulations in the U.S. were adopted. “On October 21, 1914, pursuant to the recommendation of the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service [Dr. Rupert Blue], the Treasury Department adopted the first standards for drinking water supplied to the public by any common carrier engaged in interstate commerce. These standards specified the maximum permissible limits of bacteriological impurity, which may be summarized as follows:

  1. The bacterial plate count on standard agar incubated for 24 [hours] at 37 [degrees] C was not to exceed 100/cc.
  2. Not more than one of the five 10-cc portions of each sample examined was to show presence of B. coli. [equivalent to no more than 2 /100 mL—MPN index for total coliforms]
  3. The recommended procedures were those in Standard Methods of Water Analysis (APHA, 1912) [2nd edition].

These standards were drafted by a commission of 15 appointed members. Among the members of this commission were Charles Gilman Hyde, Milton J. Rosenau, William T. Sedgwick, George C. Whipple and C.-E. A. Winslow, names well known to those who have studied early developments in water treatment.

Though not a part of the standards, the accompanying first progress report is very interesting as it provides insight into the commission’s deliberations on other problems. There appears to have been considerable discussion on whether the standards should also state that the water shall ‘be free from injurious effects upon the human body and free from offensiveness to the sense of sight, taste, or smell’; whether the quality of water required should be obtainable by the common carriers without prohibitive expense; and whether it would be necessary to require more than a ‘few and simple examinations to determine the quality of drinking water.’”

Reference:  AWWA. Water Quality and Treatment. 3rd ed. New York:McGraw Hill, 1971, p. 16-7.

Commentary: Sedgwick, Whipple and Winslow were professors at MIT, Harvard and Yale, respectively. They were also expert witnesses who played prominent roles in the lawsuit between Jersey City and the Jersey City Water Supply Company in 1906-1909. During the second Jersey City trial, they adamantly opposed the use of chlorine by Dr. John L. Leal. The story of the trials and the first continuous use of chlorine to disinfect a U.S. water supply are detailed in The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, which was published in the spring of 2013.

September 26, 1908: First Chlorine Use in US; 1855: Handle Put Back on Broad Street Pump

Building on the right housed the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton Reservoir

Building on the right housed the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton Reservoir

September 26, 1908:  106th anniversary of the first day of operation of the chlorination facility at Boonton Reservoir for Jersey City, NJ.  This was the first continuous use of chlorine in the U.S. for drinking water disinfection.

In the field of water supply, there were big moves afoot in the state of New Jersey at the turn of the 20th century. Jersey City had suffered with a contaminated water supply for decades causing tens of thousands of deaths from typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. In 1899, the City contracted with the Jersey City Water Supply Company to build a dam on the Rockaway River and provide a new water supply. The dam created Boonton Reservoir, which had a storage capacity of over seven billion gallons. One of the company’s employees, Dr. John L. Leal, would have an enormous impact on this water supply and the history of water treatment. Leal was a physician, public health professional and water quality expert. Leal’s job with the company was to remove sources of contamination in the Rockaway River watershed above the reservoir. Water from the project was served to the City beginning on May 23, 1904.

When it came time for Jersey City to pay the company for the new water supply, they balked. The price tag was steep—over $175 million in current dollars. Using newly developed bacteriological methods, consultants for the City claimed that the water was not “pure and wholesome,” and they filed suit against the company to get a reduced purchase price. The trial that resulted pitted the water quality experts of the day against one another in a battle of expert witnesses.

The opinion of the judge was published on May 1, 1909. In that opinion, Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens said that Boonton Reservoir did a good job on average of reducing the bacteria concentrations in the water provided. However, he noted that two to three times per year, especially after intense rainstorms, the reservoir short-circuited and relatively high bacteria levels resulted.

Rather than build expensive sewers that would deal with only part of the bacteria contamination problem (an early recognition of non-point source pollution) Leal and the company attorney argued to install “other plans or devices” that would do a better job. The judge agreed and gave them a little over three months to prove their idea. Leal had decided in May 1908 that it was time to add a chemical disinfectant to drinking water. He was all too familiar with the suffering and death caused by typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. He knew of some successful instances of using forms of chlorine in Europe, but nothing had been attempted in the U.S. on such a large-scale basis.

Leal was convinced that adding a disinfectant to the Jersey City water supply was the best course. He had done laboratory studies that convinced him that a fraction of a ppm of chlorine would kill disease-causing bacteria. In the face of the certain disapproval of his peers and possible condemnation by the public, he moved forward.

However, no chlorine feed system treating 40 million gallons per day had ever been designed or built and if the feed system failed to operate reliably, all of the courage of his convictions would not have amounted to much. He needed the best engineer in the country to do the work. He needed George Warren Fuller. In 1908, Fuller was famous for his work in filtration. He had designed an aluminum sulfate feed system treating 30 million gallons per day for the Little Falls treatment plant. On July 19, 1908, Leal left his attorney’s office in Jersey City and took the ferry to Manhattan. In Fuller’s office at 170 Broadway, he hired the famous engineer (undoubtedly on the basis of a handshake) and told him that the bad news was that he needed the work done in a little over three months.

Ninety-nine days later, the chlorine feed system was built and operational. Calcium hypochlorite (known then as chloride of lime or bleaching powder) was made into a concentrated solution, diluted with water and fed through a calibrated orifice to the water before it traveled by gravity to Jersey City. The feed system worked flawlessly from day one and continued to operate successfully for all of the following days. Liquid chlorine eventually replaced chloride of lime, but September 26, 2013, marks the 105th anniversary of the first continuous use of chlorine on a water supply—the longest period of water disinfection anywhere in the world.

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

Broadwick (formerly Broad) Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house

Broadwick (formerly Broad) Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house

September 26, 1855:  The St. James Board of Commissioners of Paving voted 10 to 2 to reopen the Broad Street pump at the urging of local residents.  Dr. John Snow had prevailed upon them a year earlier to remove the pump handle after he presented his evidence that cholera deaths were geographically clustered around the well site.

Reference: Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 310.