Tag Archives: liquid chlorine

October 24, 1879: Birth of Vincent B. Nesfield; 1981: Melting Icebergs; 1632: Birth of van Leeuwenhoek

October 24, 1879:  Birth of Vincent B. Nesfield. Nesfield was the first person to use chlorine gas under pressure to disinfect drinking water. In 1903, Lieutenant Vincent B. Nesfield of the British Indian Medical Services published a remarkable paper in a British public health journal. (Nesfield 1903) In the paper, he described his search for a chemical disinfectant to purify drinking water that would be suitable for use in the field as part of a military campaign.  He came up with the idea of producing chlorine gas by electrolytic cells and then compressing the gas with 6 atmospheres of pressure until it liquefied which facilitated its storage in lead-lined steel tanks that held about 20 pounds of liquid chlorine.  He treated 50 gallon batches of water by submerging the gas valve of the chlorine cylinder and opening it slightly to bubble the chlorine gas into the water.

In a later paper, Nesfield stated that about 5.4 mg/L of chlorine (2 grams per 100 gallons) killed all typhoid and cholera bacteria.  After a 5-minute contact time, he added sodium sulphite to the treated water to remove the excess chlorine and prevent taste problems. (Nesfield 1905) To say that he was ahead of his time is a vast understatement.  It would be 7 years before liquid chlorine in pressurized cylinders was widely available in the U.S. for water utilities to use as an alternative to chloride of lime.

Passing references to Nesfield’s unique treatment method can be found in some publications in the early 20th century.  In a discussion of two papers on chlorination of water and sewage in 1911, Dr. L.P. Kinnicutt mentioned Nesfield’s liquid chlorine addition method and went on to describe an iodine tablet developed by Nesfield that was more portable (and undoubtedly caused more taste problems).  Therefore, there was at least some early knowledge in the U.S. of the use of liquid chlorine to disinfect drinking water.  There was one mention of Nesfield’s system of purification in a 1920 encyclopedia section on water supply. (Hill 1920) A note in a journal devoted to tropical medicine in 1907, described how successful chlorination was for a unit of the British colonial army marching toward Agra. (Pure Water 1907)

There was limited mention of Nesfield and his groundbreaking work on chlorine disinfection in histories of drinking water disinfection.  In Race’s remarkable 1918 book on chlorination of water, he gave Nesfield credit for the first use of liquefied chlorine for the disinfection of water. (Race 1918) Baker devoted a few sentences to Nesfield’s contributions. (Baker 1981) In a later summary of the progress of drinking water disinfection in 1950, Race again gave credit for Nesfield’s unique application of chlorine technology. (Race 1950)

References:

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.

Hill, Henry W. 1920. “Water Supply: For Municipal, Domestic and Potable Purposes, Including Its Sources, Conservation, Purification and Distribution.” In The Encyclopedia Americana, 39–65.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1903. “A Chemical Method of Sterilizing Water Without Affecting its Potability.” Public Health. 15(7): 601–3.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1905. “A Simple Chemical Process of Sterilizing Water for Drinking Purposes for Use in the Field and at Home.” The Journal of Preventive Medicine. 8: 623-32.

“Pure Water.” 1907. Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 10(January 15): 30.

Race, Joseph. 1918. Chlorination of Water. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.

Race, Joseph. 1950. “Forty Years of Chlorination: 1910–1949.” Journal Institution of Water Engineers. 4: 479–505.

October 24, 1981 New York Times–Producing Fresh Water By Melting Icebergs. “Icebergs can be melted in such a way as to produce fresh water and mechanical energy. The proposed operation is described in a patent awarded this week to three employees of the Department of Agriculture Research Center, Berkeley, Calif.

The procedure, as outlined by Wayne M. Camirand, John M. Randall and Earl Hautala in patent 4,295,333, starts with evaporating warm surface water by pumping it into a vacuum. The vapor produces electrical energy by operating a turbine. The vapor is then condensed by cold water from the iceberg, and the mixture is used to melt the iceberg itself. The added moisture from the vapor creates a volume of fresh water larger than that produced by melting the iceberg alone.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Randall said that although the iceberg procedure had not yet been followed, much interest had been shown in towing icebergs from Antarctica, and several small ocean thermal energy conversion plants had been built and operated experimentally.”

Commentary: I am taking bets on whether or not this patent was ever commercialized. Had they known, all the three gents had to do is wait 30 years for climate change to melt icebergs for them. Is this where the phrase “patently absurd” comes from?

October 24, 1632:  Birthday of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Throughout the history of scientific improvement, the development of the tools for scientists helped incremental increases in knowledge as well as allowing them to break new barriers and make discoveries that would otherwise not have been possible.  Such is the case for the invention of and improvement to the microscope.

Lenses that magnified things were around for hundreds of years.  Others had assembled multiple lenses in tubes and created the compound microscope.  But it was not until the 17th century that a big leap was made. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was born in 1632 in Delft of what is now called the Netherlands.  In the same year, Galileo published his famous work Dialogue in which he argued that Copernicus was right—the sun was the center of our solar system.  To put it mildly, science was in its infancy.  The Catholic Church rewarded Galileo for his insight by declaring him heretic and holding him under house arrest for the rest of his life.

There are many descriptions of van Leeuwenhoek’s life but the most entertaining is the lyrical narrative by Paul de Kruif in his classic book Microbe Hunters.  De Kruif described van Leeuwenhoek as a janitor and shopkeeper, and, indeed, he was.  However, van Leeuwenhoek was also obsessed with grinding lenses, making better microscopes and viewing the, as yet, unviewed microbial world.

While looking around his house for common items to study with his inventions, he decided to look at drops of water and discovered that there were “beasties” swimming around.  After a significant amount of time, which he used to perfect his tool and hone his descriptions of the microbial world, van Leeuwenhoek began corresponding with the Royal Society in London.  Despite initial skepticism, the Royal Society elected him to their august body.  Van Leeuwenhoek did not share well with others and preferred to keep his improvements to the microscope to himself.  He did share his many discoveries in hundreds of letters to the Royal Society including many descriptions of bacteria.  He was the first person to make these observations.

After van Leeuwenhoek, others improved the microscope including Joseph Lister’s father, Joseph Jackson Lister.  In 1832, the elder Lister was able, through manipulation of the lenses in the tube, to eliminate the “chromatic effect” or light halos around the object being observed. Thus, a relatively sophisticated tool was available for Pasteur to view his yeasts, bacteria and other microbes.

References:

De Kruif, Paul. Microbe Hunters. New York:Harcourt, 1996.

Godlee, Rickman J. Lord Lister. Second edition, London:MacMillan, 1918.

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August 10, 1916: Sterilizing Water and Flushing Mains

August 10, 1916: Municipal Journal article. Sterilizing Water and Cleaning Mains. “In connection with the information concerning their water works furnished by more than six hundred officials and published in our June 1st issue, these officials also answered the questions: “Is the capacity of your mains diminished by corrosion?” “Do you clean them?” “If so, how and how often?” “Do you sterilize the water?” “If so, by what process?” Their answers are given in the table on the following pages.

These answers are given as furnished, and no attempt made to change them with a view to uniformity. For instance, some report sterilizing by “liquid chlorine,” others by “chlorine gas,” and some by “chlorine”; but we suppose that all refer to the same treatment. Also “hypochlorite,” “chloride of lime” and “bleach,” all probably refer to the same material.

In the answers concerning cleaning mains, quite a number report doing this by flushing or blowing out. This is generally believed to remove only sediment deposited in the mains, mostly that brought into them by the water, and to have no effect upon tuberculation or corrosion. A few, however, report “cleaning,” which refers in probably all cases to the actual removal by some application of force of tuberculation or other incrustation on the pipes.

It is interesting to note that, of the cities reporting, 96 employ some sterilizing agent, 53 of these using liquid chlorine, which is the latest form of applying chlorine for sterilizing purposes but from these figures appears to have become undoubtedly the most popular. The use of liquid chlorine or hypochlorite is reported from 33 states scattered over the entire country; and it is known that several cities use one or the other which failed to report it, some probably because of local popular prejudice against putting “chemicals” in the water supply.”

Commentary: Disinfection information in this article is fascinating on several levels. First, we see details of which cities were actually disinfecting their water supplies (and those that were not). We also read that there was STILL a fear of chemicals in drinking water even after the overwhelming evidence that typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases could be stopped by such a practice. Finally, this survey documents the conversion from chloride of lime to the use of liquid chlorine that was occurring during this period of water treatment history. Chloride of lime was first used on the Jersey City water supply, which started the disinfection craze (see my book, The Chlorine Revolution). However, the availability of liquid chlorine in pressurized cylinders and the ease of its application ultimately converted everyone to this newer technology.

#TDIWH—January 24, 1876: Hemlock Lake Water Supply; 1972: Vincent B. Nesfield Dies; 1800: Birth of Edwin Chadwick

Hemlock Lake

Hemlock Lake

January 24, 1876: Glory! Hemlock Water at Last! “So proclaimed the [Rochester, NY] newspaper headline on January 24, 1876 as it announced the arrival of Hemlock Lake water into Mt. Hope Reservoir (today named Highland Reservoir). Finally, after more than three decades of political bickering and aborted construction attempts, Rochester had an abundant supply of pure wholesome drinking water. While an asset such as this may barely raise an eyebrow today, in 1876 this was truly a glorious event for the 70,000 citizens of Rochester.

In the era before the arrival of Hemlock water, wells and cisterns were the only source of drinking water. For the average resident, one well or cistern was shared by several families. Not surprisingly, the water quality of these wells was terrible in a city honeycombed with cesspools and privies. The author of an 1875 Board of Health report stated that, “We have few wells in our city that are fit for use, and in the densely populated portion they are almost without exception, absolutely unfit.” Diseases such as dysentery, cholera and typhoid were widespread. Periods of drought amplified these hardships”

0124 VB NesfieldJanuary 24, 1972: Vincent B. Nesfield dies. Nesfield was the first person to use chlorine gas under pressure to disinfect drinking water. In 1903, Lieutenant Vincent B. Nesfield of the British Indian Medical Services published a remarkable paper in a British public health journal. (Nesfield 1903) In the paper, he described his search for a chemical disinfectant to purify drinking water that would be suitable for use in the field as part of a military campaign. He came up with the idea of producing chlorine gas by electrolytic cells and then compressing the gas with 6 atmospheres of pressure until it liquefied which facilitated its storage in lead-lined steel tanks that held about 20 pounds of liquid chlorine. He treated 50 gallon batches of water by submerging the gas valve of the chlorine cylinder and opening it slightly to bubble the chlorine gas into the water.

In a later paper, Nesfield stated that about 5.4 mg/L of chlorine (2 grams per 100 gallons) killed all typhoid and cholera bacteria. After a 5-minute contact time, he added sodium sulphite to the treated water to remove the excess chlorine and prevent taste problems. (Nesfield 1905) To say that he was ahead of his time is a vast understatement. It would be 7 years before liquid chlorine in pressurized cylinders was widely available in the U.S. for water utilities to use as an alternative to chloride of lime.

Passing references to Nesfield’s unique treatment method can be found in some publications in the early 20th century. In a discussion of two papers on chlorination of water and sewage in 1911, Dr. L.P. Kinnicutt mentioned Nesfield’s liquid chlorine addition method and went on to describe an iodine tablet developed by Nesfield that was more portable (and undoubtedly caused more taste problems). Therefore, there was at least some early knowledge in the U.S. of the use of liquid chlorine to disinfect drinking water. There was one mention of Nesfield’s system of purification in a 1920 encyclopedia section on water supply. (Hill 1920) A note in a journal devoted to tropical medicine in 1907, described how successful chlorination was for a unit of the British colonial army marching toward Agra. (Pure Water 1907)

There was limited mention of Nesfield and his groundbreaking work on chlorine disinfection in histories of drinking water disinfection. In Race’s remarkable 1918 book on chlorination of water, he gave Nesfield credit for the first use of liquefied chlorine for the disinfection of water. (Race 1918) Baker devoted a few sentences to Nesfield’s contributions. (Baker 1981) In a later summary of the progress of drinking water disinfection in 1950, Race again gave credit for Nesfield’s unique application of chlorine technology. (Race 1950)

References:

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.

Hill, Henry W. 1920. “Water Supply: For Municipal, Domestic and Potable Purposes, Including Its Sources, Conservation, Purification and Distribution.” In The Encyclopedia Americana, 39–65.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1903. “A Chemical Method of Sterilizing Water Without Affecting its Potability.” Public Health. 15(7): 601–3.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1905. “A Simple Chemical Process of Sterilizing Water for Drinking Purposes for Use in the Field and at Home.” The Journal of Preventive Medicine. 8: 623-32.

“Pure Water.” 1907. Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 10(January 15): 30.

Race, Joseph. 1918. Chlorination of Water. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.

Race, Joseph. 1950. “Forty Years of Chlorination: 1910–1949.” Journal Institution of Water Engineers. 4: 479–505.

Edwin Chadwick

Edwin Chadwick

January 24, 1800: Edwin Chadwick is born. Edwin Chadwick was an English social reformer who was noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and improve sanitary conditions and public health. The appointment of the Poor Law Commission in 1834 which included Edwin Chadwick is widely believed to be the beginning of the sanitary movement in England. Through Chadwick’s work and influence, more sophisticated health statistics were collected which revealed that public health problems were increasing at a rapid rate. Chadwick imposed his “sanitary idea” which focused on disease prevention. A survey published by the Poor Law Commission in 1842 detailed the horrific working and living conditions in England at the time. The report linked epidemic disease, especially related to fever diseases (typhoid, typhus and cholera) to filthy environmental conditions. Privy vaults, shallow urban wells and piles of garbage and animal excrement in the streets were all related to the increases in disease.

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

January 11, 1922: Chlorination of New England water supplies and Demands for Lower Color Content of Drinking Water

0111 NEWWA no cl2January 11, 1922: Two fascinating articles in Engineering and Contracting about the progress of water treatment, regulations and disinfection in U.S. water supplies in 1922.

“The Chlorination of New England Water Supplies.” By William J. Orchard. “One thousand nine hundred and ninety-six: communities In the United States chlorinate water or sewage or both with liquid chlorine. Only 128 or 6 per cent of these are in New England. Twelve are treating sewage, leaving but 116 New England communities chlorinating drinking water. Nearly half, 43 per cent, of these are in Connecticut where 51 communities use liquid chlorine to safeguard their water supplies, 24 are in Maine, 16 are in New Hampshire, 11 in Rhode Island, Massachusetts has nine while Vermont has three communities using liquid chlorine for their water supplies.

Scoring the states in this country in accordance with the number of communities using liquid chlorine and starting with New York in first place with 254, ending with Nevada in 48th place with but one lone chlorinating community we find Connecticut stands 11th, Maine 25th, New Hampshire 30th, Rhode Island 36th, Massachusetts 41st, and Vermont 47th.

A manufacturer of chlorinating equipment naturally asks why this relatively small number of communities using liquid chlorine in certain sections of New England? Now, in trying to answer that question, the speaker appreciates that he is skating on thin ice-dangerously near a deep hole labeled ‘The Johnsonian Controversy,’ and caution dictates that he skate the other way.

But it is a fact that there is more resistance to the chlorination of drinking water in New England than in any other section of the country. Some of this is due to a firm, honest conviction in the purity and safety of unsterilized water supplies-some of this is due to complete deep rooted faith in the absolute efficacy of storage and water shed patrol—but, in the writer’s opinion, the principle cause for this resistance to chlorination in New England Is the marked aversion found In some quarters to the application of chemicals in any form to drinking water. It matters not if, as in the case of sterilization, a barrel full of chlorine will suffice for a Woolworth building filled with water. The objection is to the application of chemicals in any form-no matter what the chemicals may be. This attitude was clearly expressed by one of New England’s most prominent engineers who said to the speaker, ‘Up here we don’t want medicated waters.’”

Commentary: I am not sure what “The Johnsonian Controversy” was but Orchard correctly points out the resistance to chlorination in New England. Antagonism against the use of chemicals in drinking water treatment was, in large part, due to the influence of the Lawrence Experiment Station on the actions of water plants.

Engineering and Contracting article. “Some Features of Present Water Supply Practice.” Nicholas S. Hill, Chairman. “Water Quality Standards—Standards of quality are steadily rising and bid fair to continue doing so. Communities no longer consider safety sufficient, but demand a drinking water of good appearance. This demand has good scientific foundation for the best appearing waters are frequently the safer.

In certain sections, the northeast particularly, waters having colors of 25 or more are still used without complaint. These colors would not be tolerated in western cities supplied with lake or filtered river water, or even in New England. Public opinion is fast getting in a position to demand water of an average color of 10 parts per million or less with a maximum of 15. Particular objection is made to colored surface waters containing odoriferous organisms and turbidity, whether due to heavy microscopic growths, to clay, or to iron rust, is also objectionable.

While the bacteriological standard of the U. S. Public Health Service [1914] met with considerable criticism because of its alleged severity and because it excluded certain water supplying communities in which good public health conditions prevailed. It can not be denied that those who are aiming to supply waters of high quality are trying to equal or better this standard which, as is well known, commands that all waters used in inter-state commerce shall contain no gas-forming organisms (presumably B. coli) in at least three out of five portions of 10 c.c. from the sample tested. One reason for this appreciation is the improvement in public health diagnosis; this, in turn, to better vital statistics, better organization of the health authorities and refinements in clinical methods.”

Commentary: Only 14 years after chlorination began to eradicate waterborne disease, an enlightened public began to demand higher quality water—as they should.

Reference: Engineering and Contracting. 1922. 57:2(January 11, 1922): 22-3.

October 24, 1879: Birth of Vincent B. Nesfield; 1981: Melting Icebergs; 1632: Birth of van Leeuwenhoek

0124 VB NesfieldOctober 24, 1879: Birth of Vincent B. Nesfield. Nesfield was the first person to use chlorine gas under pressure to disinfect drinking water. In 1903, Lieutenant Vincent B. Nesfield of the British Indian Medical Services published a remarkable paper in a British public health journal. (Nesfield 1903) In the paper, he described his search for a chemical disinfectant to purify drinking water that would be suitable for use in the field as part of a military campaign.  He came up with the idea of producing chlorine gas by electrolytic cells and then compressing the gas with 6 atmospheres of pressure until it liquefied which facilitated its storage in lead-lined steel tanks that held about 20 pounds of liquid chlorine.  He treated 50 gallon batches of water by submerging the gas valve of the chlorine cylinder and opening it slightly to bubble the chlorine gas into the water.

In a later paper, Nesfield stated that about 5.4 mg/L of chlorine (2 grams per 100 gallons) killed all typhoid and cholera bacteria.  After a 5-minute contact time, he added sodium sulphite to the treated water to remove the excess chlorine and prevent taste problems. (Nesfield 1905) To say that he was ahead of his time is a vast understatement.  It would be 7 years before liquid chlorine in pressurized cylinders was widely available in the U.S. for water utilities to use as an alternative to chloride of lime.

Passing references to Nesfield’s unique treatment method can be found in some publications in the early 20th century.  In a discussion of two papers on chlorination of water and sewage in 1911, Dr. L.P. Kinnicutt mentioned Nesfield’s liquid chlorine addition method and went on to describe an iodine tablet developed by Nesfield that was more portable (and undoubtedly caused more taste problems).  Therefore, there was at least some early knowledge in the U.S. of the use of liquid chlorine to disinfect drinking water.  There was one mention of Nesfield’s system of purification in a 1920 encyclopedia section on water supply. (Hill 1920) A note in a journal devoted to tropical medicine in 1907, described how successful chlorination was for a unit of the British colonial army marching toward Agra. (Pure Water 1907)

There was limited mention of Nesfield and his groundbreaking work on chlorine disinfection in histories of drinking water disinfection.  In Race’s remarkable 1918 book on chlorination of water, he gave Nesfield credit for the first use of liquefied chlorine for the disinfection of water. (Race 1918) Baker devoted a few sentences to Nesfield’s contributions. (Baker 1981) In a later summary of the progress of drinking water disinfection in 1950, Race again gave credit for Nesfield’s unique application of chlorine technology. (Race 1950)

References:

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.

Hill, Henry W. 1920. “Water Supply: For Municipal, Domestic and Potable Purposes, Including Its Sources, Conservation, Purification and Distribution.” In The Encyclopedia Americana, 39–65.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1903. “A Chemical Method of Sterilizing Water Without Affecting its Potability.” Public Health. 15(7): 601–3.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1905. “A Simple Chemical Process of Sterilizing Water for Drinking Purposes for Use in the Field and at Home.” The Journal of Preventive Medicine. 8: 623-32.

“Pure Water.” 1907. Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 10(January 15): 30.

Race, Joseph. 1918. Chlorination of Water. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.

Race, Joseph. 1950. “Forty Years of Chlorination: 1910–1949.” Journal Institution of Water Engineers. 4: 479–505.

1024 Melting IcebergsOctober 24, 1981 New York Times–Producing Fresh Water By Melting Icebergs. “Icebergs can be melted in such a way as to produce fresh water and mechanical energy. The proposed operation is described in a patent awarded this week to three employees of the Department of Agriculture Research Center, Berkeley, Calif.

The procedure, as outlined by Wayne M. Camirand, John M. Randall and Earl Hautala in patent 4,295,333, starts with evaporating warm surface water by pumping it into a vacuum. The vapor produces electrical energy by operating a turbine. The vapor is then condensed by cold water from the iceberg, and the mixture is used to melt the iceberg itself. The added moisture from the vapor creates a volume of fresh water larger than that produced by melting the iceberg alone.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Randall said that although the iceberg procedure had not yet been followed, much interest had been shown in towing icebergs from Antarctica, and several small ocean thermal energy conversion plants had been built and operated experimentally.”

Commentary: I am taking bets on whether or not this patent was ever commercialized. Had they known, all the three gents had to do is wait 30 years for climate change to melt icebergs for them. Is this where the phrase “patently absurd” comes from?

1024 Antonie van LeeuwenhoekOctober 24, 1632:  Birthday of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Throughout the history of scientific improvement, the development of the tools for scientists helped incremental increases in knowledge as well as allowing them to break new barriers and make discoveries that would otherwise not have been possible.  Such is the case for the invention of and improvement to the microscope.

Lenses that magnified things were around for hundreds of years.  Others had assembled multiple lenses in tubes and created the compound microscope.  But it was not until the 17th century that a big leap was made. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was born in 1632 in Delft of what is now called the Netherlands.  In the same year, Galileo published his famous work Dialogue in which he argued that Copernicus was right—the sun was the center of our solar system.  To put it mildly, science was in its infancy.  The Catholic Church rewarded Galileo for his insight by declaring him heretic and holding him under house arrest for the rest of his life.

There are many descriptions of van Leeuwenhoek’s life but the most entertaining is the lyrical narrative by Paul de Kruif in his classic book Microbe Hunters.  De Kruif described van Leeuwenhoek as a janitor and shopkeeper, and, indeed, he was.  However, van Leeuwenhoek was also obsessed with grinding lenses, making better microscopes and viewing the, as yet, unviewed microbial world.

While looking around his house for common items to study with his inventions, he decided to look at drops of water and discovered that there were “beasties” swimming around.  After a significant amount of time, which he used to perfect his tool and hone his descriptions of the microbial world, van Leeuwenhoek began corresponding with the Royal Society in London.  Despite initial skepticism, the Royal Society elected him to their august body.  Van Leeuwenhoek did not share well with others and preferred to keep his improvements to the microscope to himself.  He did share his many discoveries in hundreds of letters to the Royal Society including many descriptions of bacteria.  He was the first person to make these observations.

After van Leeuwenhoek, others improved the microscope including Joseph Lister’s father, Joseph Jackson Lister.  In 1832, the elder Lister was able, through manipulation of the lenses in the tube, to eliminate the “chromatic effect” or light halos around the object being observed. Thus, a relatively sophisticated tool was available for Pasteur to view his yeasts, bacteria and other microbes.

References:

De Kruif, Paul. Microbe Hunters. New York:Harcourt, 1996.

Godlee, Rickman J. Lord Lister. Second edition, London:MacMillan, 1918.

August 10, 1916: Sterilizing Water and Flushing Mains

0810 4 Sterilizing Water and Flushing Mains-4August 10, 1916: Municipal Journal article. Sterilizing Water and Cleaning Mains. “In connection with the information concerning their water works furnished by more than six hundred officials and published in our June 1st issue, these officials also answered the questions: “Is the capacity of your mains diminished by corrosion?” “Do you clean them?” “If so, how and how often?” “Do you sterilize the water?” “If so, by what process?” Their answers are given in the table on the following pages.

These answers are given as furnished, and no attempt made to change them with a view to uniformity. For instance, some report sterilizing by “liquid chlorine,” others by “chlorine gas,” and some by “chlorine”; but we suppose that all refer to the same treatment. Also “hypochlorite,” “chloride of lime” and “bleach,” all probably refer to the same material.

In the answers concerning cleaning mains, quite a number report doing this by flushing or blowing out. This is generally believed to remove only sediment deposited in the mains, mostly that brought into them by the water, and to have no effect upon tuberculation or corrosion. A few, however, report “cleaning,” which refers in probably all cases to the actual removal by some application of force of tuberculation or other incrustation on the pipes.

It is interesting to note that, of the cities reporting, 96 employ some sterilizing agent, 53 of these using liquid chlorine, which is the latest form of applying chlorine for sterilizing purposes but from these figures appears to have become undoubtedly the most popular. The use of liquid chlorine or hypochlorite is reported from 33 states scattered over the entire country; and it is known that several cities use one or the other which failed to report it, some probably because of local popular prejudice against putting “chemicals” in the water supply.”

Commentary: Disinfection information in this article is fascinating on several levels. First, we see details of which cities were actually disinfecting their water supplies (and those that were not). We also read that there was STILL a fear of chemicals in drinking water even after the overwhelming evidence that typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases could be stopped by such a practice. Finally, this survey documents the conversion from chloride of lime to the use of liquid chlorine that was occurring during this period of water treatment history. Chloride of lime was first used on the Jersey City water supply, which started the disinfection craze (see my book, The Chlorine Revolution). However, the availability of liquid chlorine in pressurized cylinders and the ease of its application ultimately converted everyone to this newer technology.

0810 3 Sterilizing Water and Flushing Mains-30810 2 Sterilizing Water and Flushing Mains-20810 1 Sterilizing Water and Flushing Mains

#TDIWH—January 24, 1876: Hemlock Lake Water Supply; 1972: Vincent B. Nesfield Dies; 1800: Birth of Edwin Chadwick

Hemlock Lake

Hemlock Lake

January 24, 1876: Glory! Hemlock Water at Last! “So proclaimed the [Rochester, NY] newspaper headline on January 24, 1876 as it announced the arrival of Hemlock Lake water into Mt. Hope Reservoir (today named Highland Reservoir). Finally, after more than three decades of political bickering and aborted construction attempts, Rochester had an abundant supply of pure wholesome drinking water. While an asset such as this may barely raise an eyebrow today, in 1876 this was truly a glorious event for the 70,000 citizens of Rochester.

In the era before the arrival of Hemlock water, wells and cisterns were the only source of drinking water. For the average resident, one well or cistern was shared by several families. Not surprisingly, the water quality of these wells was terrible in a city honeycombed with cesspools and privies. The author of an 1875 Board of Health report stated that, “We have few wells in our city that are fit for use, and in the densely populated portion they are almost without exception, absolutely unfit.” Diseases such as dysentery, cholera and typhoid were widespread. Periods of drought amplified these hardships”

0124 VB NesfieldJanuary 24, 1972: Vincent B. Nesfield dies. Nesfield was the first person to use chlorine gas under pressure to disinfect drinking water. In 1903, Lieutenant Vincent B. Nesfield of the British Indian Medical Services published a remarkable paper in a British public health journal. (Nesfield 1903) In the paper, he described his search for a chemical disinfectant to purify drinking water that would be suitable for use in the field as part of a military campaign. He came up with the idea of producing chlorine gas by electrolytic cells and then compressing the gas with 6 atmospheres of pressure until it liquefied which facilitated its storage in lead-lined steel tanks that held about 20 pounds of liquid chlorine. He treated 50 gallon batches of water by submerging the gas valve of the chlorine cylinder and opening it slightly to bubble the chlorine gas into the water.

In a later paper, Nesfield stated that about 5.4 mg/L of chlorine (2 grams per 100 gallons) killed all typhoid and cholera bacteria. After a 5-minute contact time, he added sodium sulphite to the treated water to remove the excess chlorine and prevent taste problems. (Nesfield 1905) To say that he was ahead of his time is a vast understatement. It would be 7 years before liquid chlorine in pressurized cylinders was widely available in the U.S. for water utilities to use as an alternative to chloride of lime.

Passing references to Nesfield’s unique treatment method can be found in some publications in the early 20th century. In a discussion of two papers on chlorination of water and sewage in 1911, Dr. L.P. Kinnicutt mentioned Nesfield’s liquid chlorine addition method and went on to describe an iodine tablet developed by Nesfield that was more portable (and undoubtedly caused more taste problems). Therefore, there was at least some early knowledge in the U.S. of the use of liquid chlorine to disinfect drinking water. There was one mention of Nesfield’s system of purification in a 1920 encyclopedia section on water supply. (Hill 1920) A note in a journal devoted to tropical medicine in 1907, described how successful chlorination was for a unit of the British colonial army marching toward Agra. (Pure Water 1907)

There was limited mention of Nesfield and his groundbreaking work on chlorine disinfection in histories of drinking water disinfection. In Race’s remarkable 1918 book on chlorination of water, he gave Nesfield credit for the first use of liquefied chlorine for the disinfection of water. (Race 1918) Baker devoted a few sentences to Nesfield’s contributions. (Baker 1981) In a later summary of the progress of drinking water disinfection in 1950, Race again gave credit for Nesfield’s unique application of chlorine technology. (Race 1950)

References:

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.

Hill, Henry W. 1920. “Water Supply: For Municipal, Domestic and Potable Purposes, Including Its Sources, Conservation, Purification and Distribution.” In The Encyclopedia Americana, 39–65.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1903. “A Chemical Method of Sterilizing Water Without Affecting its Potability.” Public Health. 15(7): 601–3.

Nesfield, Vincent B. 1905. “A Simple Chemical Process of Sterilizing Water for Drinking Purposes for Use in the Field and at Home.” The Journal of Preventive Medicine. 8: 623-32.

“Pure Water.” 1907. Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 10(January 15): 30.

Race, Joseph. 1918. Chlorination of Water. New York City, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.

Race, Joseph. 1950. “Forty Years of Chlorination: 1910–1949.” Journal Institution of Water Engineers. 4: 479–505.

0124 Edwin ChadwickJanuary 24, 1800: Edwin Chadwick is born. Edwin Chadwick was an English social reformer who was noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and improve sanitary conditions and public health. The appointment of the Poor Law Commission in 1834 which included Edwin Chadwick is widely believed to be the beginning of the sanitary movement in England. Through Chadwick’s work and influence, more sophisticated health statistics were collected which revealed that public health problems were increasing at a rapid rate. Chadwick imposed his “sanitary idea” which focused on disease prevention. A survey published by the Poor Law Commission in 1842 detailed the horrific working and living conditions in England at the time. The report linked epidemic disease, especially related to fever diseases (typhoid, typhus and cholera) to filthy environmental conditions. Privy vaults, shallow urban wells and piles of garbage and animal excrement in the streets were all related to the increases in disease.

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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