Tag Archives: New York

November 15, 1910: New York Abolishes Common Cup

November 15, 1910New York Times headline—Would Abolish Common Cup. “Albany, Nov. 15—“There is no excuse for a public drinking cup, on the train or anywhere else, now that penny-in-the-slot machines serve out paper cups and that metal collapsible cups can be purchased for a dime,” says a circular sent out by the State Department of Health. The Health Department is co-operating with the railroads to do away with the public drinking cup on trains and in railroad stations. It is stated that there is great possibility of the transmission of disease by the use of the common drinking cup….”

CommentaryOn October 30, 2012, we observed the 100th anniversary of the first drinking water regulation, which was adopted by the U.S. Treasury Department that prohibited the use of the common drinking cup on interstate carriers. Individual states like New York and Kansas led the way by raising awareness of this serious public health problem. Seven articles in my blog safedrinkingwaterdotcom provided a countdown to the anniversary date.

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November 13, 565 CE: Basilica Cistern; 1988: Sewage in Santa Monica Bay; 2003: Death of Sewer Worker

November 13, 565 AD:  End of the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, builder of the Basilica Cistern. “The Basilica Cistern (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarayı – Sunken Palace, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı – Sunken Cistern), is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), Turkey. The cistern, located 500 feet southwest of the Hagia Sophia on the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. This cathedral-size cistern is an underground chamber approximately 453 by 212 feet – about 105,000 square feet in area – capable of holding 2,800,000 cubic feet [or 21 million gallons] of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 30 feet high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 16 feet apart. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings.” (edited by MJM)

Istanbul has always had limited water resources. Water supplies had to be transported to the city through long canals and aqueducts. Istanbul has also been the target of invading armies and has had to rely on stored water during long sieges. For these reasons, underground and open-air cisterns have always been a part of the city fabric. Sometimes stored water in local cisterns had to last the city’s population for months. There is no official count of the number of cisterns that had been built in ancient times, but dozens have survived and many can be visited. The Basilica Cistern is the grandest of them all.

Commentary and Update:  The Basilica Cistern is one of the locations for the movie “Inferno” starring Tom Hanks and released October 28, 2016. Somehow they create destructive waves in this underground water reservoir.

November 13, 1988New York Times headline—Sewage in Santa Monica Bay. “Nearly seven miles of beaches are closed for the weekend because a cap on a sewer main 15 miles inland failed, causing a gush of raw sewage into Santa Monica Bay. The overflow, which apparently began Wednesday, caused bacteria levels in the ocean near Marina del Rey to rise to more than twice the safe levels for swimming, a city biologist, John Dorsey, said Friday.”

November 13, 2003New York Times headline—Appreciations, Death of a Sewer Worker. “New York is a mythic place, and one of the most mythic parts of it is the part that nobody ever sees: the sewers. Alligators and giant rats barely begin to sum up the state of our fears about the sewers, when we acknowledge those fears at all. So it’s worth remembering how great a joke it is that the New York city sewers should also contain Ed Norton, played on ”The Honeymooners” by Art Carney, who died on Sunday at 85.”

November 11, 1990: Underground Tanks in New York; 1991: Bottled Water Use in NYC

November 11, 1990New York Times headline–State Is Taking Action On Underground Tanks. “Through one of the strictest programs of its type in the country, the State Department of Environmental Protection has forced the replacement of 12,000 underground gasoline tanks that were leaking or were so old that they were in danger of leaking. Now the state is going after the 350 to 400 old tanks it estimates are still in use, including some of its own.

‘In the last three years, more tanks have been replaced at gasoline stations in Connecticut than in the previous 30,’ said Charles S. Isenberg, executive vice president of the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association.

Unearthing the tanks has shown that more were leaking than the state anticipated — as many as 80 percent, compared with the expected one-third — said G. Scott Deshefy of the environmental agency’s underground-tank program.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s coordinator for Connecticut, Jonathan M. Walker, said the program has become a model for other states. Even in cases where the tanks are in good shape, he said, the inspections are revealing leaks from pipes.”

Scare tactics have been employed by unscrupulous individuals trying to sell bottled water.

November 11, 1991New York Times headline–It’s Wet, Free and Gets No Respect. “In the tea department of Fortnum & Mason, which has guided the palates of England for 300 years, a few rules must never be broken: drink only premium blends; keep air out of the canister, and brew your beverage with the finest water available — New York City’s if possible.

It may surprise the people who live in the city, having turned to bottled water in numbers that mystify even those who are paid to sell it, but New York’s tap water remains as good as it gets. Just ask an expert.

‘Naturally, there are many fine reasons to visit New York,’ said Eugene Hayes, director of the tea department at Fortnum & Mason in London, which among its dozens of specialty offerings carries a dark Ceylon brand called New York Blend. ‘But I would have to say one of the best is the water.’

For generations, New Yorkers rejoiced in the high quality of their drinking water, which runs swiftly and practically untouched to their faucets from the peaks of the Catskills 100 miles away. But that trust has disappeared during the last 10 years, eroded by an epidemic of nervousness that has left many people convinced that water with a label has to be better than water from a pipe.”

Commentary My how times have changed. Bottled water is given failing marks these days because of the cost and impact on the environment. Good old tap water gets high marks.

October 29, 1855: Taste and Odor in Albany

Algae Bloom in Water Reservoir

October 29, 1855Severe taste and odor problem in Albany. “A committee of the Albany, New York, City Council complained of severe taste and odor problems in water supply reservoirs. ‘no more alarming event, short of the actual visitation of a pestilence, can befall a large city than the sudden poisoning of its water supply at the commencement of the hot season.’ The problem started in August 1852 and the water became unfit for use. ‘The cause assigned by George W. Carpenter was animalcules which overspread the bottom of one of the reservoirs and decomposed there.’ The problem disappeared for ten years but reappeared with a vengeance in 1865. It was ‘…impossible to convince some that the water so impregnated can possibly be innoxious.’”

Commentary:  Severe taste and odor problems in a water supply are no joke—not in 1855 and not today. Mayors have been fired, city councils have been recalled and senior managers at water utilities have been forced to look for new jobs.

Reference:  Baker, Moses N. 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, 1981, p. 401-2.

August 24, 1868: Croton Water Supply Wastage

Terminal reservoir for the Croton Aqueduct about 1875—located on 42nd Street on the site of the current New York Public Library.

August 24, 1868: New York Times headline. Our Water Supply. “If cleanliness be next to godliness, then judging from the quantity of water consumed in New York, our citizens must be very near to being a godly people. But it is to be feared that of the vast quantities of water consumed daily in this City, a very large proportion is wasted. In how many houses is the Croton constantly left running, because it is too much trouble, or too treat an effort of memory to turn it off? How much water is wasted in washing down engine houses, stables, &c., and how much in our hotels and bar rooms? The Commissioners of the Croton Department say that about one-fourth of all the water consumed in this City runs to waste, and perhaps the estimate is not an exaggerated one. The present consumption of water in New York averages sixty millions of gallons per day, or sixty gallons for each inhabitant. This supply, after deducting the quantity necessary for extinguishing fires, for washing and other purposes, would appear to be liberal, though not equal, if we may believe history, to that provided for the citizens of Imperial Rome, who were at liberty to use something like one hundred gallons per day each. Our supply, however, is larger, in proportion to the number of inhabitants, than that of the British Metropolis, and also of some of the principal cities of the Old World. At the same time our water surpasses theirs in purity, a gallon containing but a trifle over four grains of solid matter. It will scarcely perhaps be believed that New Yorkers, before the introduction of the croton were compelled to drink water containing from 20 to 125 grains of impurities per gallon. Yet such was the fact.”

Commentary: The article goes on to describe how a new reservoir was being constructed in Putnam County to store more water from the Croton supply to provide water to the City even during long, dry summers. Readers should note that this first Croton Aqueduct serving New York City was built above ground. The underground aqueduct which is still being used was not built until 1885-1893.

July 4, 1961: Revolutionary Pipe Joint Patent; 1832: Letter from Chester Averill about Cholera; 2013: Natural Immunity from Cholera

Fastite Joint

July 4, 1961: On this date, Patent Number 2,991,092 was issued to Mr. J. W. MacKay of the American Cast Iron Pipe Company in Birmingham, Alabama, for the Fastite push-on-rubber gasket joint for iron pipe. The Fastite gasket uses a dual-durometer gasket having a stiff rubber ring to hold the gasket in place against insertion loads and a softer, fatter section to provide the leak-free seal. The push-on gasket soon supplanted the bolted mechanical joint for virtually all underground pipe-to-pipe connections and is part of ANSI/AWWA C111/A21.11, Rubber-Gasket Joints for Ductile-Iron Pressure Pipe and Fittings. In 2014, Mr. MacKay is alive and well at age 104. He was inducted into the state of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2011.

Source: Maury D. Gaston, American Cast Iron Pipe Company.

Chester Averill

July 4, 1832: Date of letter from Chester Averill (Professor of Chemistry, Union College) to the Mayor of Schenectady, New York during the middle of a cholera epidemic which praised the disinfecting properties of chloride of lime (chlorine). The treatise quoted many learned men of the time who demonstrated that chloride of lime eliminated the spread of contagious diseases by attacking the miasmas associated with them. The letter also made reference to the destruction of certain “viruses” that may have been responsible for transmission of the diseases. The germ theory of disease would not be espoused by Louis Pasteur for another 30-40 years. However, Averill, like many others in the early 19th century suspected that something other than “bad air” caused disease. What follows is a small extract from his treatise.

“‘Chlorine is by far the most powerful agent hitherto discovered to counteract contagion and all kinds of noxious effluvia and its sanative powers appear equally extraordinary.’ Dr. Sillimaii’s Chem. vol. 2, p. 68.

I have here quoted the opinions of eminently scientific men, at least three of whom are M.D.’s. and all of whom, it may be thought, do not deserve to be styled empyrics. But what weight ought these opinions to have in this discussion? Surely no more than those of any other person even much less eminent, unless they are better substantiated by facts. It was thought advisable, however, to quote them, since they may serve to correct any bias which entirely opposite opinions, proceeding from no higher source, may have occasioned.”

Reference: Averill, Chester. Facts Regarding the Disinfecting Powers of Chlorine: With an Explanation of the Mode in Which it Operates and with Directions How it Should be Applied for Disinfecting Purposes. Letter to John I. DeGraff, Mayor of Schenectady. Private printing. 1832.

July 4, 2013: In today’s New York Times (July 4, 2013), there was an extraordinary article that summarized recent research findings on human genetic adaptation to killer cholera. A few quotes give a summary of the findings: “People living in the Ganges Delta, where cholera is an ancient, endemic and often lethal disease, have adapted genetically to the scourge through variations in about 300 genes, say researchers who have scanned their genomes for the fingerprints of evolution.

The researchers also found unexpected changes in genes that protect against arsenic, suggesting that arsenic exposure in Bangladesh is not just a modern problem associated with deep tube wells but may have ancient roots.

These instances of natural selection probably took place within the last 5,000 to 30,000 years, the researchers say, and show how evolution has continued to mold human populations through the relatively recent past…. People with blood group O are particularly susceptible to cholera, and indeed few Bengalis have blood group O. John Mekalanos, a cholera expert at the Harvard Medical School, said the new finding was one of several that ‘are starting to give a strong impression that the human genome has been dramatically shaped by responses to microorganisms.’”

Reference: Wade, Nicholas. 2013. “Gene Sleuths Find How Some Naturally Resist Cholera.” New York Times. July 4, 2013.

March 24, 1909: Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie, NY

March 24, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie. “Sedimentation is ineffective because there is nothing to be precipitated, coagulation is ineffective because there is nothing for the coagulant to attack, the efficiency of the filters is not as good at this season of the year, so disinfection is being tried. So far the results have been marvelous.

By the simple adding of the disinfectant (chloride of lime) to the raw water, as if by magic the purification is complete. The hypochlorite is added in the pump and the water then passes through the sedimentation basin. The last bacteriological result shows a reduction from 17,500 to 100. The filters continue to assist in the purification, but there is no necessity for careful regulation.

At present we are adding the disinfectant at the rate of one-half part of free chlorine per million, which figures about 36 pounds of hypochlorite per day for our consumption. There is absolutely no taste or trace of the chlorine in the filtered water, the process is simple, safe and complete. The expense at our present rate is 75 cents per day, where it has been as high as $10 for alum.

The suggestion that this disinfectant method be followed came to us from Mr. George C. Whipple, of New York City. The accompanying cut shows the general layout of the purification plant. The water takes the following procedure: It is pumped from the river into the inlet end of the sedimentation basin, a total lift of about 50 feet; the water then passes through the basin and out at the outlet end, thence by pipe line into the intermediate basin from which it is distributed to each one of the filters. From the filters the water passes to the clear water well and thence back to the station, where another set of pumps sends it to the College Hill distributing reservoir.

The disinfectant is being added from the coagulant basin, which is situated between the laboratory and station, inasmuch as the coagulant use has ceased until more turbid water arrives. Then the alum will be used in small quantities and the disinfectant added at the inlet end of the sedimentation basin.”

Reference: Harding, Robert J. 1909. “Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie.” Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:12(March 24, 1909): 484.

Commentary: Chlorination began on March 17, 1909, as noted in a post on this blog. Poughkeepsie was the third documented use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection in the U.S. as noted in the book The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.