Tag Archives: Ohio

March 11, 1869: Akron Fire Impacts on Water Supply

Main Street, Akron, Ohio, 1875

March 11, 1869: Major fire in Akron, Ohio leads to early improvements in water service. The fire burned down all of the buildings between High and Main Streets. Soon after, the public demanded water reservoirs for fire safety. Citizens pooled their money to purchase large cisterns and in the early 1870s, eighteen cisterns were constructed throughout the city each holding 500 to 2,000 gallons. In 1880 M.S. Frost Consulting Engineers and a group of prominent local men negotiated a deal with the city to be the sole provider of water to the city. The company would construct a water system for Akron as long as the city would agree to pay $6,750 per year for water service to fight fires and to rent 150 fire hydrants that the company would install. In 1880 the M.S. Frost and Son sold the rights of the water deal to the Akron Water Works company headed by Frank Adams and George W. Crouse.

Commentary: Without doubt, the major reason to build centralized water systems in the 19th century was not to provide a water supply to a city. Pressurized water systems were needed to stop cities from burning to the ground.

March 4, 1877: Birth of Garrett A. Morgan; 1875: British Public Health Act Debated

Garrett A. Morgan

March 4, 1877: Birth of Garrett A. Morgan. “With only an elementary school education, Garrett Morgan, born in Kentucky on March 4, 1877, began his career as a sewing-machine mechanic. He went on to patent several inventions, including an improved sewing machine and traffic signal, a hair-straightening product, and a respiratory device that would later provide the blueprint for WWI gas masks.

In 1914, Morgan patented a breathing device, or “safety hood,” providing its wearers with a safer breathing experience in the presence of smoke, gases and other pollutants. Morgan worked hard to market the device, especially to fire departments, often personally demonstrating its reliability in fires. Morgan’s breathing device became the prototype and precursor for the gas masks used during World War I, protecting soldiers from toxic gas used in warfare. The invention earned him the first prize at the Second International Exposition of Safety and Sanitation in New York City.

Garrett A. Morgan with “safety hood”

There was some resistance to Morgan’s devices among buyers, particularly in the South, where racial tension remained palpable despite advancements in African-American rights. In an effort to counteract the resistance to his products, Morgan hired a white actor to pose as “the inventor” during presentations of his breathing device; Morgan would pose as the inventor’s sidekick, disguised as a Native American man named “Big Chief Mason,” and, wearing his hood, enter areas otherwise unsafe for breathing. The tactic was successful; sales of the device were brisk, especially from firefighters and rescue workers.”

Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant

The Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant, built in 1916, was originally named The Division Avenue Pumping and Filtration Plant, and was constructed on the site of where the original water system originated in 1856….

Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant, Filter Gallery

In 1991, the plant was renamed the Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant. It is named after Garrett Augustus Morgan, a local inventor and entrepreneur whose creations have made a positive impact on the world and are still being used today. He is also known for inventing an improved traffic signal with a warning light; a zig-zag stitching attachment for sewing machines; and hair cream. However, his most notable invention was the gas mask which saved the lives of several men trapped during an explosion in an underground tunnel beneath Lake Erie in 1916. This same gas mask was adopted by the U.S. Armed Forces during WWI and became the prototype for modern day firefighting hoods used to battle oil well fires.”

Offscourings

March 4, 1875: British Public Health Act consolidates authority to deal with housing, water pollution, occupational disease, and other problems. On this date, an article appeared in The Nation that described the appalling conditions of drinking water in London: “It is no exaggeration to say that … there is hardly an unpolluted river in the whole of England. Between the sewage of towns and the offscourings of manufactories, distilleries, breweries, and the like, every stream and river in the country is poisoned and rendered unfit for domestic use. Sparkling brooks that not many years ago were frequented by speckled trout and silvery salmon are now transformed into gigantic cesspools, which a clean-living toad would be ashamed to haunt. No wise man or woman will touch a drop of London water until it has been boiled and filtered, and even then they will use as little of it as they can. The manufacturing interest will no doubt be roused if any attempt be made to interfere with their prerogative of public poisoning. But the good sense, not to say the newly- awakened terror, of the country will support the Government if their measure be wisely considered, and be calculated to promote the end it has in view. [The Nation. Mar. 4, 1875, p.11, “The Coming Measures.”]

February 19, 1914: Large Steel Water Tank in Youngstown, OH

February 19, 1914:  Engineering News article. “A steel tank 100 ft. diameter and 50 ft. high, with a capacity of 2,938,000 gal., is being built at Youngstown, Ohio, in connection with the water-supply service. The design is shown in Fig. 1. There are ten rings of plate, with double-strap butt joints for the vertical seams. These have ten rows of rivets (staggered) in the first two rings, eight in the third, six up to the eighth ring, four in the ninth and two in the tenth or top ring. There is a 20-in. inlet pipe with lead- and oakum-calked joint in the bottom plate, and a 24-in. overflow pipe of 3/8-in. riveted plate….

The tank is built without a roof, but has around the top a steel balcony with hand-rail. This balcony not only serves as a walk but also acts as a horizontal girder to stiffen the top of the tank.

The riveting is done with a large compression yoke riveter, except that the riveting of the bottom and the balcony is done with air hammers. The yoke riveter is suspended from a stiff-leg derrick, as shown in Fig. 3. The mast of this derrick is pivoted in the center of the tank and each stiff-leg is mounted on a small truck riding on a circular track, so that the boom and derrick frame can revolve through a complete circle. The power plant, air compressor and hoisting engine are located just outside the tank. The estimated weight of the tank complete is approximately 500 tons, and there are about 70,000 field rivets.

Reference:  “A Large Steel Water Tank.” 1914. Engineering News 71:8(February 19, 1914):412-3.

Commentary:  Note the lead and oakum-caulked joint. Lead would still be used in water works facility construction for many decades after 1914. Also, note that the reservoir did not have a roof. Uncovered finished water reservoirs finally suffered their death blow with the USEPA regulation—Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule. This story interested me because of the yoke riveter (on right center of Fig 3 with man standing on top) and derrick. This technology is long gone (I think), but it is interesting to see how they built reservoirs 99 years ago.

February 13, 1913: Cleveland Sewage Treatment

February 13, 1913:  Engineering News article. Sewage Disposal Investigations at Cleveland. By R. Winthrop Pratt. “SYNOPSIS-Preparatory to the design of sewage-treatment works for Cleveland, Ohio, a series of tests is being made of various methods of treating the sewage. The causes leading up to the decision to treat the sewage, and to make the tests before building the proposed works are outlined and then the testing station is described. The station includes grit chambers, screens and tanks for preliminary treatment, rapid filters or scrubbers, sprinkling filter, auxiliary settling tanks, and a disinfection plant for final treatment; tanks for dilution studies; sludge digestion tanks and sludge-drying beds, and an office and laboratory….

On July 25, 1905, the city appointed a commission of experts, consisting of Rudolph Hering, George H. Benzenberg and Desmond FitzGerald to study the general question of improved water-supply and sewerage for the city. This commission, about six months later, submitted a report in which was recommended:

(1) The extension of the water-works tunnel to a point about four miles from the shore.

(2) The construction of an intercepting sewer system to collect the sewage from the entire city and discharge the same into Lake Erie, at a point about 10 miles east of the Cuyahoga River. This intercepting sewer was to be designed to carry twice the dry-weather flow from one million people, on the basis of 200 gal. per capita, or a total of 400 gal. per capita per day. This plan involved several overflows into the lake and river to take care of the discharge in excess of the above amount.

(3) The construction of a river flushing tunnel and pumping equipment for the purpose of pumping clean lake water into the river above all local pollution, was recommended by two members of the commission.”

Reference:  Engineering News 1913. 69:7(February 13, 1913): 287.

#TDIWH-January 29, 1914: Pipe Thawing Outfit on a Truck

January 29, 1914:  Municipal Journal article—Pipe Thawing Outfit. “An electric thawing plant carried on a motor truck is used by the Columbus, 0 ., water works for thawing water pipes. It can be transported readily to the danger point and put to effic1ent use on very short notice. The outfit consists of a 50-h.p. engine operating an electric generator and a drum carrying two lengths of cable, each 210 feet in length, for making taps. For making contact on hydrants and on any size pipe from three-eighths of an inch to two and a half inches, a number of bronze clamps are carried, together with hand nuts, etc. The method of thawing an underground pipe is by including it in an electric circuit. which results in rapid melting of the ice next to the inner surface of the pipe; after that the flow of the water helps the thawing process until the pipe is completely clear. The capacity of this portable outfit is the melting of twelve pounds of ice a minute. It is manufactured by the General Motors Company.”

Commentary:  In case you were wondering how water utilities thawed out pipes in 1914…For reasons that are a bit of a mystery to me, this post is a favorite with water utility folks. I have had many comments from managers that they have passed this one around to their fellow workers and colleagues. I certainly think that the picture of the apparatus is amazing.

Reference:  Municipal Journal. 1914. “Pipe Thawing Outfit.” 36:5(January 29, 1914): 134.

December 7, 1916: Cleveland Activated Sludge Plant

Activated Sludge Plant, Cleveland, OH

December 7, 1916Engineering News article. Activated Sludge Results at Cleveland Reviewed. “A comprehensive review of nearly a year’s operation of one of the two largest activated sludge plants in the United States. Cleveland’s activated-sludge installation has now been in operation over nine months. Within 10 days after passing sewage through the plant, activated sludge was produced, but it took about two months to get all the recording apparatus tested out and the plant in shape for continuous operation….

The first experiments at Cleveland with the activated-sludge process indicated that two important requirements of an ideal method of sewage treatment were being satisfied:  The process produced a clear sparkling effluent and there was an absence of odors….

The theory of the activated-sludge process involves properly conditioning a bacterial growth and bringing the growth into the most intimate contact wit the suspended particles of the crude sewage. The plant, therefore, was divided into six compartments in order that the results obtained at the end of each step could be definitely studied and that, if necessary, the solid matter of the sewage could be aerated longer than the liquid itself.”

Reference:  “Activated Sludge Results at Cleveland Reviewed—I.” (1916). Engineering News. 76:23(December 7, 1916): 1061-2.

October 15, 1918: First Water Permit Issued to LADWP; 1988: Uranium Leak

October 15, 1918:  Date of first water permit issued to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for the Owens Valley water supply. On this date, the California Department of Public Health issued the first water supply permit to LADWP for the Owens Valley water supply, which started operation on November 5, 1913. The permit includes a report authored by Ralph Hilscher who was the Southern Division Engineer at the time. The report catalogues all of the major features of the Owens Valley supply including the physical facilities built to transport the water 233 miles to Los Angeles. In the report is a detailed assessment of the potential sources of contamination of the water supply by human habitation. The report stressed that only 1.5 persons per square mile occupied the Owens Valley aqueduct watershed compared with 132 persons per square mile, which was stated as typical of watersheds in Massachusetts.

Ignored were the potential pathogens from animals such as deer, beavers and cows (Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum). Health authorities simply were not aware at that time of the potential for these pathogen sources to contaminate a water supply and cause disease in humans (zoonotic diseases). A statement in the report makes this point clearly, “It is the consensus of opinion among sanitarians that human waterborne diseases have their origin only in human beings.”

The report recognized the purifying action of the large reservoirs in the Owens Valley system that had extensive detention times, which were instrumental in reducing pathogen concentrations.

Another fact that I was unaware of until I read the report was that the first 24 miles of the aqueduct were earthen-lined and not lined with concrete.

Missing from the report is any mention of the use of chlorine for disinfection. Other literature sources had estimated that chlorination of the LA Aqueduct supply could have taken place as early as 1915. It is clear from the Department of Public Health report that any chlorination of LA water supplies around 1915 must have referred to disinfection of the water from infiltration galleries along the Los Angeles River. One report that I have read (unconfirmed) stated that ammonia was also added at the infiltration galleries to form chloramines. I have still not located a firm date when the Owens Valley supply was chlorinated.

A letter dated December 12, 1924, from Carl Wilson who was the Laboratory Director for the LADWP to C.G. Gillespie of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering summarized the progress that they had made in applying chlorine to their system. In that letter are two curious statements by Mr. Wilson. First, he only planned to operate chlorinators treating water from the reservoirs during the rainy season because no local runoff would be entering the hillside reservoirs. Second, he did not see the need to determine chlorine residual using the orthotolidine method, but he would do so if required by the Department. It took a long time for sanitary practices to penetrate the operational mindset of all water utilities not just the LADWP. From a paper published in 1935, we know that the entire system was chlorinated by that time with multiple application points in the system.

Read the entire permit for a fascinating view into the thinking of a regulatory agency during the early days of our understanding of watershed protection and maintenance of a water supply that would be free from disease causing microorganisms.

Reference:  Goudey, R.F. “Chlorination of Los Angeles Water Supply.” Am J Public Health Nations Health. 1935 June; 25(6): 730–734. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1558978/ Accessed October 14, 2013.

Credit:  Thanks to Susan Brownstein of LADWP for sharing a copy of the permit with me.

Uranium Contaminated Site

October 15, 1988: New York Times headline–U.S., for Decades, Let Uranium Leak at Weapon Plant. “Government officials overseeing a nuclear weapon plant in Ohio knew for decades that they were releasing thousands of tons of radioactive uranium waste into the environment, exposing thousands of workers and residents in the region, a Congressional panel said today.

The Government decided not to spend the money to clean up three major sources of contamination, Energy Department officials said at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing. Runoff from the plant carried tons of the waste into drinking water wells in the area and the Great Miami River; leaky pits at the plant, storing waste water containing uranium emissions and other radioactive materials, leaked into the water supplies, and the plant emitted radioactive particles into the air…Fernald’s problems with radioactive emissions have been public knowledge and a source of anxiety and frustration for several years.

But in court documents discussed today at the hearing and reported last week by the Cincinnati papers, Government officials acknowledged for the first time that ”the Government knew full well that the normal operation of the Fernald plant would result in emissions of uranium and other substances” into water supplies and into the atmosphere.”