Tag Archives: public health

December 10, 1934: Death of Theobald Smith; 1631: Death of Hugh Myddleton; 1910: Protest Against Impure Water; 1910: Snow Removal and Barrel Hoops

December 10, 1934Death of Theobald Smith.Theobald Smith (July 31, 1859 – December 10, 1934) was a pioneering epidemiologist and pathologist and is widely-considered to be America’s first internationally-significant medical research scientist.”

“Theobald Smith recognized the multiple applications of microbiology but was far keener on its contribution to sanitation, public health, and preventive medicine than to veterinary medicine and agriculture. From 1886 to 1895, he gave an annual course in bacteriology at the National Medical College, and in 1887 he began research in his spare time on water sanitation. Bacterial counts of samples from the Potomac River from a laboratory tap culminated 5 years later in surveys of the Hudson River and tributaries, with the coliform count (verified by his “fermentation tube” method) indicating the degree of fecal pollution.”Fermentation Tube

Commentary:  He was also responsible for inventing the fermentation tube that to this day is called the Smith Tube. Theobald Smith was certainly the “Father of the total coliform test.”

Reference:  Dolman, C.E. 1984. “Theobald Smith, 1859-1934:  A Fiftieth Anniversary Tribute.” ASM News. 50:12 577-80.

December 10, 1631: Death of Sir Hugh Myddleton. “In 1609 Myddelton took over from the corporation of London the projected scheme for supplying the city with water obtained from springs near Ware, in Hertfordshire. For this purpose he made a canal about 10 feet (3 m) wide and 4 feet (1.2 m) deep and more than 38 miles (61 km) in length. The canal discharged its waters into a reservoir at Islington called the New River Head. The completion of this great undertaking put a severe strain upon Myddelton’s financial resources, and in 1612 he was successful in securing monetary assistance from James I. The work was completed in 1613, and Myddelton was made the first governor of the company, which, however, was not a financial success until after his death. In recognition of his services he was made a baronet in 1622.”

In the early 17th Century, London’s population had exploded and sanitation was a serious problem. Almost 35 miles long and taking five years to construct, Myddleton’s artificial New River diverted clean water from the River Lea in Hertfordshire to Clerkenwell in the city of London. It had an almost instantaneous benefit. By 1614, deaths, which can now be attributed to water-borne infections, had halved on the previous year…Although it has been shortened and now ends at Stoke Newington, around two million Londoners still depend on it for their drinking water.”

Barrel Hoops

December 10, 1910: Municipal Journalarticle—Protest Against Impure Water. New Albany, Ind.-Col. Charles L. Jewett, acting for the law department of the city of New Albany, has filed with the Indiana Public Service Commission in Indianapolis a petition asking for the investigation by the commission of the water supply furnished by the New Albany Waterworks Company. It is alleged in the petition that the water is not pure and wholesome, and that the company has not complied with the terms of its contract and franchise, granted August 26, 1904, and for more than three years has failed, neglected and refused to furnish the city pure and wholesome water, as its contract specifically provided. The petitioner avers that the water company has furnished nothing but impure and unwholesome water, containing large amounts of mud, filth, sewage, industrial waste and other foreign matter. The petitioner asks that an investigation be made by the Public Service Commission, and that an order be entered requiring the water company to make improvements, additions and changes in its system.

Commentary:  A similar lawsuit was by Jersey City, NJ against the Jersey City Water Supply Company in 1905.

December 10, 1910Municipal Journalarticle— Snow Removal by Sewers. One of the important conclusions of the snow cleaning conference, which are given in this issue, was the advisability of placing snow in the sewers as a means of removal. But it seems to us that it should have been explicitly stated that only clean snow should be placed in the sewers; and this generally means freshly fallen snow. The amount of dirt of ail kinds which accumulates on snow is about as great as-often greater than-that which would accumulate on the street in the same time; and to shovel in snow two, three or even six days after the beginning of the storm (when street cleaning ceased) is no more justifiable than to throw into the sewers the combined street sweepings of that number of days, including the sticks, barrel hoops and other large and heavy articles which will be found in many snow banks.

Commentary:  Barrel hoops? I guess nowadays an article like this would warn against dumping snow with shopping carts in it.

Reference:  Municipal Journal. 1914. 37:24(December 10, 1914): 848, 853.

December 9, 1785: Albert Stein Born; 1832: William J. Magie Dies

Albert Stein

December 9, 1785: Birth of Albert Stein in Dusseldorf, Prussia.  In Richmond, Virginia, Albert Stein was responsible for building the first slow sand filter in the U.S. for municipal supply. “Albert Stein was born in Dusseldorf, Prussia, December 9, 1785. After being educated as a civil engineer, he began work on a topographical survey of the Rhenish Provinces. In 1807, he was appointed hydraulic engineer by Murat, then Grand Duke of Berg by the favor of Napoleon I, whose cavalry had been led by Murat. After the fall of Napoleon and the cession of the duchy to Prussia, Stein resigned his position and came to America. He reached Philadelphia in 1816, where he seems to have had some relation with Frederic Graff, Chief Engineer of the Philadelphia Water Works. In 1817, Stein submitted plans for a water works at Cincinnati. About that time, also, he made surveys for a canal from Cincinnati to Dayton. For a few years beginning in 1824 he was engineer for deepening the tidal section of the Appomattox River at and below Petersburg, Va. He was engineer for water works at Lynchburg, Va., in 1828-30. While building the Richmond [filtration] works, Stein designed for Nashville, Tenn., a water works which was completed in 1832. In the period 1834-40, Stein was at New Orleans, building a reservoir for the water works there, a canal from the city to Lake Pontchartrain, and making a survey and plan for the improvement of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi. In 1840 he leased a small, privately owned water works system at Mobile, Ala., which he improved and operated. He died July 26, 1874, on his estate at Spring Hill near Mobile.”

Reference:  Baker, Moses N. 1981. The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver, Co.: American Water Works Association, 130.

Jersey City Chlorination Facility at Boonton Reservoir

December 9, 1832:  Birth of William J. Magie. William J. Magie was selected by Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens to hear the second part of the Jersey City trials.  In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. The second trial was devoted, in part, to a determination of whether chlorine could be used to make the water pure and wholesome before it was delivered to Jersey City.

One might assume that someone relatively junior might be appointed as the Special Master to hear the highly technical and excruciatingly long arguments from both sides of the case.  Not so.  William Jay Magie was one of the most revered judges of this time period.  He took the role of Special Master in 1908 after completing 8 years as Chancellor of the Court of Chancery.  Prior to that, he was a member of the New Jersey Senate (1876-1878), Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court (1880-1897) and Chief Justice of the same court from 1897 to 1900.

“As a trial judge his cases were handled with notable success, as he had ample experience in trying causes before juries and a just appreciation of the worth of human testimony…” Judge Magie needed all of his powers of appreciation of human testimony in the second trial, which boiled down to which of the expert witnesses could be believed when both sides marshaled some of the most eminent doctors and engineers in the land.

Judge Magie was born on December 9, 1832 in Elizabeth, New Jersey and lived his life in that town.  He graduated from Princeton College in 1852 and studied law under an attorney in Elizabeth.  He was admitted to the bar of New Jersey in 1856.  At the time of the second trial in 1908 he was 76 years old and near the end of his distinguished career.

Magie’s key ruling in the second trial was captured in the following quote:  “I do therefore find and report that this device is capable of rendering the water delivered to Jersey City, pure and wholesome, for the purposes for which it is intended, and is effective in removing from the water those dangerous germs which were deemed by the decree to possibly exist therein at certain times.”

References:

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

Magie, William J. 1910. In Chancery of New Jersey: Between the Mayor and Aldermen of Jersey City, Complainant, and the Jersey City Water Supply Co., Defendant. Report for Hon. W.J. Magie, special master on cost of sewers, etc., and on efficiency of sterilization plant at Boonton. (Case Number 27/475-Z-45-314): 1–15. Jersey City, N.J.: Press Chronicle Co.

December 6, 1866: Chicago: First Water Supply Tunnel

December 6, 1866:  “First water supply tunnelfor U.S. city completed for Chicago, IL; Chicago Lake Tunnel extended 10,587 feet under Lake Michigan to an inlet crib; 5 feet in diameter, final cost of $380,784; March 17, 1864 – work started; March 25, 1867 – water allowed into the tunnel. Pumping station with the standpipe tower still stands at the intersection of Michigan Blvd and Chicago Ave., escaped destruction in the 1871 Chicago fire.”

The two-mile tunnel under Lake Michiganproposed by Ellis Chesbrough in 1863 brought him international fame when it was completed and, with its remarkable Two-mile Crib intake structure, was heralded as the eighth wonder of the world. Tunnel construction began in May 1864 and then continued for 24 hours a day and six days a week. A lower semicircular arch was dug and built about six feet in advance of the upper arch. Two men could work side by side, with the miners in front and the masons laying brick about 10-20 feet behind.

Two small mules were found to work in the tunnel, pulling railroad cars to move clay out and building materials in. Digging proceeded first from the shore end and later from the lake end of the tunnel. Chesbrough and a few other dignitaries descended into the tunnel to remove the final inches separating the two tunnels in November 1866. The mayor placed the final masonry stone, and fresh water from the lake entered the tunnel for the first time with great fanfare in March 1867, bringing pure unpolluted water into the city through the structure.”

Commentary:  The purity of the water from this tunnel was grossly overstated in this article and in the minds of Chicagoans in 1866. Cholera and typhoid fever continued to kill tens of thousands of people in Chicago because the city’s sewage was also discharged into the lake for many decades after 1866.

References:

“Business History.” Website http://www.businesshistory.com/index.php, Accessed November 14, 2012.

“The Lake Tunnel in Chicago.” Website http://www.lindahall.org/events_exhib/exhibit/exhibits/civil/lake_tunnel_2.shtmlAccessed December 5, 2012.

December 5, 1782: Van Buren’s Toilet; 1974: 60 Minutes—Drinking Water Dangerous; 1926: Claude Monet Dies

December 5, 1782:  Martin Van Buren, 8thPresident of the U.S., is born. In the collective mind of “Mental Floss,” Van Buren is famous for his toilet.  “When he lost his 1840 reelection bid in a landslide to war hero William Henry Harrison—Van Buren picked up only six states in the electoral college, and not even his home state, New York—the lame duck could then turn his attention to the Lindenwald estate, which was eventually expanded into 36 rooms including a wine cellar, six family bedrooms, one formal guest room, servants’ quarters and one toilet.

As you might have guessed, this wasn’t just any old toilet. Restored to what is believed to be its original appearance, Van Buren’s throne is tucked away on the first floor in a closet-size room, part of a larger bathroom that accommodates the president’s original six-foot long bathtub. The toilet bowl itself is made from fine china, set inside a giant frame made of wood. A 100-gallon water tank, connected to a pump in the basement kitchen, is installed above that frame. (It’s worth noting that the servants quarters had their own indoor outhouse, and two gate houses on the property probably had outhouses.)

A killer innovation for its time, Van Buren introduced the whole town to the concept of the indoor toilet (most were accustomed to bearing the cold in an outhouse) and, according to Dawn Olson of the National Park Service, to the ‘novel idea to have running water and indoor plumbing in the 1850s.’”

December 5, 1974:  Sixty Minutes, the popular television news program on the CBS Television Network aired the segment “Caution, Drinking Water may be Dangerous to Your Health.” Dan Rather was the reporter for the segment.  The program and the concerns with 66 trace organic chemicals in New Orleans water supply and the Consumer Reportsarticles on cancer deaths and use of Mississippi River water for water supplies ultimately led to the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act. President Gerald Ford signed the legislation into law before the end of the year.

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies

December 5, 1926Claude Monet dies.(14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926) “He was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting…. Monet was fond of painting controlled nature: his own gardens in Giverny, with its water lilies, pond, and bridge. He also painted up and down the banks of the Seine, producing paintings such as Break-up of the ice on the Seine.” Perhaps Monet’s most famous series of paintings is his Water Lilies

December 2, 1970: USEPA Starts Operations

December 2, 1970: The United States Environmental Protection Agency(EPA or sometimes USEPA) is an agency of the U.S. federal government which was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress. The EPA was proposed by President Richard Nixon and began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order. The order establishing the EPA was ratified by committee hearings in the House and Senate. The agency is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the president and approved by Congress. The current administrator is Gina McCarthy. The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the administrator is normally given cabinet rank.

The EPA has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., regional offices for each of the agency’s ten regions, and 27 laboratories. The agency conducts environmental assessment, research, and education. It has the responsibility of maintaining and enforcing national standards under a variety of environmental laws, in consultation with state, tribal, and local governments. It delegates some permitting, monitoring, and enforcement responsibility to U.S. states and Native American tribes. EPA enforcement powers include fines, sanctions, and other measures. The agency also works with industries and all levels of government in a wide variety of voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts.

The agency has approximately 17,000 full-time employees. and engages many more people on a contractual basis. More than half of EPA human resources are engineers, scientists, and environmental protection specialists; other groups include legal, public affairs, financial, and information technologists.

Commentary:  In 2019 or 2020, will Trumpism and the Republican Party destroy EPA and all of our environmental protections?

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

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

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

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 27, 1924: Death of George C. Whipple

George C. Whipple

November 27, 1924:  Death of George C. Whipple.  “George Chandler Whipple (1866–1924) was a civil engineer and an expert in the field of sanitary microbiology. His career extended from 1889 to 1924 and he is best known as a cofounder of the Harvard School of Public Health. Whipple published some of the most important books in the early history of public health and applied microbiology. . . .In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment of any kind was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract. Whipple testified as an expert witness for the plaintiff in both trials.”

Commentary:  George C. Whipple was a very interesting person. I had the opportunity to go through a small part of the archive that he left to Harvard University while researching my book, The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. I swear that he saved every last piece of paper that he ever touched in his career. It is a fascinating look into the mind of a turn-of-the-century expert in drinking water treatment. Even though he was trained as a civil engineer, he made some of the most important early advances in microscopy and the ecology of lakes and rivers. He invented the Secchi disk that we use today. The original Secchi disk was all white. He created the disk with quadrants that were alternating black and white. Any civil engineer will recognize that arrangement as the same one found on a land surveying target marker. He was one of the first researchers to identify taste and odor problems in water as directly related to the presence of certain algae species. Check out the full biography that I wrote about him on Wikipedia.