Tag Archives: public health

May 25, 1806: Description of Glasgow Filtration Works

Glasgow Waterworks—Loch Katrine Outlet

May 25, 1806: Letter from Thomas Telford discussing design of the filtration works at Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow was the third city in the world to receive filtered water (after Paisley, Scotland and Paris). Delivery of water by pipes to customers began in 1807.

“Thomas Telford, who later founded and served as first president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, was engineer for the Glasgow Water Works Co. Correspondence between him and Boulton & Watt (13) affords meager data regarding his plans for the earliest filter at Glasgow. In a letter dated May 25, 1806, he said that “if there is any difficulty in getting the water [from the Clyde] to subside or filtrate so as to be perfectly good-then instead of one reservoir 6 ft. in depth, it will be advisable to have two of 3 ft. in depth each-and each one acre in superficial area.”

About forty years after the works were completed, Donald Mackain, engineer of the company then supplying water to Glasgow (14), described how Telford proposed that water be pumped from the Clyde at a point two miles above the city to three reservoirs each holding a day’s supply. These reservoirs were to be so placed, wrote Telford, in a report no longer available, “that the water in passing from one to another shall be filtrated.” Telford’s plan was followed, says Mackain, but in times of flood the river brought down alluvial matter that did not soon subside, followed by water from sources higher up which had a deep brown color. Telford’s filter yielded water differing little from that of the river.

Again what a pity that Telford and Mackain made only vague references to filters built so early. Neither Telford in his autobiography (15) nor Sir Alexander Gibb in his recent biography of Telford (16) mentions Telford’s filters at Glasgow.

James Simpson, in a discussion (17) of Mackain’s paper, describes Telford’s filters as “a series of cells, filled with sand” through which the water passed in succession. When the water was at its worst it was little changed after passing through the first filter, but at times the filters worked satisfactorily.”

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, 80-1.

May 24, 1911: Common Cup Banned in Chicago and New Jersey

May 24, 1911: Municipal Journal articles.

Drinking Cup Outlawed. “Chicago, Ill.-Chicago physicians are united in praising the action of the Council in outlawing the common drinking cup. Under the terms of the ordinance, public drinking cups must disappear by August 8. All cups and glasses found in schools, office buildings, department stores, physicians’ reception rooms and all public places will be seized.”

Water Cups to Go. “Plainfield, N. ].-The use of the common drinking cup in public places in Plainfield will be a thing of the past after July 4, according to the provisions of the new law enacted by the Legislature, and persons violating the act will be liable to a fine of $25 for each offense. There are a number of places in this city where the law will be effective, such as railroad stations, stores, shops, factories, etc. After July 4 paper cups in slot machines, or some other approved method will have to be adopted, not only here, but all over the State.”

Reference: Municipal Journal. 1911. 30:21(May 24, 1911): 748.

Commentary: The laws passed to ban the common cup had some teeth. They seized any common cups that they found in Chicago and there was a $25 fine in New Jersey. Wait a minute. Common cups were banned in physician waiting rooms? Doctors’ offices? Where people are sick? Gee, that seems kind of harsh.

May 23, 1904: Boonton Water Supply Delivered to Jersey City

Boonton Dam on the Rockaway River

May 23, 1904: First delivery of water from the Boonton supply to Jersey City, New Jersey. At the end of the 19th century, the water supply for Jersey City, New Jersey was contaminated with sewage and the death toll from typhoid fever was high. In 1899, the city contracted with a private company for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline. The project was completed on May 23, 1904; however, no treatment was provided to the water supply, because the contract did not require it. The city, claiming that the contract provisions were not fulfilled, filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Jersey City officials complained that the water served to the city was not “pure and wholesome.”

Two trials resulted from the lawsuit. In the second trial, Dr. John L. Leal and several other defendant expert witnesses were able to convince the Special Master, William J. Magie, that the use of chlorine to disinfect the water supply was safe, effective and reliable. After the favorable verdict, the use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection exploded across the U.S. and typhoid fever was eradicated.

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

Boonton Reservoir, water supply for Jersey City on the Rockaway River

May 22, 1854: Birth of Leonard P. Kinnicutt

May 22, 1854: Birth of Leonard P. Kinnicutt. In 1909, Leonard P. Kinnicutt was Professor of chemistry and director of the chemical laboratory at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1875 from MIT and spent several years in Germany studying under well-known chemists including Professor Bunsen. He completed his Doctor of Science degree at Harvard in 1882. Despite the title of his position and his education, he identified himself as a water bacteriologist. He was experienced in bacteriological analysis of water supplies and he studied sewage disposal for a number of cities.

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 (except for detention and sedimentation fostered by Boonton Reservoir) 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.

In 1909, Kinnicutt testified as an expert for the defendants in the second trial. He stated that chlorine was safe, effective and reliable. He was recruited by a letter from Dr. John L. Leal in the summer of 1908. Sadly, he also died only two years after his participation in this case.

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

May 20, 1915: Filtration Finally Installed in St. Louis

Chain of Rocks Filtration Plant, St. Louis, MO

May 20, 1915: Municipal Journal article. St. Louis Filter Plant Opened. “St. Louis, Mo.-The city has celebrated the dedication of the new $1,350,000 filtration plant at Chain of Rocks. Many citizens, including delegates from 150 organizations, responded to the invitation of the city officials. The new plant, which is of the rapid sand filter type, has a capacity of 160,000,000 gallons daily, increasing to 200,000,000 in emergencies. The filter house is 750 feet long by 134 wide and contains forty filters. The building is entirely of concrete and metal and the headhouse is similarly constructed. It contains the boilers, tanks, pumps and laboratory. The coagulation and sedimentation process, installed in 1904, is still used in connection with the rapid sand filters and the sterilization with liquid chlorine when necessary. The waterworks are now valued at $29,680,000, wth a bonded indebtedness of $2,642,000. The flat rate is 8 3/4 cents per 100 gallons. The new addition took 20 months in building.

Reference: “St. Louis Filter Plant Opened.” 1915. Municipal Journal. 38:20(May 20, 1915): 700.

Commentary: After killing their citizens for many decades by providing them with unfiltered and undisinfected drinking water, St. Louis finally fixed their problems. Well, sort of. Note that they plan to only use chlorine disinfection “when necessary.” Remember that the source of supply is the Mississippi River. Anyone with an ounce of sense and knowledge of public health would have built a slow sand filter plant after they sent James P. Kirkwood on his tour of European filtration facilities in the mid 1860s. His famous report was published in 1869.

May 19, 1909: Disposal of Chicago’s Sewage

May 19, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Disposal of Chicago’s Sewage. “The greatest sanitary undertaking the world has ever seen is the work being done by the Sanitary District of Chicago in securing a pure water supply and a disposal of the sewage from this mammoth city. Prior to the beginning of this project, all the sewage from the city was emptied into Lake Michigan, either directly or through the Chicago River. At the same time the water supply of the city came from the same lake and the intake cribs were only a few miles from the sewer outlet. Consequently, it was not surprising that the typhoid death rate was almost the highest in the country. While the· work is not yet completed, and there still remain a number of sewers emptying into the lake, conditions have been so improved that the City of Chicago had one of the lowest typhoid death rates, during the past year, of any city in the United States. Dr. Evans, Health Commissioner of Chicago, states that 16,299 lives have been saved during the past eight years by the improvement of the water supply due to the drainage canal.”

Reference: “Disposal of Chicago’s Sewage.” 1909. Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:20(May 19, 1909): 879.

Commentary: The greatest in the world. Chicagoans have never been shy about using hyperbole to describe their public works. It is true that the typhoid fever rate was dramatically decreased due to the Drainage Canal. But, it would take the installation of chlorine 1911-1917 to break the Sewer Pipe, Water Pipe Death Spiral.

May 15, 1913: Cleveland Filtration Editorial

Cleveland Waterworks in 1903 before the installation of filtration

May 15, 1913: Engineering News editorial. The Water Filtration Question at Cleveland. “The remarkably low typhoid death rate of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1912 (about 6 per 100,000) seems on its face to be wholly incompatible with the contention of the local board of health and certain members of the city council that the water-supply is so badly polluted as to make the immediate construction of a water-filtration plant imperative.

Some time ago a committee of the Engineers’ Club of Cleveland investigated filtration and made an adverse report which headed off a proposed bond-issue ordinance then before the city council. Early in 1912, D. D. Jackson, of New York City, made an exhaustive report on the Cleveland water-supply, with the conclusion that filtration would be chiefly of esthetic value, for the present, and that the wiser plan would be to carry out improvements which would continue still further the separation of the sewage discharges from the water intake. These improvements are now in progress or early prospect, and will result in lessening the volume and frequency of possible infection, both of which are held by Mr. Jackson and other competent persons to be relatively small. Meanwhile, it should be noted, the water-supply of Cleveland is being disinfected with hypochlorite.

Within the past few weeks the city council of Cleveland, or certain members of it, have tried to force the mayor, Newton D. Baker, into acquiescence with their advocacy of filtration. There has been much talk of an appeal to the State Board of Health for an investigation of the subject. In fact, the council did pass a resolution to that effect, but it appears that the resolution was not in such terms as would give the board authority to order filtration, since the resolution did not declare the water supply to be a menace to health.

While we sympathize with every well considered effort to improve the quality of city water-supplies, we are not convinced by such of the arguments as have come to our attention that filtration at Cleveland is as vital to the health and as essential to the comfort and convenience of the people of that city as other objects of municipal expenditure. This, we understand, is the opinion of Mayor Baker, and we also understand that the officials in direct charge of the water-works are of the same opinion.

The question of water filtration at Cleveland or elsewhere should be settled on the basis of whether the expenditure of a given sum for this or other purposes will yield the greatest benefit to the largest number of people. The city authorities have taken competent expert advice as to the need for filtration and they have also had the public-spirited advice of leading engineer-citizens. True, the board of health is strong for filtration, but its viewpoint (we may unwittingly do it injustice) seems to be the narrow medical one of advocating a counsel of perfection, with no careful weighing of the benefits to health which will ensue and with little or no regard for cost or for the other health and general welfare needs of the city.

Presumably Cleveland, like all other cities dependent upon surface water-supplies, will yet have a filtration plant. The question for it and other cities to consider is whether, in view of financial and other local considerations, filtration or something else should take precedence at a given moment. The evidence before us points to a delay in filtration at Cleveland.

Reference: “The Water Filtration Question at Cleveland.” 1913. Engineering News. 69:20(May 15, 1913):1011.

Commentary: I reprinted the entire editorial because it is so extraordinary. Engineering News was a potent force in the municipal and engineering community in the first two decades of the 20th century. The journal’s opinion that filtration was not needed because they were disinfecting with chlorine shows how little regard many in the profession had for the protection of public health. To call the proposal to install filtration “the narrow medical one of advocating a counsel of perfection, with no careful weighing of the benefits to health” is beyond our understanding today. It would take decades before the lesson of multi-barrier protection of drinking water really took hold. The filtration plant being discussed began operation in 1917.