Tag Archives: public health

April 25, 2014: Switch to Flint River Water Supply; 1926: New York Harbor a Menace

April 25, 2014:  Switch to Flint River Water Supply, Flint, MI. An article published onlinememorialized the change earlier that day from treated water from Detroit, Michigan, to the raw water supply of the Flint River and the activation of the Flint Water Plant. The photo from that article reproduced above shows local and state officials toasting each other with water from the Flint plant. I am certain that most of them would be happy to have their images removed from that and similar photographs.

About a month after the change, residents of Flint began to complain about discolored water and odors from the new water supply. The water coming out of city taps was orange, red, yellow and brown. City and State officials tried to assure Flint citizens that the water was safe to drink even after repeated failures of primary drinking water regulations:  Total Coliform Rule and the trihalomethane regulation. But the worst was yet to come.

Once the water from the Flint River was demonstrated to be more corrosive to iron and steel than water from Detroit, someone in the water department, treatment plant staff, City administration or Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, drinking water regulatory agency) should have asked the question, “What about corrosion of the 15,000 lead service lines serving water to homes in the City?”

Some stories about what happened in Flint state that the USEPA asked MDEQ if optimized treatment was being applied to prevent corrosion of lead service lines (LSLs). The MDEQ representative assured the USEPA that everything was just fine.

What we now know is that the treated Flint River water was highly corrosive to lead and levels greater than 10,000 ug/L have been found in some home samples. Hundreds of samples have been found to contain lead above the 15 ug/L State and federal action level. Young children who are most susceptible to the toxic effects of lead were exposed at high concentrations, which ultimately showed up as elevated blood lead levels in thousands of children.

It took the persistence of one mother in town, a smart, courageous doctor and an activist engineering professor to blow the whistle and get everyone to start paying attention to a public health emergency. Citizens of Flint owe a great deal to LeeAnne Walters, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards. Miguel Del Toral of the USEPA did everything that he could to ring alarm bells once he understood what was happening. Later reporting by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC brought the crisis to national attention and helped start a national discussion of the solutions needed.

Extremely high lead levels are being reported in some Flint homes many months after the shift back to Detroit water with phosphate treatment. Why is that happening? The interior surfaces of lead pipe in the Flint service area have been badly disrupted and phosphate treatment is not fixing the problem. Flint citizens should also be highly suspicious of lead results from first flush samples, which are mandated by the Lead and Copper Rule. Research has now shown that spikes of extremely high lead concentrations do not occur until more water is flushed through the system and the water that has been stagnating in lead pipes overnight is sampled and analyzed.

Here are a few questions with my best efforts to answer them.

Where did the LSLs in Flint come from and why were they installed?I found an 1897 City of Flint Ordinance that required the use of lead pipe to connect water mains to homes. I have found dozens and there must be hundreds of ordinances for other cities like this in the literature. Lead was the preferred material because other materials such as iron and steel pipes corroded away. Ironically, lead was considered a more durable material for service lines. Copper and plastic pipes were not commercially available until much later.

Why do local officials claim that water is safe to drink when it looks like orange Kool-Aid, smells like rotten eggs and tastes like sucking on a rusty nail?I have seen statements like this from city and water utility officials across the U.S. They should know by now that stating something that is clearly false to the people experiencing the delivery of bad water destroys the utility’s credibility and makes everyone angry. The only possible response is: “The water is disgusting, and even though it meets all health standards, it does not meet our standards. We are sorry. We are going to find out why this is happening and we are going to fix it.”

How in the world could this have happened? Who is responsible?Governor Rick Snyder likes to say that it happened because of a failure of government at all levels. For once, I agree with him. However, it appears to me that he says this as a way to dilute the responsibility of his administration, his state-appointed emergency manager and the state regulatory agency, the MDEQ. If the state agencies had been focused on protecting public health and not saving a few dollars, the lead poisoning disaster in Flint would never have happened. But City officials, water department personnel and the consultant who made recommendations for treatment plant upgrades also deserve some of the blame. If one person or a group of these people had stood up and raised holy hell and demanded corrosion testing of the new water supply, the crisis would have been avoided. There are lessons to learn from this disaster for everyone who is involved in serving drinking water in this country.

What about LSLs? Should they be replaced?Yes. NOW. A big mistake was made in 1991 with the adoption of the Lead and Copper Rule that did not require the replacement of all LSLs in the U.S. Also, the allowance of partial replacement of LSLs made lead exposure of the public far worse. Everyone involved in drinking water and public health should demand that the federal Lead and Copper Rule Long-Term Revisions include an accelerated schedule for replacing LSLs. Also, we should not get confused about who foots the bill. Society made the decision in the 19thand 20thcenturies to use lead pipe. The homeowners and utility personnel who installed lead pipes are long dead. The total cost for LSL replacement should be paid for by utilities (with cost recovery from increased water rates) with some help from state and federal governments to seed the process and get it done. Society caused the problem and it is up to all of us to fix it. There are 6.1 million LSLs in this country and they need to be ripped out and completely replaced without delay.

References:

Adams, D. 2014. Closing the Valve on History:  Flint Cuts Water Flow From Detroit after nearly 50 years. Michigan Live. (http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/04/closing_the_valve_on_history_f.htmlAccessed April 24, 2016).

Cornwell, D.A., R.A. Brown and S.H. Via. 2016. National Survey of LSL Occurrence. Jour. AWWA. April. http://dx.doi.org/10.5942/jawwa.2016.108.0086

McGuire, M.J. 2016. Flint, Michigan:  Lessons to Live By. Keynote address presented at the California Nevada Section Spring Conference, Sacramento, California. March 22.

Ordinances of the City of Flint, Michegan. Rules of the Common Council. 1897. page 142-3. (http://bit.ly/1UEq1BGAccessed March 21, 2016).

Update:  In 2017, Flint was allocated about $100 million of public money to replace their lead service lines. Society has solved one city’s problem but there are many more cities that need a total replacement of their LSLs.

April 25, 1926:  New York Times headline—Harbor Sewage Called a Menace to Health. “State Legislature Urged to Take Action to Halt Pollution of New York Waters — Many Cities Pour Their Raw Waste Into the Bay. A report just submitted to the Legislature of New York urges drastic action to protect the City of New York against the menace to health arising from the pollution of the harbor and near-by bathing beaches, not only by New York but by other cities and States. Dr. George W. Soper who was Director of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission stated that every day, 940 million gallons of sewage per day were poured into the harbor every day. He called the situation a ‘direct offense upon the sense of decency…a constant menace to health.’”

Advertisements

April 21, 1859: First London Drinking Fountain; 2012: Kirkwood Memorial Dedicated

April 21, 1859:  London’s Oldest Drinking Fountain. “A rather humble looking fountain set into the railing outside the Church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate at the corner of Giltspur Street and Holborn Viaduct, it’s easy to overlook this important part of London’s historic fabric.

But this free water fountain is London’s oldest and was installed here on 21st April, 1859, by the then Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association. Established by Samuel Gurney – an MP and the nephew of social reformer Elizabeth Fry, the organization aimed to provide people with free drinking water in a bid to encourage them to choose water over alcohol.

Within two years of the fountain’s creation, the organization – which later changed its name to Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association in reflection of its expanded role in also helping animals – had placed as many as 85 fountains across London.

Such was the need for a clean water supply that, according to the Drinking Fountain Association, as many as 7,000 people a day used the fountain when it was first installed.

The fountain on Holborn Hill was removed in 1867 when the nearby street Snow Hill was widened during the creation of the Holborn Viaduct and the rails replaced but it was returned there in 1913. Rather a poignant reminder of the days when water wasn’t the publicly available resource it is today, the marble fountain still features two small metal cups attached to chains for the ease of drinking and carries the warning, ‘Replace the Cup!’”

Kirkwood Aqueduct, St. Louis, MO

April 21, 2012:  Memorial to James P. Kirkwooddedicated by the St. Louis Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Kirkwood was the civil engineer hired by St. Louis, MO to investigate filtration of their water supply.  He wrote the classic book Report on the Filtration of River Waters, which was the first book in any language to focus on the filtration of municipal water supplies.  The book summarized his investigation covering 1865-69 where he described the filters and filter galleries he visited in 19 European water works.  Kirkwood died on April 22, 1877.

April 20 1918: Tracing a Typhoid Carrier

April 20 1918:  Municipal Journalarticle. Tracing of Typhoid Carrier Halts Epidemic. “Superior, Wis.-What threatened to be a serious epidemic of typhoid fever in this city has just been successfully averted. Nine cases of the malady broke out on one milk route, but it was successfully checked by Dr. D. R. Searle, city health commissioner; William Strasser, city bacteriologist, and Emil Haeske, milk inspector. This fight against typhoid is one of the most interesting in the city’s history. Two previous outbreaks of the disease had occurred on the same milk route, but the cause of the trouble has been removed at last. A dairyman’s wife and son have been discovered to have carried the disease for 16 years. Health commissioner Searle gave it as his opinion that if the epidemic had not been stopped when it was, it might easily have affected hundreds of persons. When a cousin of one of the dairy farmers who supplies Superior’s retail milk demand came over from Duluth sixteen years ago to recuperate from an illness with typhoid fever, this was the first link in the chain of infection, according to the authorities. Next the dairyman’s wife became ill with the disease, also one of his sons. Both recovered completely.

However, health department officials have found that the woman had been a carrier of typhoid for sixteen years and both herself and her son have been carriers of para-typhoid for that length of time. One case broke out on the milk route more than a month ago, but it was not reported immediately by the physician in charge. Then two more cases broke out and the health department began to investigate. The milk supply was immediately subjected to pasteurization. Blood and other tests were made on all members of the family and the premises were cleaned up on the dairy farm. Those who were found to be carriers of the disease were isolated.”

Reference:  “Tracing of Typhoid Carrier Halts Epidemic.” Municipal Journalarticle 44:16(April 20, 1918): 334.

Commentary:  Even though this is a story about a typhoid epidemic that was spread by milk instead of water, it recounts the difficult time that health authorities had with identifying typhoid fever carriers—people who carried the bacterium in their gut but they did not have symptoms of the disease. Typhoid Mary was the most famous typhoid carrier in U.S. history.

 

April 19, 1882: Founding of NEWWA

April 19, 1882:  First meeting of the New England Water Works Association.“In an informal meeting between Horace G. Holden, Superintendent of the Lowell MA works, Frank E. Hall, the Worcester Superintendent and Robert C. P. Coggeshall, the New Bedford Superintendent, a decision was made to pursue the idea of a New England organization. The fact that they were informally meeting in Lowell to compare experiences suggests their strong interest in sharing knowledge, especially in light of the difficulties of making a journey across the state in those days. That same day, they visited with and enlisted Henry Rogers, Superintendent of nearby Lawrence MA into their group and began the process of soliciting interest from others. The original 4 men later enlisted James W. Lyons to their cause and broke down New England into 5 areas. Each directed a letter soliciting interest to all of the known water supplies in their respective area.

The first meeting was held at Young’s Hotel in Boston on April 19, 1882. Attending were representatives from the following communities:  From Massachusetts-Fitchburg, Springfield, Worcester, Fall River, Brockton, Plymouth, Lawrence, Cambridge, Lowell, Leominster, Malden, Medford, Salem, New Bedford; From Connecticut-New Haven; From Rhode Island-Pawtucket; From New Hampshire-Manchester.

Also present were two meter vendors, one steam pump vendor, and one former governor of New Hampshire (a friend of the Manchester NH representative and an advocate of water supply). As the first business of the new organization, they appointed staff to develop a Constitution and chose Boston as the site of the next meeting in June. There is some brief record of water discussions on topics such as wrought iron pipe, fish becoming stuck in service lines, eels in pipes and growth of sponge, algae and clams in reservoirs and pipes, all normal issues for the day. They then adjourned for a hearty dinner and lighter conversation.”

April 18, 1912: Hypochlorite Treatment at Trenton

Dissolving Tanks for Calcium Hypochlorite Feed System

April 18, 1912:  Municipal Journalarticle. Water Purification at Trenton. By Howard C. Hottel. “As a result of investigations made by the New Jersey State Board of Health, the city of Trenton, on November 9, 1911, started to purify its drinking water supply, raw Delaware River water, by the use of calcium hypochlorite.

Previous analysis of the water had shown that there was more or less constant pollution, liable to increase under certain weather conditions, and at the time that the plant was ready to start operation there was a typhoid epidemic in progress at Trenton.

The chemical purchased when tested was found to have 35 per cent available chlorine and treatment was begun with a strength of about 0.4 to the million of available chlorine. This was found to be insufficient and on November 28 the dose was raised to 0.8 and has since then varied from 0.8 to 1.0 part per million, with a daily pumpage of about 20,000,000 gallons. In commercial terms this means that from 20 to 25 pounds of calcium hypochlorite are being added to every million gallons of water that is being pumped.

After the chemical had been increased the intestinal bacteria began to disappear, as shown by tests made by the State Board of Health. Inasmuch as the pipe area is rather large it took some time before the tap water gave negative tests for B. coli.

There has been considerable complaint from the taxpayers, who claim that the chemical gives a slight taste to the water. In fact, some would seem to prefer taking chances with typhoid rather than purification by treatment with calcium hypochlorite. The treatment, however, will probably continue until a permanent purification plant is established. Plans are already being drawn for the erection of a mechanical filtration plant, with the expectation of having the same completed within a year.

Shortly after the hypochlorite treatment was begun the typhoid dropped abruptly and a few statistics may prove interesting. During the month of November, 1911, there were 82 cases of typhoid reported, and during December 49. For the first three months of 1912 there has been a total of only 15 cases; in 1911 for the same three months there were 52; in 1910, 47.”

Reference: Hottel, Howard C. 1912. “Water Purification at Trenton.” Municipal Journalarticle. 32:16(April 18, 1912): 589.

Commentary:  There were people in Trenton who opposed any move to treat the disease-laden water from the Delaware River. It is incomprehensible that they resisted all attempts. Below is an excerpt from my book The Chlorine Revolution:  Water Disinfection and the Fight To Save Lives.

“Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, was home to about 97,000 citizens in 1911. The city’s water source was the Delaware River, which had been grossly contaminated with sewage for decades. Typhoid fever was ever-present in the city, and occasionally epidemics broke out, causing much higher death rates. The typhoid fever death rate during 1902–1911 ranged from 26.2 to 84.3 per 100,000 people, with an average of 49.7 per 100,000.

Despite the water supply’s wholesale killing of Trenton’s citizens, there was tremendous opposition to installing filtration or any other kind of effective treatment. Outstanding treatment experts such as Allen Hazen and George Warren Fuller prepared two separate designs for filtration plants, both of which languished without being implemented. Finally, the New Jersey Board of Health had had enough. In early 1910, the board issued a “compulsory order” for Trenton to treat its water supply and made the order effective shortly thereafter, on June 15. The Trenton Water Board began to install a chloride of lime feed system, but, incredibly, the local health board vetoed the plan. Wasting no time, the New Jersey Board of Health filed a lawsuit shortly after the June 15 deadline to compel the city to move forward with its plans.”

Solution Tanks for Calcium Hypochlorite Feed System

April 17, 1888: Fanning Paper on Water Supply and Treatment

Frontpiece in book on Hydraulics written by J.T. Fanning

April 17, 1888: Paper read at AWWA national conference by J.T. Fanning, President. Water Supply Treatments and Sources. “The first and highest among municipal duties is that of securing the most wholesome public water supply and thereafter faithfully protecting the same. If charged with this duty the municipality goes to the river, the lake, or the hill-side stream in search of a pure supply, it will learn that all these waters have their sediments and solutions, and most of them have such impurities as will catch the attention of even a careless observer.

When the public eye observes, or the public receives a rumor that these impurities are flowing from its taps, there is a liability of exceedingly capricious opinion. This capriciousness over real, and more often over supposed, impurities, is one of the chief difficulties with which projectors and managers of water supply have to contend, and out of it have grown discussions and hatreds and divisions that have almost rent communities asunder.

Sometimes the consumers of water accept a supply graciously when to do so is to endanger their community, and on the other hand lack of funds or probable profit may influence the acceptance of a pernicious source until a change is more feasible.”

Commentary:  It is no wonder that contaminated water supplies were killing people by the trainload during the late 1800s. Water professionals did not think much of customer service back then.

April 16, 1914: Condemn All Wells in Bridgeport

April 16, 1914:  Municipal Journalarticle. Would Condemn All Wells. “Bridgeport, Conn.-“Condemn every well within the city limits.” is the way in which Commissioners E. A. Lambert and Frank W. Stevens of the Board of Health expressed their views of one means whereby the illness and death rate of the city can be reduced. At a special meeting of the Board of Health the two commissioners, one a sanitary engineer and the other a physician, declared that from their studies of the subject, every well in Bridgeport should be condemned. “The danger of an epidemic is great,” they declared, and in neighborhoods where contagious diseases exist a nearby well would prove the breeding place for millions of germs. This action may take place before the present board goes out of existence. Already all four members are prejudiced against wells and are taking steps to get rid of the more dangerous ones.”

Reference:  “Would Condemn All Wells.” 1914. Municipal Journalarticle 36:16(April 16, 1914): 542.

Commentary:  This story is part of the broad movement away from shallow, contaminated urban wells towards central water supplies that had been going on in the US for 20 years. If Bridgeport had added chlorine to their new water supply, death rates would have plummeted.