Tag Archives: public health

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.

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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

Solution 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.”

Dissolving 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 added chlorine to their new water supply, death rates would have plummeted.

April 15, 1923: New York City Harbor Pollution

Cleveland Waterworks in 1903 before the installation of filtration

April 15, 1923: New York Times headline. Pollution of City’s Harbor Growing Peril to Health. By George A. Soper. “After having been apparently forgotten for some years there are signs that the pollution of New York Harbor may again receive official attention. The Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, which took a leading part in bringing about the construction of the first rapid transit subway, the Catskill water supply and the Port Authority, has been inquiring into the state of the harbor waters with a view to the adoption of remedial measures. On Nov. 3, 1921, the Chamber passed a resolution urging municipal authorities in New York and New Jersey to take such steps as might be necessary to bring about a study of the matter, and on March 30, 1923, the Merchants’ Association sent a letter to Mayor Hylan calling attention to the polluted condition of the harbor.”