Tag Archives: sewage

August 26, 1908: Wet Excavation for a Sewer in the New Town of Gary, Indiana

August 26, 1908: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Wet Excavation of a Sewer Trench. “At Gary, Ind., where two years ago was prairie is today a city of 15,000, with ten miles of paved streets, twenty miles of gas mains, electric light plant, telegraph and telephone service. To complete the list of public services a sewerage system is now nearing completion, which will contain about twenty miles of mains and cost about $350,000. Several details of this system contain novel features, but one of the most interesting is the method employed by the contractors, Green & Sons, of Chicago, in trenching through a swamp underlaid with so-called quicksand. This trench was approximately 30 feet deep, 22 feet below the level of the ground water. The material excavated is said to be so saturated that an excavation in it one foot deep will take a width of thirty feet. The ground is in several places very low and contains ponds three or four feet deep. These conditions made ordinary methods impossible.

The contractors accordingly adopted a method novel in many respects. The upper eight feet, more or less, down to ground water, were excavated by means of a scraper bucket elevator, the width being made greater than that of the trench proper and no sheeting being used. Following this, a pump and series of connected wells in a double line in the center of the trench were used along 132 feet of the trench to remove the ground water to a depth of something less than sixteen feet. After this the trench was excavated in twenty-two-foot sections, sheeting being driven meantime to a further depth of six feet. Pump No. 1 was then moved ahead, and two others were set up, connected to wells dose to the sheeting on each side, and the excavation was then carried about sixteen feet deeper and the brick sewer built. In Boston and other places the method of drying the soil by numerous pipe wells before excavation has been used, but there are several features of the Gary work which are new and the work as a whole is, we believe, of greater magnitude than those referred to.”

Commentary: It appears that Gary, Indiana sprang out of the ground as an industrial center complete with a city infrastructure. The most interesting thing about this article is the amazing photograph. As noted on the photo it was taken from the mast of a bucket excavator, presumably with a photographer in the bucket towering 30-40 feet about the ground.

Gary, Indiana

Advertisements

August 22, 1908: New Sewage Pumping Station for Washington DC

August 22, 1908: The Engineering Record article. The New Sewage Pumping Station, Washington, DC. “The pumping station is…housed in a 138 x 304-ft. structure that is located centrally in a 200 x 6oo-ft. plot, between the lower extensions of New Jersey Ave. and Second St. and between N St. and the river. It is of steel frame and brick construction, with trimmings in light stone. The design of the building has been rendered particularly attractive architecturally for the purpose of concealing to a degree the purpose for which the station is intended, and the grounds surrounding the station have, in fact, been carefully parked and attractively laid out, rendering the structure a decided advantage to the locality….

The design of the sewage pumping equipment has, like that of the revised sewerage system…and the outfall, been based on the requirements for the handling of the dry weather sewage flow from a population of 1,000,000 inhabitants in the city. There are installed five sewage pumps in all, which have an aggregate capacity of about 360 cu. ft. of sewage per second, which is, however, a capacity largely in excess of the present normal requirements. Two of the sewage pumps are, in fact, reserve equipments, the flow capacity of the outfall line being but 250 cu. ft. per second.”

Commentary: This pumping station was a monster. It is hard to imagine the amount of money it cost. It is also hard to imagine that the sewer system could not have been designed to obviate the need for this incredible white elephant. While many other water infrastructure structures have survived since 1908, nothing remains today of this behemoth. I see the hand of pork barrel politics in here somewhere.

August 12, 1908: Sewer Outlet for Santa Monica

Santa Monica Pier in 1909 shortly after construction was completed

August 12, 1908: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Sewer Outlet at Santa Monica. “An unusually extensive piece of work in connection with a sewer outlet is now being carried on by Santa Monica, Cal. The outfall pipe of the sewer system of the city is being carried a distance of 1,600 feet into the Pacific Ocean, and as the shore is abrupt and the water comparatively deep it was decided to support this upon piles, which will also form part of a pier, the entire cost of which is estimated to amount to about $100,000….

In connection with the sewerage system a novel method of treating the sewage has been installed and a sixty-day test run of it has been begun. The sewage flows into two wooden tanks, each two feet deep and 30 feet long. Each tank is equipped with ten sets of electrodes and an equal number of electro-magnets which are supplied with energy from a generator of low voltage and high amperage. The electrodes and the ends of the magnets are so placed as to be submerged three inches under the surface of the sewage. The theory is that the organic matter in the sewage will be oxidized by the nascent oxygen released and that in some way the inorganic matter also will be removed. On being started it was found that the effluent had no odor and was almost as clear as spring water. The combined capacity of the tanks is said to be one million gallons per day and the inventor estimates that the electric energy will not cost more than so cents per day.”

Commentary: Once again, nascent oxygen rears its ugly head. I have also included in this blog another article about Santa Monica’s miraculous treatment of sewage with electricity (April 28). Obviously, the City management had fallen into the hands of con artists. The one outstanding thing to come out of this incident was the Santa Monica Pier, which today is a major attraction and a beautiful addition to the city waterfront.

Santa Monica Pier Today

July 28, 1909: Stream Pollution in America

July 28, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Stream Pollution in America. “At a Conference of State and Provincial Boards of Health of North America, held in Washington last June, the Committee on the Pollution of Streams appointed last year presented a report in which it gave some data concerning the extent to which the pollution of streams was being regulated by the various States. Ohio, New Jersey and Kansas have, according to this report, passed laws during the last few years which ”are

especially worthy of note as indicating advancement and the confidence which the Legislatures of these States must feel in these State Boards of Health.” From the reports of the secretaries of the Boards of Health of the several States they abstract a number of statements showing what is being accomplished by them.

In Massachusetts the use of ·the larger rivers as direct sources of public water supplies without purification has practically ceased; but polluted river waters are still used in many factories and mills for purposes other than drinking [however, incidental drinking of these waters was well known]. Of the 92 cities and towns in that State having systems of sewerage, four cities and 19 towns employ some form of treatment for the removal of organic matter from the sewage. This is exactly one-fourth of the total number.

In New Jersey there are 54 sewage purification plants in operation or ready for operation by municipalities and large public institutions. The policy of that State is to allow no untreated sewage to be discharged from new systems into waters of the State. The Board of Health is also compelling municipalities to install purification plants on existing sewerage systems, and 22 are now under orders to cease pollution of the streams, these including all municipalities on the Delaware River.

The Ohio State Board of Health has been asked to investigate 18 complaints under the act prohibiting stream pollution, and has ordered sewage disposal works to be installed in four of the cities before Jan. 1, 1910. The constitutionality of the law under which they act has been questioned, but if decided in their favor they hope to prevent the pollution of all the streams in the State.

In Michigan there are several cities and villages using septic tanks, and the Legislature is being urged to pass laws for the control of water supplies and treatment of sewage. In California the size of the streams affords such dilution as to prevent serious trouble [seriously???], but the State Board of Health is endeavoring to cultivate a sentiment against allowing sewage to enter them. In Florida the reverse is the case, most of the streams being small or sluggish and many of the towns and cities, particularly in the interior, use filtration plants. In Maryland many of the larger towns maintain sewage disposal plants, but about 120 restraining orders have been issued against municipalities and corporations during the past year on account of stream pollution. It is reported that the large rivers of the western shore are polluted, some badly.

In New Hampshire there is not a single sewage disposal plant in operation, but the State Board of Health has prohibited the pollution of several of the lakes and streams from which public water supplies are taken and reports that none of these, except the Merrimac and Connecticut rivers, can be said to be badly polluted. Indiana’s new anti-pollution law, passed this year, forbids the pollution of streams, its enforcement being in the hands of the State Board of Health. The condition there is said to be a serious one, as the ground water supply is giving out, except in the northern part of the State, and all water supplies must be obtained from the streams. In Texas the question of stream pollution is assuming prominence. Houston treats its sewage on 15 acres of sand filters; but, in general, the question is just beginning to assume importance, the centers of population being quite widely scattered. Wisconsin aims to for bid absolutely the discharge of crude sewage into any of its waterways. Septic tanks and filter beds are used quite extensively.

In Vermont the State Board of Health five years ago ordered that no sewage should be discharged into any stream or body of water without its permission. Five cities and villages of the State, which were taking their supply from polluted sources, were directed to secure their new supply from sources approved by the Board. (This seems to be the reverse of the action elsewhere, where the main efforts have been to prevent the pollution of the water rather than the use of polluted water. We believe it is the unquestionable duty of Boards of Health both to restrict pollution and also to prevent the use of unsafe water.)

Colorado reports inability to obtain legislation necessary for preventing pollution. The same condition exists in Minnesota likewise, and two marked typhoid epidemics have resulted in that State from stream pollution. Kansas reports 15 disposal plants in operation, or about to be installed, all of the septic tank and filter-bed type. The State Board there is upheld by a very strong and workable law. In New York many of the streams are very badly polluted and the condition is very serious. There are about 50 sewage disposal plants in operation, and the State Health Department requires cities extending their systems or building new ones to make provisions for sewage purification plants to be in operation at the end of a specified time.”

Commentary: The article is reprinted here in its entirety because it is an astonishing time capsule against which we can measure our progress. The important thread that runs through most of the state reports is that pollution of waterways was prohibited by state law. However, we know from other sources that these laws were seldom enforced or had penalties that were too lenient, so they were ignored.

July 6, 1917: 100 year Anniversary of the National Clay Pipe Institute; 1890: Death of Edwin Chadwick

Vitrified Clay Pipe

July 6, 1917: “Clay pipe has a history that goes back millennia, with the earliest known example coming from Babylonia in 4,000 BC, according to sewerhistory.org….The clay sewer pipe industry in the United States dates back to 1815 with installations in Washington, D.C. In 1849, the first domestic clay pipe manufacturing facility was established in Middlebury, Ohio. In the years that followed, cities across the country began laying pipe systems to convey sewage away from populated areas…. Around the turn of the 20th century, it was recognized that sewer pipe standards were needed; size, strength, quality and installation methods varied widely from location to location. As a result, an ASTM Committee was formed for clay sewer pipes. Eventually, this led to the publication of Standard C13 on the Manufacture of Clay Pipe in 1917 (which is now incorporated into ASTM C700).

That same year, the Clay Products Association was formed with the merger of the International Clay Products Bureau and the Society of Vitrified Clay Pipe Manufacturers. That organization – now known as the National Clay Pipe Institute – is celebrating its 100th anniversary amidst a resurgence of vitrified clay as a preferred gravity sanitary sewer pipe.”

Edwin Chadwick

July 6, 1890: Death of Edwin Chadwick. Edwin Chadwick was an English social reformer who was noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and improve sanitary conditions and public health. The appointment of the Poor Law Commission in 1834 which included Edwin Chadwick is widely believed to be the beginning of the sanitary movement in England. Through Chadwick’s work and influence, more sophisticated health statistics were collected which revealed that public health problems were increasing at a rapid rate. Chadwick imposed his “sanitary idea” which focused on disease prevention. A survey published by the Poor Law Commission in 1842 detailed the horrific working and living conditions in England at the time. The report linked epidemic disease, especially related to fever diseases (typhoid, typhus and cholera) to filthy environmental conditions. Privy vaults, shallow urban wells and piles of garbage and animal excrement in the streets were all related to the increases in disease.

“‘The great preventatives,’” he wrote, “‘drainage, street and house cleansing by means of supplies of water and improved sewerage, and especially the introduction of cheaper and more efficient modes of removing all noxious reuse from the towns, are operations for which aid must be sought from the science of the Civil Engineer, not from the physician, who has done his work when he has pointed out the disease that results from the neglect of proper administrative measures, and has alleviated the sufferings of the victims.’” (Rosen 1993)

Of course, the best way to identify and locate these health threats was to determine where the greatest odors of putrefaction were located and tie the solution to the problem—miasmas.

Chadwick was not ultimately successful in all he tried to do to clean up the noxious wastes in London and other concentrations of population in England. However, he did have a profound influence on a series of laws that were passed in the mid to late 1800s which began to implement some of his vision. (Rosen 1993) The formation of boards of health and the appointment of health officers under these laws provided advocates for cleaning up the filth.

It is a common misconception among chroniclers of the time period, 1850 to 1900, that the act of installing sewers, in and of itself, was an effective public health protection strategy. Edwin Chadwick was one of the major proponents of this misconception. In the 1840s he became one of the leaders of the European Sanitary Movement. In his famous report published in 1842, Chadwick promoted four themes:

  • Relationship of unsanitary living conditions and disease (based on the miasma theory)
  • Economic effects of poor living conditions
  • Social effects of poor living conditions (e.g., drunkenness, immorality, disease)
  • Need for new administrative systems to effect changes (Halliday 2001)

Chadwick had a vision of vast sewer systems collecting human waste and transporting it out to rural areas where it would be put to beneficial use as fertilizer for farms. Water supply would be provided to cities through a piped water system from protected sources that were not affected by any locale’s sewage. Unfortunately, only one out of three parts of Chadwick’s vision were implemented in London and elsewhere. Sewers were built but the crucial sanitary disposal of human waste on farmland was not. Sewage was discharged into rivers and lakes after which time no surface supplied drinking water was safe.

References:

Halliday, Stephen. 2001. The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. London, U.K.: History Press.

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

Rosen, George. 1993. A History of Public Health. Expanded Edition, Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University.

June 23, 1909: Sewer Work in Louisville, KY

June 23, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Sewer Work in Louisville. “The city of Louisville, Ky., is now doing a large amount of sewer main construction. For nearly eighteen years prior to the beginning of the present work practically nothing had been done in sewer work and Louisville, which is a large and growing city, was lamentably weak in sanitation. After considerable agitation the city, in 1906, was authorized to issue $4,000,000 worth of bonds for constructing additions to the existing systems and building new ones.

A sewer commission was appointed by the Mayor, consisting of P. L . Atherton, chairman ; Oscar Finley, W. C. Nones and Alfred Seligman. This commission employed Mr. Harrison P. Eddy, of Boston, as consulting engineer, and Mr. J. B. F. Breed, former city engineer, became chief engineer of the Sewer Commission. Mr. J. H. Kimball, formerly assistant city engineer, of Newton, Mass., was secured as designing engineer, and Messrs. F. C. Williams, H. S. Morse and H. P. Wires as resident engineers in charge of construction work.

A large amount of preliminary work was necessary, including surveys and borings. These borings were numerous and covered the lines so thoroughly that the conditions to be met with in excavation were very accurately known. It was found best to use an auger for this purpose. As was found by the borings and later confirmed in the actual excavation, the top layer of earth for about 10 feet was of a clayey nature. Below this as deep as excavations were to be carried the material was a mixture of sand and gravel, the relative proportions of which varied from place to place. These materials made the handling of the material very easy, but great care has been necessary to properly brace the banks as the gravel has little power of cohesion to hold itself in place.”

June 16, 1858: Death of Dr. John Snow

Dr. John Snow

Dr. John Snow (March 15, 1813–June 16, 1858) is famous for the Broad Street Pump episode but he accomplished so much more than that. He was first and foremost a physician who trained in England in the early part of the 19th century. He made significant contributions to the development of anesthesia and he is considered by many to be the Father of Modern Epidemiology.

The story of Dr. John Snow and how he discovered the cause of a cholera epidemic in the Golden Square neighborhood of London in 1854 has reached almost mythical proportions in public health literature.  Three excellent books describe Snow’s life and the details of the Broad Street Pump incident. (Hempel 2007; Johnson 2006; Vinten-Johansen et al. 2003)

Snow was born on March 15, 1813 in the City of York.  He served his medical-apothecary apprenticeship in Newcastle-on-Tyne with later assistantships in the villages of Burnop Field and Pateley Bridge.  In 1836 at the age of 23, Snow moved to London to complete his medical education.  He qualified as a licensed apothecary in 1838 and a surgeon with a London practice in October 1838.  With an office in the parish of Saint Anne-Soho, Snow would have a medical career of only two-dozen years before he was struck down at the age of 45.

At the age of 17, Snow became a vegetarian and soon thereafter committed to only drinking boiled water or, preferably, distilled water as a result of the writings of John Frank Newton.  He embraced abstinence from alcohol around 1836.  Snow was known to be quiet, frugal and energetic, a man of integrity and a surgeon with an indifferent bedside manner.  He refused to dispense pills and other medicines just because his patients wanted them.  He was able to make a living and acquire some success as a physician when he perfected the administration of chloroform as an anesthetic used during surgeries and infant deliveries.  He even delivered two babies while attending Queen Victoria.

He never married.  His solitary existence and his abstinent personal habits allowed him more time than his colleagues to develop his medical practice and enabled him to pursue his intense interest in determining the cause of cholera epidemics.

Snow gave away all of the knowledge he developed.  He made it available for free to any doctor who wanted it.  No attempt was made by him to patent his many devices for dispensing chloroform and ether. As a result, physicians hired him to use his skill with their patients and he became famous for this.

One overriding personal characteristic of this ascetic doctor of the Victorian era was courage.  He worked hard to develop his ideas and used the scientific method and laboratory investigations to establish his case in whatever area he was working.  Once he became convinced of the rightness of his position, nothing could dislodge him.  It was only his tremendous courage that made it possible for him to go up against the establishment and argue that something other than foul air was causing the deadly cholera. (McGuire 2013)

Snow’s determination of the cause of the cholera epidemic near the Broad Street pump and his ability, albeit temporary, to have the pump handle removed is worthy of recounting here.  The 1854 cholera epidemic struck the Golden Square neighborhood of London with particular viciousness. It began on August 31 and started to wind down about September 7, however, many died over the next few days. Well over 500 people died during this epidemic in a small neighborhood. Snow tracked the numbers of deaths in the neighborhood, and it was clear to him from the pattern of death that the Broad Street pump was the center of the affliction and most likely the source of infection. On September 7, Snow convinced the Board of Governors and Directors of the Poor of St. James Parish that the epidemic was being caused by water from the pump. The next day the commissioners ordered that the pump handle be removed. Structural defects in the Broad Street well sump and the cross-connection to the nearby house sewer were not corrected until 1855.

Incredibly, the residents of Broad Street petitioned the Commissioners to reopen the well that had caused hundreds of deaths in their neighborhood.  This was partly due to the official linkage of the severe, isolated epidemic in the Broad Street area to miasma (foul air). In an amazing footnote to history, the commissioners voted 10 to 2 to reopen the well on September 26, 1855, one year and one week after the last deaths during the epidemic.  According to contemporary reports, there was much rejoicing in the street that the Broad Street well was reopened.  The polluted well was not permanently closed until the cholera epidemic of 1866.

With the emphasis on the Broad Street pump episode in most historical accounts, his pioneering work in epidemiology based on cholera occurrence in a district of London served by two water supplies usually gets lost.  Snow was able to demonstrate that homes in areas of London that were being served contaminated water from the tidal portion of the Thames Estuary were far more likely to have cholera deaths than the homes served water from an unpolluted upland source. He believed that dumping sewage into a water supply perpetuated the death spiral caused by cholera and other waterborne diseases. Snow had strong opinions on sewers and drinking water systems.

“Snow who distilled his own drinking water, agreed that London water should be improved, but he considered the abolition of cesspools and the increasing preference for water closets a sanitary disaster…water closets connected to sewer lines that emptied into rivers also used for metropolitan drinking water were, in his mind, primarily an efficient means of recycling the cholera agent through the intestines of victims as rapidly as possible.  Sanitary reforms were needed, but flushing the waste of a town into the same river by which one quenched ones’ thirst seemed sheer stupidity.” (Vinten-Johansen et al 2003)

Dr. John Snow died of a stroke on June 16, 1858, 42 days after the birth of John L. Leal who grew to be a physician who carried on Snow’s concern about the ability of contaminated water to spread disease.  If the discoveries of Dr. John Snow had been accepted and followed by engineers, sewer planners and drinking water providers beginning in 1854, millions of deaths would have been avoided.  Snow was only one person trying to overcome the juggernaut of the miasma theory.  He was far ahead of his time.

References:

Hempel, Sandra. 2007. The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera. Los Angeles, Ca.: University of California.

Johnson, Steven. 2006. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World, New York City, N.Y.: Riverhead Books.

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

Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. 2003. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York City, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.