Tag Archives: sewage

November 13, 565 CE: Basilica Cistern; 1988: Sewage in Santa Monica Bay; 2003: Death of Sewer Worker

November 13, 565 AD:  End of the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, builder of the Basilica Cistern. “The Basilica Cistern (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarayı – Sunken Palace, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı – Sunken Cistern), is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), Turkey. The cistern, located 500 feet southwest of the Hagia Sophiaon the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. This cathedral-size cistern is an underground chamber approximately 453 by 212 feet – about 105,000 square feet in area – capable of holding 2,800,000 cubic feet [or 21 million gallons] of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 30 feet high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 16 feet apart. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings.” (edited by MJM)

Istanbul has always had limited water resources. Water supplies had to be transported to the city through long canals and aqueducts. Istanbul has also been the target of invading armies and has had to rely on stored water during long sieges. For these reasons, underground and open-air cisterns have always been a part of the city fabric. Sometimes stored water in local cisterns had to last the city’s population for months. There is no official count of the number of cisterns that had been built in ancient times, but dozens have survived and many can be visited. The Basilica Cisternis the grandest of them all.

Commentary and Update:  The Basilica Cistern is one of the locations for the movie “Inferno” starring Tom Hanks and released October 28, 2016. Somehow they create destructive waves in this underground water reservoir.

November 13, 1988New York Times headline—Sewage in Santa Monica Bay. “Nearly seven miles of beaches are closed for the weekend because a cap on a sewer main 15 miles inland failed, causing a gush of raw sewage into Santa Monica Bay. The overflow, which apparently began Wednesday, caused bacteria levels in the ocean near Marina del Rey to rise to more than twice the safe levels for swimming, a city biologist, John Dorsey, said Friday.”

November 13, 2003New York Times headline—Appreciations, Death of a Sewer Worker. “New York is a mythic place, and one of the most mythic parts of it is the part that nobody ever sees: the sewers. Alligators and giant rats barely begin to sum up the state of our fears about the sewers, when we acknowledge those fears at all. So it’s worth remembering how great a joke it is that the New York city sewers should also contain Ed Norton, played on ”The Honeymooners” by Art Carney, who died on Sunday at 85.”

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October 23, 1993: Yangtze River Pollution

Polluted Yangtze River

October 23, 1993Personal journey through a polluted portion of a reservoir on the Yangtze River. The following is a vivid description of pollution problems in the Gezhouba Reservoir which is located in Hubei province in the central part of China. “On October 23, 1993, I visited the renowned port of Yemingzhu, and to my great surprise I saw a river full of sewage, with garbage scattered everywhere. The surface of the water was covered with oil and drifting lotus plants. Moreover, the smell and color of the water were simply unbearable.

According to an official from the Environmental Protection Bureau (Huanbaoju) of Yichang, the pollution in the Gezhouba Reservoir stems mainly from the following sources: waste, including oil, released from ships lined up to pass through the dam’s locks; seepage from phosphorous (/in) deposits extracted from a local mine that have been piled up on the riverbanks awaiting shipment; sewage released into the reservoir from nearby residential areas and hospitals; and, finally, industrial wastewater.

A major polluter, the Number 403 factory, which produces ship engines, releases waste oil into the reservoir via a network of small brooks. When the accumulation of oil on the surface of the reservoir is particularly heavy, nearby farmers skim off a few jars, pour it into their tractors, and drive off. Fires also frequently break out on the reservoir when matches are carelessly thrown into the water.

As I was completing this study in November 1993, the water quality at Yemingzhu had deteriorated to Class IV, which is unsuitable for drinking. Nevertheless, 50,000 tons of drinking water is drawn daily into a local waterworks from the reservoir. Moreover, nitrate levels in the water have recently increased by 20 percent annually.”

Commentary:  If I didn’t know any better, I would suspect that the description above referred to the Cuyahoga River in mid-twentieth century Ohio, which was also badly polluted with sewage and had a tendency to catch fire.

Reference:  Qing, Dai. The River Dragon Has Come!:  The Three Gorges Dam and the Fate of China’s Yangtze River and Its People. New York:M.E. Sharpe, Inc. 1998, p. 164-5.

October 16, 1988: Asbury Park Beach Pollution

October 16, 1988New York Times headline–Asbury Park Fined for Beach Pollution. “The state of New Jersey has fined Asbury Park more than $1 million for causing the ocean pollution that closed a popular stretch of Monmouth County beaches for 19 days this summer.

Mistakes by the city in cleaning out its sewage lines were responsible for the high ocean bacteria levels that closed the beaches, a report that accompanied the announcement of the fine said.

The fine is the largest ever levied against a municipality by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

In its 19-page report, released Tuesday, the department said that Asbury Park had failed to adequately maintain sewer lines for two years and that, in June and July, when it tried to clean out lines coagulated with greasy sewage, it flushed them to an old primary treatment plant incapable of handling all the waste. Large clumps of grease containing high levels of fecal bacteria eventually got into the ocean and broke up in the surf, forcing officials to close beaches in Asbury Park, Ocean Grove, Bradley Beach, Avon, Spring Lake, Belmar and Allenhurst in July.”

October 13, 1821: Birth of Rudolf Virchow; 1986: Hudson River as Source of Water for NYC

October 13, 1821:  German physician Rudolf (Carl) Virchowwas born.  He was  famed for cell theory, founded the medical journal Medical Reform(Medicinische Reform), and wrote “Report on the Typhus Epidemic in Upper Silesia.” He was also was a well-known pathologist, anthropologist and statesman, widely credited for his advancements in public health.   Later in life, Virchow fought for improving the health and welfare service, meat inspections, and the first four urban hospitals in Berlin. He encouraged water and sewage system development.

Hudson River at Poughkeepsie

October 13, 1986:  New York Times headline–Report Backs Hudson as Water Source. ”Supplementing New York City’s water supply of 1.5 billion gallons a day with up to 300 million gallons from the Hudson River is feasible, an engineering study commissioned by the city has concluded.

But even before the study has officially been made public, concern has been mounting here in the Hudson Valley about the potential impact of such withdrawals, which have been called the only realistic means of meeting the city’s water needs by the year 2000.

‘If New York City were to take 300 million gallons from the Hudson, the major question is: would there be enough for us?’ said Herbert Hekler, chairman of the water supply committee of the Hudson Valley Regional Council. Several municipalities in the fast-growing Hudson Valley, including the city of Poughkeepsie, rely on the river as their sole source of drinking water.”

Commentary:  Mayor Koch called for universal metering in the city to cut water use and that is exactly what happened. There was no need to tap the Hudson after all.

October 4, 1921: Death of Hiram Mills who Birthed the First Sanitary Engineering Laboratory in the World

October 4, 1921Death of Hiram Francis Mills.“Born in Bangor, Maine, in the year 1836 and receiving his early schooling there, the young Hiram Mills moved on to the newly-established Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute to be graduated before he was twenty. When he was in his middle thirties he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Essex Company, the corporate owner of the Merrimack River dam and water power rights at Lawrence, Massachusetts. Ever research-minded, Mr. Mills induced the Essex Company to set up an outdoor hydraulic laboratory on the river bank below the power dam.

In the year 1886 came a momentous change in the direction of Mr. Mills’ scientific interests. In that year he was appointed a member of the recently reorganized State Board of Health. At the first meeting he was chosen by his associates to be chairman of the Board’s Committee on Water Supplies and Sewage; and from hydraulics, Hiram Mills’ chief scientific concern in life turned to sanitation.

The law of 1886, re-creating the State Board of Health, empowered the members to investigate methods for the disposal of sewage, and Hiram Mills lost little time in seeing that the law’s intent was carried out. As the place for his projected studies in the best practical methods for safe sewage disposal, he persuaded the Essex Company to lend to Massachusetts the experimental plant the company had created for his hydraulic researches. With State funds a modest laboratory building was added to the existing structures, and the whole was renamed the Lawrence Experiment Station — the first research enterprise of its kind in our country.

Tanks for Filtration Experiments, 1903

It may fairly be said that the investigations which Mills was to plan and carry through to conclusion in this physically limited and always economically equipped plant laid the foundations for many of the scientific methods of treatment of drinking water and municipal wastes. Instead of investing in elaborate equipment and costly facilities. Mills invested in brains, as frequently he was pleased to point out, To man his researches, Mr. Mills drew upon the faculty and recent graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and thus employing their varied scientific skills, he perfected a unique investigating team whose inventiveness and productiveness are not likely to be seen again.” [editied by M.J. McGuire]

Lawrence Experiment Station, 1903

Commentary:  Members of the research team included George W. Fuller, Allen Hazenand William T. Sedgwick. MIT professors William Ripley NicholsEllen Swallow Richards, and Thomas M. Drown also played important early roles. Allen Hazen and George W. Fuller were in charge of some of the earliest research on sewage treatment and drinking water filtration. I think the author of the above piece is too modest. The Lawrence Experiment Station was the first sanitary engineering research laboratory in the world.

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

August 26, 1908:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. 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

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

August 22, 1908:  The Engineering Recordarticle. 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.