July 30, 2018: Article in Scottish Construction Now—260-year-old Wooden Water Pipes Unearthed in Edinburgh. “Workers have unearthed rare 260-year-old wooden water pipes during a dig in Edinburgh. Fifteen pieces of the elm piping were unearthed during excavation work at George Square, where a new underground heating system is being built by the University of Edinburgh for its new student centre.
The wooden pipes were part of an underground network of pipes to supply drinking water which was built in 1756. It ran from the Comiston area of the Capital to the Royal Mile. Archaeologists called to examine the find – used to bring the “sweet water of the country to the centre” – describe them as being in “very good” condition. Lindsay Dunbar, fieldwork project manager for AOC Archaeology Group which carried out the excavation, said the pipes fixings of metal bands and lead fittings were “very typical” in wooden pipes used across the UK in the 18th century. She said: “To uncover these water pipes preserved in situ beneath the cobbles was just incredible. Whilst the use of such wooden pipes is well-documented and preserved examples exist within museums and collections, to find the pipes in situ is much rarer. “These are first examples we have ever excavated in more than 25 years as a commercial field unit. The level of preservation was very good and allowed important details relating to fittings, construction, size, joining techniques to be recorded prior to their removal.”
Although similar pipes have been found before across the Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns, this is the first instance of a section being archaeological excavated in recent times. The City of Edinburgh Council’s Museums have several examples of these pipes within their collection including examples on display at the Museum of Edinburgh. Bill Elliot, national stakeholder manager at Scottish Water: ‘This is an amazing find for our customers in Scotland’s capital who have the opportunity to see first-hand how water was distributed in years gone by. ‘These pipes made up the first dedicated water supply in Edinburgh, and when the pipes were brought into use the town council described how they would ‘bring the sweet waters of the country to the centre’.
Records held by Scottish Water show before the wooden water pipes were laid residents could go many weeks without fresh drinking water. Councillor Donald Wilson, culture and communities convener, City of Edinburgh Council, said: ‘This is quite a significant discovery and the first time archaeologists have unearthed the city’s original plumbing system for a long time.’ ‘Similar pipes were discovered in 1894 in West Register Street. Made from hollowed out elm they date from the 17th to 18th centuries and were used to supply water to Edinburgh’s Old Town from springs like those out at Comiston. In fact, we have two sections of it on display at our free to visit Museum of Edinburgh in the Canongate. It’s pretty fascinating’”
July 30, 1982: “This letter is in response to your request that the Public Health Service (PHS) review the scientific aspects of the epidemiological studies related to the effects of fluoride ingested through drinking water and provide advice on the validity and significance of the findings relative to dental fluorosis.”
On July 30, 1982, C. Everett Koop wrote the above paragraph in a letter to John W. Hernandez, Jr., Deputy Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA needed to re-assess and finalize interim drinking water standards set in 1975, shortly after the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974. Fluoride was one of many compounds for which the agency needed to set an upper limit for safety. EPA had asked the Public Health Service to weigh in, and Surgeon General Koop was reporting back the findings of a committee his Chief Dental Officer had convened to conduct EPA’s requested review.
Fluoride, like chlorine, is in a unique position in drinking water: having benefits at low levels but adverse effects at higher levels. Public health professionals, and Surgeon Generals in particular, have advocated for adding low levels of fluoride to water in order to prevent tooth decay. Indeed, in his letter to Mr. Hernandez, Surgeon General Koop gave a strong endorsement of fluoridation, “I encourage the dental profession in communities which do not enjoy the benefits of an optimally fluoridated drinking water supply to exercise effective leadership in bringing the concentration to within an optimum level.” More such endorsements from Surgeon Generals can be found in “Is fluoride good for your teeth?” an article at the site Fluoride Exposed, at CDC’s fluoride and fluoridation page here, and at ADA’s fluoridation resources here.
Because we so often associate Surgeon Generals with this kind of promotion of adding fluoride to drinking water, and because we seem to forget that Surgeon Generals have also worked to make sure drinking water does not have too much fluoride in it, this quote in Surgeon General Koop’s letter is particularly interesting:
“As one concerned about the total well-being of the individual and one dedicated in helping people avoid impediments to their reaching their maximum potential in society, I cannot condone the use of public water supplies that may cause undesirable cosmetic effects to teeth, just as I cannot condone the use of water supplies below the optimum concentration because of a diminished protection against dental caries. Therefore, I encourage communities having water supplies with fluoride concentrations of over two times optimum to provide children up to age nine with water of optimum fluoride concentration to minimize the risk of their developing esthetically objectionable dental fluorosis.”
The office of the Surgeon General currently works to ensure that Americans do not get too much or too little fluoride in drinking water. The most recent effort was Surgeon General Vivek Murthy who lowered the recommended level for fluoridationin 2015, from a range of 0.7-1.2 mg/L dependent on regional temperature to a single level (0.7 mg/L) for the entire country.
A copy of the original Koop letter is available here.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Effie Greathouse for providing the excellent narration for this celebration of Dr. Koop’s letter.
Sewer Pipe, Water Pipe Death Spiral
July 30, 1894: New York TimesHeadline. Jersey City’s Foul Water; Sewage-Filled Passaic the Source of Its Supply. “Plenty of Good Drinking Water to be Had and Many Syndicates Ready to Furnish It — None, However, Has Influence Enough to Get a Contract — Tremendous Debt a Serious Obstacle, but Public Health Demands a Change. The people of this city are thoroughly satisfied that they have the worst drinking water to be found anywhere in the United States. This is no sudden conclusion of theirs. It is the result of a steady growth, born of an experience extending over eight or ten years.
When the Passaic River was first tapped as a source of supply, the water was pure. Dr. Chilton of New York and Prof. Horsford of Yale University, who made the analysis, pronounced it better than the water supplied to Philadelphia, New York, or Albany. But that was forty years ago, and the Passaic of 1854 was very different from the river of today.
Then the towns on its banks were merely hamlets. Paterson was only a village and Passaic and Belleville were mere dots on the map. None of them had any sewers to empty into the river, there were no factories along the banks to pollute the waters, and the fluid brought to Jersey City was limpid, clear and sparkling.
Paterson and Passaic are cities now, with extensive sewerage systems, and all the sewage of these two cities, with a population, probably, of 60,000, empties directly into the river. [Sewer Pipe, Water Pipe Death Spiral] In addition, there are many factories, mills, and dye works along the banks of the river, and all the refuse from these goes into the river along with the sewage, to further pollute the water.”
Commentary: The article goes on to catalogue the evils of the lower Passaic River as a source of supply. It would not be until 1899 that a contract was signed with Patrick H. Flynn to develop a new water supply 23 miles west of the city by building a dam on the Rockaway River forming Boonton Reservoir. It was to this water supply that Dr. John L. Leal added chlorine for the first time to disinfect drinking water for consumers. The story forms the basis for my book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, which was published in 2013. The Sewer Pipe, Water Pipe Death Spiral was developed for the book and succinctly describes the water contamination problems of the late 19thcentury.