Tag Archives: The Chlorine Revolution

May 22, 1854: Birth of Leonard P. Kinnicutt

May 22, 1854: Birth of Leonard P. Kinnicutt. In 1909, Leonard P. Kinnicutt was Professor of chemistry and director of the chemical laboratory at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1875 from MIT and spent several years in Germany studying under well-known chemists including Professor Bunsen. He completed his Doctor of Science degree at Harvard in 1882. Despite the title of his position and his education, he identified himself as a water bacteriologist. He was experienced in bacteriological analysis of water supplies and he studied sewage disposal for a number of cities.

In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment (except for detention and sedimentation fostered by Boonton Reservoir) was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract.

In 1909, Kinnicutt testified as an expert for the defendants in the second trial. He stated that chlorine was safe, effective and reliable. He was recruited by a letter from Dr. John L. Leal in the summer of 1908. Sadly, he also died only two years after his participation in this case.

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

May 13, 1899: NY Times Articles on Sanitary Engineering Books; 1973: Hazardous Drinking Water

Turn of the 20th Century Sanitary Engineering Books

May 13, 1899: An extraordinary article in the New York Times by J. James R. Croes summarized and reviewed books and periodicals on “The Latest and Best in Current Literature–Sanitary Engineering Books.” The article listed the important sanitary engineering books that had been published up to that date, including: A Treatise on Water Supply and Hydraulic Engineering by John T. Fanning; Elements of Water Supply Engineering, E. Sherman Gould; The Filtration of River Water, James P. Kirkwood; Water Supply , Considered Principally from a Sanitary Standpoint, William P. Mason; Examination of Water, William P. Mason; The Purification of Public Water Supplies, John W. Hill; The Filtration of Public Water Supplies, Allen Hazen; The Microscopical Examinations of Potable Water, George C. Whipple; The Venturi Water Meter,” Clemens Herschel (Cassler’s Magaine).

Commentary: I used this article to begin collecting the references I would need to write, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, which has now been published by the American Water Works Association. These wonderful and, in some cases, outmoded books are sitting on my bookshelves along with other rare books from that era.

May 13, 1973: New York Times headline–Impure Tap Water a Growing Hazard to the Health of Millions across the U.S. The article listed problems with drinking water across the country and summarized legislation in the U.S. Congress that ultimately became know as the Safe Drinking Water Act. The article claimed that only 15 states were adhering to the 1962 U.S. Public Health Service Drinking Water Standards which were originally set to regulate drinking water used on interstate carriers. Other conditions included:

Only 15 states even purport to adhere precisely to U.S. Public Health Service drinking water standards.

Some 23 million people are probably drinking substandard water regularly from public water systems.

At least eight million people are getting what Federal officials call “potentially dangerous” water.

Upwards of 500,000 people are currently supplied water that the Federal Government has banned from interstate commerce as hazardous.

Over half of the nation’s water systems are deficient, in Federal officials’ judgment, in facilities, operations or competent personnel.

Commentary: This story and many others like it were part of the drumbeat that led to the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

March 24, 1909: Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie, NY

March 24, 1909: Municipal Journal and Engineer article. Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie. “Sedimentation is ineffective because there is nothing to be precipitated, coagulation is ineffective because there is nothing for the coagulant to attack, the efficiency of the filters is not as good at this season of the year, so disinfection is being tried. So far the results have been marvelous.

By the simple adding of the disinfectant (chloride of lime) to the raw water, as if by magic the purification is complete. The hypochlorite is added in the pump and the water then passes through the sedimentation basin. The last bacteriological result shows a reduction from 17,500 to 100. The filters continue to assist in the purification, but there is no necessity for careful regulation.

At present we are adding the disinfectant at the rate of one-half part of free chlorine per million, which figures about 36 pounds of hypochlorite per day for our consumption. There is absolutely no taste or trace of the chlorine in the filtered water, the process is simple, safe and complete. The expense at our present rate is 75 cents per day, where it has been as high as $10 for alum.

The suggestion that this disinfectant method be followed came to us from Mr. George C. Whipple, of New York City. The accompanying cut shows the general layout of the purification plant. The water takes the following procedure: It is pumped from the river into the inlet end of the sedimentation basin, a total lift of about 50 feet; the water then passes through the basin and out at the outlet end, thence by pipe line into the intermediate basin from which it is distributed to each one of the filters. From the filters the water passes to the clear water well and thence back to the station, where another set of pumps sends it to the College Hill distributing reservoir.

The disinfectant is being added from the coagulant basin, which is situated between the laboratory and station, inasmuch as the coagulant use has ceased until more turbid water arrives. Then the alum will be used in small quantities and the disinfectant added at the inlet end of the sedimentation basin.”

Reference: Harding, Robert J. 1909. “Disinfecting Water at Poughkeepsie.” Municipal Journal and Engineer. 26:12(March 24, 1909): 484.

Commentary: Chlorination began on March 17, 1909, as noted in a post on this blog. Poughkeepsie was the third documented use of chlorine for drinking water disinfection in the U.S. as noted in the book The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives.

March 21, 1912: Philadelphia Filters Overtaxed

Plan of Belmont Filter Plant 1903; phillyh2o.org

March 21, 1912: Municipal Journal article. Unusual Conditions Overtax Filtration Plant. “Philadelphia, Pa.-Conditions of the water supply continue such that Director Neff persists in his warning that householders should continue to boil water for at least two weeks. This applies particularly to West Philadelphia, where the raw supply from the Schuylkill river went to the Belmont [slow sand] filter beds in such condition that the filters were incapable of extracting the bacteria as completely as would be possible under conditions that are normal. The recent heavy rains which scoured the hills and streams of the accumulation of all substances during the winter and sent it down the Schuylkill, produced such a condition as the city has not had to contend with since scientific treatment of the water supply was undertaken. While the water is clearing the danger will not have entirely passed for two weeks. The question of the use of chemicals in the West Philadelphia supply has been taken up. For two years chloride of lime has been utilized in the treatment of the supply filtered by the Torresdale plant, as a safeguard in destroying the bacteria. The advisability of providing some additional safeguard under such unusual emergencies as the present, when the water supplies of many cities are in practically the same condition as that of this city is now engaging the attention of Directors Neff, of Health and Charities, Cooke, of Public Works, and Chief Dunlap, of the Water Bureau.”

References: “Unusual Conditions Overtax Filtration Plant.” 1912. Municipal Journal article 32:12(March 21, 1912): 452.

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

Commentary: Boil water order for two weeks? Even after more than three years since the first introduction of chlorine into the Jersey City water supply, many cities were still reluctant to adopt the new technology wholesale. It was incidents such as the one described in the article, which led to better designs of filter plants (mechanical filtration) and universal application of chlorination.

Manual Cleaning of Belmont Slow Sand Filter Beds, 1905; phillyh2o.org

March 17, 1909: Chlorination at Poughkeepsie, NY

March 17, 1909: Drinking water chlorination begun at Poughkeepsie, New York. Chlorine was tested at the Poughkeepsie, New York filter plant in early February 1909 but the application of chlorine on a permanent basis at Poughkeepsie did not begin until March 17, 1909. Therefore, the Poughkeepsie water supply was the third example of chlorine disinfection in the U.S. and the first time that chlorine was used as an adjunct to slow sand filtration. George C. Whipple suggested the third application of chlorine to a water supply in a report to the City. As noted in The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives, Whipple was on the opposite side from Dr. John L. Leal in the two Jersey City trials. Poughkeepsie, NY is a medium-sized city that is located on the Hudson River about 70 miles north of New York City.

Whipple recommended that the coagulant preceding the slow sand filter at Poughkeepsie be replaced with chloride of lime, which began as a test on February 1, 1909. On March 17, 1909, continuous chlorination was begun using a permanent chemical feeding apparatus.

March 15, 1813: Birth of Dr. John Snow

Dr. John Snow

March 15, 1813: Birth of 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.

Commentary: In 2013, we had a great time celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth.

March 2, 1866: Birth of George C. Whipple

George C. Whipple

George C. Whipple

March 2, 1866: George C. Whipple is born. “George Chandler Whipple (1866–1924) was a civil engineer and an expert in the field of sanitary microbiology. His career extended from 1889 to 1924 and he is best known as a cofounder of the Harvard School of Public Health. Whipple published some of the most important books in the early history of public health and applied microbiology. . . .In 1899, Jersey City, New Jersey contracted for the construction of a new water supply on the Rockaway River, which was 23 miles west of the City. The water supply included a dam, reservoir and 23-mile pipeline and was completed on May 4, 1904. As was common during this time period, no treatment of any kind was provided to the water supply. City officials were not pleased with the project as delivered by the private water company and filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court of New Jersey. Among the many complaints by Jersey City officials was the contention that the water served to the City was not “pure and wholesome” as required by the contract. Whipple testified as an expert witness for the plaintiff in both trials.”

Commentary: George C. Whipple was a very interesting person. I had the opportunity to go through a small part of the archive that he left to Harvard University while researching my book, The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives. I swear that he saved every last piece of paper that he ever touched in his career. It is a fascinating look into the mind of a turn-of-the-century expert in drinking water treatment. Even though he was trained as a civil engineer, he made some of the most important early advances in microscopy and the ecology of lakes and rivers. He invented the Secchi disk that we use today. The original Secchi disk was all white. He created the disk with quadrants that were alternating black and white. Any civil engineer will recognize that arrangement as the same one found on a land surveying target marker. He was one of the first researchers to identify taste and odor problems in water as directly related to the presence of certain algae species. Check out the full biography that I wrote about him on Wikipedia