Tag Archives: typhoid fever

September 26, 1994: Tucson Shuts off CAP Supply; 1908: First Chlorine Use in US; 1855: Handle Put Back on Broad Street Pump

September 26, 1994:  Tucson Shuts off Direct Delivery of Central Arizona Project Water Supply.Corrosive water destroying pipes in a major American city preceded the events in Flint, Michigan by over two decades. On November 4, 1992, the water department for Tucson, Arizona, (Tucson Water or TW) began delivery of a new water supply: treated surface water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP)—primarily Colorado River water. Putting treated CAP water into the TW distribution system caused a corrosion problem that resulted in colored water (e.g., rusty, red, orange, yellow and brown) flowing from customer taps. Tucson’s introduction of CAP water is a story of mistakes committed at all levels of the utility and by the Tucson City Council.

Technical mistakes included not preparing the distribution system to receive a more complex surface water supply. TW was a groundwater utility that relied on about 200 wells distributed throughout the system. Recognizing their lack of experience with treating surface water, they hired treatment plant operators from other utilities to run the new $80 million leading-edge-technology treatment plant. Unfortunately, the same level of focus and preparation was not applied to the aging distribution system, which received, literally overnight, a chloraminated supply to half its customers from a single point of entry.

One of the biggest mistakes was not testing the impact of treated CAP water on corroded galvanized steel pipes. There were about 200 miles of this 2-inch substandard pipe in the system. When treated CAP water hit these pipes, the iron corrosion deposits inside the pipes were stripped away causing colored water, taste and odor problems, and damage to home plumbing, appliances and property due to flooding.

There was a rush to deliver CAP water and to hold down costs to the detriment of needed studies, which would have shown that raising the treated water pH for corrosion control was the proper approach.

Also high on the list of pre-delivery problems was a lack of political will to replace the substandard galvanized and reline the old cast iron street mains. The presence of these substandard pipes made the TW distribution system ripe for a catastrophic corrosion problem due to unsound corrosion control practices.

Delivery of CAP water was terminated on September 26, 1994, because of the inability of TW to control the colored water problem and the resulting political uproar. The $80 million treatment plant was shut down and has not been used since.

After a series of management resignations and firings over several years, Tucson hired David Modeer as the Director of TW. Modeer and his management team put the utility on the road to recovery. Along with a carefully planned technical program to select the correct corrosion treatment and deal with the taste and odor problems, an innovative public information campaign that also included a public apology for the CAP debacle, began to restore the credibility of TW. Customers were invited to actively participate in determining the future use, treatment and quality of CAP water via such methods as consumer preference research and participation in an extensive bottled water program. 

After the voters defeated a proposition in 1999 that would have severely limited the ability to use CAP water in the future, TW completed an aquifer storage and recovery project in the nearby Avra Valley. The Central Avra Valley Storage and Recovery Project (CAVSARP) allowed the utility to fully use its CAP allotment and serve a recovered groundwater/recharged CAP water mix that was accepted by TW customers. Tucson Water turned around a disaster into a singular success. Because of its ability to conjunctively use CAP water and groundwater, Tucson is now one of the more drought-resistant communities in the Southwest.

Commentary:  At this writing, Marie Pearthree and I are very close to finishing a first draft of a book about what happened in Tucson before, during and after the corrosion problem doomed their new water supply, entitled:  Tucson Water Turnaround:  Debacle to Success. A wealth of material has revealed previously unknown information related to TW’s problems. The results of these efforts are much-needed lessons for water utilities on how to avoid TW’s mistakes and how to successfully introduce a new water supply. We will be giving papers on what we have found during our research at several venues in 2017 and 2018. Watch @CaptDocMike on Twitter for presentation times, dates and locations.

Building on the right housed the chloride of lime feed facility at Boonton Reservoir

September 26, 1908:  110thanniversary of the first day of operation of the chlorination facility at Boonton Reservoir for Jersey City, NJ.  This was the first continuous use of chlorine in the U.S. for drinking water disinfection.

In the field of water supply, there were big moves afoot in the state of New Jersey at the turn of the 20th century. Jersey City had suffered with a contaminated water supply for decades causing tens of thousands of deaths from typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. In 1899, the City contracted with the Jersey City Water Supply Company to build a dam on the Rockaway River and provide a new water supply. The dam created Boonton Reservoir, which had a storage capacity of over seven billion gallons. One of the company’s employees, Dr. John L. Leal, would have an enormous impact on this water supply and the history of water treatment. Leal was a physician, public health professional and water quality expert. Leal’s job with the company was to remove sources of contamination in the Rockaway River watershed above the reservoir. Water from the project was served to the City beginning on May 23, 1904.

When it came time for Jersey City to pay the company for the new water supply, they balked. The price tag was steep—over $175 million in current dollars. Using newly developed bacteriological methods, consultants for the City claimed that the water was not “pure and wholesome,” and they filed suit against the company to get a reduced purchase price. The trial that resulted pitted the water quality experts of the day against one another in a battle of expert witnesses.

The opinion of the judge was published on May 1, 1909. In that opinion, Vice Chancellor Frederic W. Stevens said that Boonton Reservoir did a good job on average of reducing the bacteria concentrations in the water provided. However, he noted that two to three times per year, especially after intense rainstorms, the reservoir short-circuited and relatively high bacteria levels resulted.

Rather than build expensive sewers that would deal with only part of the bacteria contamination problem (an early recognition of non-point source pollution) Leal and the company attorney argued to install “other plans or devices” that would do a better job. The judge agreed and gave them a little over three months to prove their idea. Leal had decided in May 1908 that it was time to add a chemical disinfectant to drinking water. He was all too familiar with the suffering and death caused by typhoid fever and diarrheal diseases. He knew of some successful instances of using forms of chlorine in Europe, but nothing had been attempted in the U.S. on such a large-scale basis.

Leal was convinced that adding a disinfectant to the Jersey City water supply was the best course. He had done laboratory studies that convinced him that a fraction of a ppm of chlorine would kill disease-causing bacteria. In the face of the certain disapproval of his peers and possible condemnation by the public, he moved forward.

However, no chlorine feed system treating 40 million gallons per day had ever been designed or built and if the feed system failed to operate reliably, all of the courage of his convictions would not have amounted to much. He needed the best engineer in the country to do the work. He needed George Warren Fuller. In 1908, Fuller was famous for his work in filtration. He had designed an aluminum sulfate feed system treating 30 million gallons per day for the Little Falls treatment plant. On July 19, 1908, Leal left his attorney’s office in Jersey City and took the ferry to Manhattan. In Fuller’s office at 170 Broadway, he hired the famous engineer (undoubtedly on the basis of a handshake) and told him that the bad news was that he needed the work done in a little over three months.

Ninety-nine days later, the chlorine feed system was built and operational. Calcium hypochlorite (known then as chloride of lime or bleaching powder) was made into a concentrated solution, diluted with water and fed through a calibrated orifice to the water before it traveled by gravity to Jersey City. The feed system worked flawlessly from day one and continued to operate successfully for all of the following days. Liquid chlorine eventually replaced chloride of lime, but September 26, 2013, marks the 105th anniversary of the first continuous use of chlorine on a water supply—the longest period of water disinfection anywhere in the world.

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

Broadwick (formerly Broad) Street showing the John Snow memorial and public house

September 26, 1855:  The St. James Board of Commissioners of Paving voted 10 to 2 to reopen the Broad Street pump at the urging of local residents.  Dr. John Snow had prevailed upon them a year earlier to remove the pump handle after he presented his evidence that cholera deaths were geographically clustered around the well site.

Reference: Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Howard Brody, Nigel Paneth, Stephen Rachman and Michael Rip. Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine. New York:Oxford University, 2003, 310.

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September 18, 1985: Mineral Water from Georgia; 1981: Valley of the Drums

September 18, 1985New York Times headline–Mineral Water From Georgia Being Bottled. Mineral-rich water from a spring that was once known for its supposed curative powers is being bottled for sale again for the first time in almost 50 years.

Water flowing beneath the 750 million-year-old granite formation underlying much of metropolitan Atlanta picks up minute amounts of salt, potassium, magnesium and lithium, a rare light metal that gave Lithia Springs its name and its reputation. Lithium, a potentially dangerous substance in large doses, is used in the treatment of manic depression.

In the late 1800′s and early 1900′s, tourists and invalids flocked to Lithia Springs, a small city 20 miles west of Atlanta, to drink and bathe in the mineral water. A Congress of Physicians was held there in 1887, which recommended the salty-tasting water for dozens of ailments including kidney stones, typhoid fever, eczema, nervous prostration, and ”diseases of delicate women.” [Typhoid fever?  Really?]

September 18, 1981USEPA Press Release–”An expenditure of $400,000 will be made from the new Superfund for emergency cleanup work at Kentucky’s top priority hazardous waste site–the Valley of the Drums, near Louisville. Anne M. Gorsuch, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said today EPA will spend the money to pay for removal of about 1,500 drums containing chemical waste to reduce the possibility of fire.

The Valley of the Drums drew national attention in 1979 as one of the country’s worst abandoned hazardous waste sites. Thousands of drums–accumulated over a 10-year period–were strewn in pits and trenches over a 23-acre site in Bullitt County. The drums of the site scheduled for cleanup are deteriorating quickly. When it rains, they overflow and leak into Wilson Creek, a tributary of the Ohio River. They contain such chemicals as benzene, toluene and methylmethacrylate.”

September 12, 1909: Typhoid Fever in Seattle

Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition

September 12, 1909:  Seattle health officials reported an outbreak of typhoid fever, later associated with the contamination of drinking water at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition, on the campus of the University of Washington. Officials were not able to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak. By the end of 1909, 511 people–including about 200 A-Y-P visitors–were sickened by the disease, and 61 died.

August 25, 1909: Waverly, Kansas Typhoid Fever Outbreak

August 25, 1909:  Municipal Journal and Engineerarticle. Surface Water in Reservoir Causes Typhoid. “Waverly, Kan.-Professor Hoad, Engineer of the State Board of Health, who is investigating the sanitary condition of Kansas towns, says the worst place he has seen for many days is Waverly. The town has a population of about 500 or more people, and for the last two years typhoid fever has been practically continuous. Professor Hoad said that he and Dr. Crumbine, Secretary of the Board, had studied carefully all the probable causes, eliminating them one by one-even Dr. Crumbine’s fly-until finally it was narrowed down to the city water. The city gets its water from a large well or small reservoir, and this had been continually polluted by surface washings. Professor Hoad made the statement that if at the present time the same per cent of cases to the number of population existed in Topeka as now exist in Waverly there would be about 550 cases of typhoid in Topeka. He and Dr. Crumbine appeared before the City Council and ordered them to cement the outside of the wall, which is to be raised three feet. Then the water is to be pumped out and the inside of the wall plastered, after which the well is to be thoroughly disinfected. When this is done Professor Hoad will inspect the work and make a test of the water.”

Commentary:  Dr. Crumbine is the same public health professional who championed the banning of the common cup in Kansas and was instrumental in getting it banned on interstate carriers by federal regulation.

August 21, 1939: Manteno State Hospital Typhoid Epidemic; 2003: Anthony Andrews Water Intoxication

Old people were dumped at the hospital by their families

August 21, 1939:  Manteno State Hospital TyphoidEpidemic.A report written by the Illinois Department of Public Health “is concerned with various public-health aspects of an epidemic of typhoid fever which occurred in a State hospital for the mentally ill at Manteno, Illinois, in 1939, involving 453 cases  and resulting in 60 deaths. Although the epidemic began early in August, and continued into October, the material incorporated in the report was gathered, for the most part, subsequent to August 21, and the report covers  a period of several months after the subsidence of the epidemic…

A Department of Public Health sanitary engineer arrived at the institution on August 21 and proceeded with preliminary surveys on sanitary conditions at the institution. A Department of Public Health physician and a bacteriologist also arrived at the institution on August 21, and from that date through the remainder of the epidemic representatives of the Department of Public Health were present at the institution at all times. It soon became evident that a thorough and complete investigation of the cause of the epidemic, and the development and execution of measures to control it, would require the services of many persons experienced in public-health work…

Old People were dumped at the hospital by their families

As a result of these investigations, it appears that there was not only an outright leakage of sewage from the sanitary sewers into the creviced limestone, but also that this sewage seeped through the limestone and found its way into the wells which supplied the institution with water. Up until August 19, the water from these wells was pumped directly into the institution distribution system without treatment.”

Commentary:  Besides the tragedy of the typhoid fever epidemic, there were the additional tragedies of old people being dumped at the hospital after their families declined to care for them any longer. As far as I can tell, this was the last waterborne typhoid fever epidemic in the U.S. that resulted in multiple deaths. A later outbreak in a South Florida Labor Camp in January 1973 infected at least 173 people but no one died because of the improved medical care that was available at that time.

August 21, 2003:  Actor Anthony Andrews almost dies of water intoxication. The Telegrapharticle. My Battle with the Bottle. “Actors must expect their excessive drinking habits to be breakfast table gossip, especially if they become too intoxicated to perform. But the curious case of Anthony Andrews, whose addiction to water almost killed him, must rank as one of the more bizarre forms of theatrical unwellness.

In a way, it would have been more understandable if Andrews had knocked himself out of the cast of My Fair Lady on vodka. The role of Professor Henry Higgins is a demanding one, and we can all think of actors who’ve lubricated their performances on stronger cordials than rose hip syrup. Not for Andrews the predictability of a few weeks in rehab with anything as common as alcohol abuse. He ended up, comatose, in intensive care for three days, with the dubious distinction of having put water on the nation’s list of dangerous substances.

“In my naivety, I’d never have thought in a million years that I was running the risk of killing myself with water,” he says. “I can hardly believe I am saying it. I thought I was the healthiest person in the world.”

Andrews has to rely on other people for the full account of his recent near-death experience. He has no recollection of what happened after signing autographs at the stage door in the West End and collapsing into his car after the second Saturday performance of My Fair Lady at the end of June. When he came round, three days later, surrounded by his loved ones, the muscles of his face and neck were locked and he was dimly aware that no one could quite make sense of what he was saying. On top of everything else, he’d developed an allergy….

As temperatures soared during the midsummer run of My Fair Lady, Andrews’s three-litres-a-day habit increased to five or six litres as he struggled to refresh his vocal cords. Parched, he would rush back to his dressing room between songs and glug another half-litre. On days when there was a matinee as well as an evening performance, he probably got through eight litres of water – all the while assuming he was doing himself good.”

August 14, 1913: Sewerage and Health

Typhoid Fever Death Rate and Sewer Construction in Louisville, KY

August 14, 1913: Municipal Journalarticle. Effect of Sewerage Upon Health. “Although nearly all intelligent people will to-day agree that there is great value in a comprehensive sewer system, it is not always easy to demonstrate in particular cases all the advantages gained by its installation. A system for the drainage of storm water in a city is not only a convenience but is a valuable asset because, by preventing damage from flooding in storms, it increases the value of property. In a system of sanitary sewers, the beneficial results are convenience in the disposal of household wastes, a saving in the expense of repeated emptying of cesspools, and above all the resulting improvement in the public health. It has not always been possible to establish and define the relation existing between the prevalence of disease and the degree of sewerage in any community, even by those whose confidence has been greatest in the existence of an intimate relation. It is of the greatest importance, however, that the value of all agencies affecting the public health should be well understood, particularly by those in whose hands have been entrusted the responsibility of the government.

For years typhoid fever has been considered a preventable disease, and on this account the degree of its prevalence indicates the efficiency of a community in guarding the welfare of its own inhabitants. It is well known that this disease is caused by the typhoid bacillus which, under the favorable environment within the human body, multiplies rapidly and is cast off in countless numbers from the alimentary canal and kidneys. It is a function of the sewer system to convey the waste products containing these germs from the patient to a point of disposal where they can do no harm. Should they be carried to any stream or body of water without treatment to be drawn into a water supply or to infect shellfish growing therein, an epidemic may result. The infection is too often communicated directly from a sick person to a well one. In the absence of an efficient sewer system, it might find its way, on account of unsanitary conditions, to milk cans or food supplies. If deposited in exposed privies, the infection might be washed over the surface or through underground channels to shallow wells, or it might be conveyed by flies to accessible food.”

Commentary:  Many authors tried to show that building sewers saved lives. However, the data was just not there. As I said in my book,The Chlorine Revolution, “It’s the Drinking Water Stupid.” The conquest of typhoid fever and other waterborne illnesses was not complete until the drinking water supply was protected with multiple barriers including filtration and chlorination. The graphic in this article shows that there was a lot of variation in the typhoid fever rate until a filtration plant was installed in 1909. After filtration was installed and operational, the death rate plummeted.

June 19, 1986: 1986 SDWA Amendments Became Law 1865: NYC Sanitary Survey;

June 19, 1986: June 19, 1986:  The 1986 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act became law.“The 1986 SDWA amendments required EPA to apply future NPDWRs to both community and non-transient non-community water systems when it evaluated and revised current regulations. The first case in which this was applied was the “Phase I” final rule, published on July 8, 1987. At that time NPDWRs were promulgated for certain synthetic volatile organic compounds and applied to non-transient non-community water systems as well as community water systems. This rulemaking also clarified that non-transient non-community water systems were not subject to MCLs that were promulgated before July 8, 1987. The 1986 amendments were signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on June 19, 1986.

In addition to requiring more contaminants to be regulated, the 1986 amendments included:

  • Well head protection
  • New monitoring for certain substances
  • Filtration for certain surface water systems
  • Disinfection for certain groundwater systems
  • Restriction on lead in solder and plumbing
  • More enforcement powers.”

Commentary:  The 1986 amendments arose out of Congress’s frustration with how slow EPA was adopting regulations under the original 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. The 1986 amendments were prescriptive in that the law told EPA what it had to do and set strict time limits for the requirements to be accomplished. One provision that was doomed from the start was the requirement for EPA to set 25 new maximum contaminant levels every three years. This problem would be fixed in the 1996 amendments.

Note the timing of these two blog posts. It took 101 years but some of the major problems identified in the sanitary survey of NYC were solved by drinking water legislation and regulation including the SDWA Amendments of 1986.

June 19, 1865New York Times Book Review—Report of the Council of Hygiene and Public Health of the Citizens’ Association of New York Upon the Sanitary Condition of the City. “At last we have a reliable report upon the social condition of New-York City; a report, moreover, that is no common one; no more compilation of statistical data, overpowering with figures and perplexing with misstatements. This is a book demanding and arresting attention; a live book; remarkable, not more for the extent of research and magnitude of labor involved in its preparation, than for the public spirit it represents and whereof it is the offspring….

The report before us, however, does not hinge on hearsay or repeat misrepresentations. Its facts are hard, palpable; its deductions convincing, its arguments unanswerable. They are the production not of an individual or a committee, but of an agency which may be called ubiquitous, since its operations penetrated every [part] of our city, and its personal scrutiny progressed, almost simultaneously, in every neighborhood. A retrospect of the actual labor performed by that agency would embrace the social and sanitary history of half a million of our people.”

Here is a 21stcentury analysis. “New York City Sanitary Surveyreports a death rate of 33 per thousand (compared to Philadelphia at 20 and London at 22). Public health had deteriorated to conditions like those of London two centuries earlier said Dr. John Griscom, who wrote the first sanitary report in 1844. The 1865 report shocked the city:  Domestic garbage, filth and the refuse of bedrooms of those sick with typhoid fever, scarlet fever and smallpox is frequently thrown into the streets, there to contaminate the air, and no doubt aid in the spread of these pestilential diseases. Some 18,000 people are living in cellars below the high water mark. ‘At high tide the water often wells up through the floors, submerging them to a considerable depth. In very many cases, the vaults of privies (latrines) are situated on the same or a higher level, and their contents frequently ooze through the walls into the occupied apartments beside them.’ As a cholera epidemicsweeps the city, the mayor of NY refuses to call together the aldermen who constituted the old Board of Health, maintaining that they are more dangerous to the city than the disease itself.”