Tag Archives: water history

November 15, 1910: New York Abolishes Common Cup

November 15, 1910New York Times headline—Would Abolish Common Cup. “Albany, Nov. 15—“There is no excuse for a public drinking cup, on the train or anywhere else, now that penny-in-the-slot machines serve out paper cups and that metal collapsible cups can be purchased for a dime,” says a circular sent out by the State Department of Health. The Health Department is co-operating with the railroads to do away with the public drinking cup on trains and in railroad stations. It is stated that there is great possibility of the transmission of disease by the use of the common drinking cup….”

CommentaryOn October 30, 2012, we observed the 100th anniversary of the first drinking water regulation, which was adopted by the U.S. Treasury Department that prohibited the use of the common drinking cup on interstate carriers. Individual states like New York and Kansas led the way by raising awareness of this serious public health problem. Seven articles in my blog safedrinkingwaterdotcom provided a countdown to the anniversary date.

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November 12, 1881: Paterson, NJ Water Supply; 1732: Pitot Tube Invention

Great Falls at Paterson, New Jersey

November 12, 1881: Article in Engineering News—The History and Statistics of American Water-Works. “Paterson, New Jersey, is on the Passaic River, about 16 miles NW of New York City, at the point where the river breaks through the great trap-dyke called the Watchung or Orange Mountain, and falls 80 ft. The water power afforded by this fall with a water-shed of 855 square miles above it, was purchased in 1791 ‘by the Society for the Encouragement of Useful Manufactures,’ and is still controlled by them. A dam across the river a short distance above the falls diverts the water into a canal, from which it is drawn to furnish power to 13 manufacturing establishments.

Water-works were built in 1856 by a private company, taking the supply from the river at the edge of the falls and below the Society’s dam. The surplus flow of the river passing over the dam was used for power and for supply. A turbine wheel was placed in a rift in the face of the falls, which, being erected over the masonry made a tail race. The wheel drove a piston pump which forced the water into a small reservoir on an eminence in the city. As the consumption increased, the amount of water in the river which was not used for mill purposes was insufficient for motive power and supply, notwithstanding the erection by the company of a small stone dam along the face of the falls, making a little pool for storage below the Society’s dam. In 1878, a Worthington high-pressure engine and pump of 8,000,000 gallons’ capacity were erected. The original pumps driven by water force have been replaced by others. There are now two horizontal pumps with a combined capacity of 14,000,000 gallons per day, and one with 2,000,000 capacity. There are three reservoirs, built in excavation and embankment, supplying different levels of the city. Their capacities are, respectively, 8, 8, and 2,000,000 gallons.”

Reference: Croes, J. James. “The History and Statistics of American Water-Works.” Engineering News. 8 (November 12, 1881): 459.

CommentaryThe water supply for Paterson figures prominently in my book, The Chlorine Revolution, which was published in April 2013. Dr. John L. Leal was the Public Health Officer for Paterson from 1890 to 1899 and he was responsible for the safety of this water supply. In 1899 because of increasing contamination of the Passaic River, the water supply withdrawal point was moved 5 miles upstream to Little Falls.

Different Early Versions of the Pitot Tube

November 12, 1732Today in Science History. “In 1732, Henri Pitot read a paper to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris about an instrument he had invented to measure the flow velocity at different depths of water in the River Seine. It had a scale and two open vertical glass tubes on a wood frame. The lower end of one pointed down, the other bent at 90º facing the flow. The belief of the time was that flow velocity at a given depth was proportional to the mass above it, meaning increasing velocity at greater depth. Recording the difference in liquid levels in the two tubes, he showed the opposite was true. Henri Darcy improved the design, with the support of Henri Bazin.”

November 11, 1990: Underground Tanks in New York; 1991: Bottled Water Use in NYC

November 11, 1990New York Times headline–State Is Taking Action On Underground Tanks. “Through one of the strictest programs of its type in the country, the State Department of Environmental Protection has forced the replacement of 12,000 underground gasoline tanks that were leaking or were so old that they were in danger of leaking. Now the state is going after the 350 to 400 old tanks it estimates are still in use, including some of its own.

‘In the last three years, more tanks have been replaced at gasoline stations in Connecticut than in the previous 30,’ said Charles S. Isenberg, executive vice president of the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association.

Unearthing the tanks has shown that more were leaking than the state anticipated — as many as 80 percent, compared with the expected one-third — said G. Scott Deshefy of the environmental agency’s underground-tank program.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s coordinator for Connecticut, Jonathan M. Walker, said the program has become a model for other states. Even in cases where the tanks are in good shape, he said, the inspections are revealing leaks from pipes.”

Scare tactics have been employed by unscrupulous individuals trying to sell bottled water.

November 11, 1991New York Times headline–It’s Wet, Free and Gets No Respect. “In the tea department of Fortnum & Mason, which has guided the palates of England for 300 years, a few rules must never be broken: drink only premium blends; keep air out of the canister, and brew your beverage with the finest water available — New York City’s if possible.

It may surprise the people who live in the city, having turned to bottled water in numbers that mystify even those who are paid to sell it, but New York’s tap water remains as good as it gets. Just ask an expert.

‘Naturally, there are many fine reasons to visit New York,’ said Eugene Hayes, director of the tea department at Fortnum & Mason in London, which among its dozens of specialty offerings carries a dark Ceylon brand called New York Blend. ‘But I would have to say one of the best is the water.’

For generations, New Yorkers rejoiced in the high quality of their drinking water, which runs swiftly and practically untouched to their faucets from the peaks of the Catskills 100 miles away. But that trust has disappeared during the last 10 years, eroded by an epidemic of nervousness that has left many people convinced that water with a label has to be better than water from a pipe.”

Commentary My how times have changed. Bottled water is given failing marks these days because of the cost and impact on the environment. Good old tap water gets high marks.

November 10, 1998: Death by Arsenic; 2000: First Issue of Safedrinkingwater.com NEWS Published

Leasions on hands and feet showing arsenic toxicity

November 10, 1998:  New York Times headline–Death by Arsenic: A Special Report.; New Bangladesh Disaster: Wells That Pump Poison. “Bangladesh is in the midst of what some experts say could be the biggest mass poisoning in history. Dangerous levels of arsenic have been found in the ground water, entering millions of people sip by sip as they drink from a vast system of tube wells. Most of these hand-operated pumps are 10 to 20 years old, about the same period it takes the arsenic to do its lethal work, killing with one of several cancers.

The unfolding crisis is the unintended consequence of a colossally successful safe-water program. For 25 years, the Government along with Unicef and other aid groups have weaned villagers from disease-carrying pond water and helped them to sink pipes into underground aquifers. Overlooked was the naturally occurring arsenic that tainted these subterranean sources.”

Commentary:  Calling this program “colossally successful” is a tragedy and wrong. In the future, this program will be viewed as one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters and failures of public policy.

sdw.com NEWS Logo

November 10, 2000:  First issue of Safedrinkingwater.com NEWS–a weekly newsletter devoted to media stories about drinking water quality that was published by McGuire Environmental Consultants, Inc. and sent by email to its more than 6000 subscribers. Our intent was clear:  “Our intent is to make this newsletter the best and first source of news and information for drinking water quality professionals, with a combination of timely articles and incisive commentary from the leading observers in the industry.” In this first issue we reported on development of the arsenic regulation and hexavalent chromium issues in southern California.

November 9, 1974: USEPA Orders Study of Chemical Contaminants; 1992: TTHM Stakeholder Meeting; 1889: Johnstown Flood

Mississippi River Basin

November 9, 1974New York Times headline–E.P.A. Orders a National Study of Chemical Contaminants in Drinking Water. “The Environmental Protection Agency ordered today an immediate nationwide study of chemical contaminants in drinking water after an agency study showed that 66 chemicals were present in Mississippi River water used by New Orleans and nearby communities. Some of the 66 chemicals had already been identified as potential causes of cancer or harmful in other ways.”

Commentary:  Finding 66 organic chemicals in a water supply occurred at about the same time as a three-part article published in the popular magazine Consumer Reports that discussed the failings of water treatment plants in the U.S. Also presented at this time was a study by the Environmental Defense Fund that alleged the correlation of cancer deaths with use of surface water supplied water from the Mississippi River.  These events put tremendous pressure on the U.S. Congress, which responded by passing the Safe Drinking Water Act later in 1974.  These studies also initiated the concern with trace organic compounds in drinking water. One of the consequences of these concerns is a bottled water industry in the U.S. with sales of about $15 billion per year.

November 9, 1992: First meeting of stakeholders interested in discussing revisions to the federal Total Trihalomethane and Surface Water Treatment regulations.  This informational meeting led to the establishment of a negotiating committee under the Regulatory Negotiation rules of the USEPA.  The Reg Neg Committee created two documents called Agreements in Principle which led to five drinking water regulations:  Information Collection Rule, Stage 1 Disinfectants/Disinfection By-Products Rule and the Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Regulation, Stage 2 Disinfectants/Disinfection By-Products Rule and the Long-Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Regulation.

Devastation from the Johnstown Flood

November 9, 1889: Article from The Engineering and Building Record—The Johnstown Water-Works and the Flood. The Great Flood of 1889 devastated the city of Johnstown, PA on May 31, 1889. This account describes the devastation of the water works in that city. “In the city every fire hydrant in the course of the flood was broken off; some down at the joint and others broken at the pavement line—the upper part being carried away, leaving the stem and a strong flow of water as a mark to show where the hydrant stood. The work of replacing these was begun the day after the flood as it was imperatively necessary to protect from fire the ruins, under which lay so many bodies. Night and day the work went on. The difficulty attending it may be realized from the fact that not a tool was left to work with. A hastily improvised blacksmith shop furnished tools, such as they were. Lead was procured from the wrecked buildings in the shape of pipe and window weights. Then came the fear of a water famine. Every house, moved from its place, left an open supply-pipe. Men were started out to close them. To reach the curb stops was impossible, so that plugging and battering the pipes was all that could be done. This work was a difficult task and necessitated many a perilous trip beneath the wreck. The supply was never shut off from the city. The office being totally destroyed, all maps of the lines were lost, and nothing but memory could be depended on to locate gates and shut-offs.”

Reference: “The Johnstown Water-Works and the Flood.” The Engineering and Building Record. 20:24 (November 9, 1889): 336.

November 7, 1900: Fishy Oysters; 1985: College Bans Water

November 7, 1900New York Times headline—Fishy Oysters. London—“The Medical Officer of Health for Folkestone has reported that, having reason to suspect that a case of illness there arose from the consumption of oysters, he sent a sample for bacteriological examination to the Clinical Research Association. Although the analysis did not reveal bacillus typhi, it proved that in the shells, and also in the oysters themselves, there was bacillus coli communis, a bacillus found in sewage.”

November 7, 1985New York Times headline–College Bans Suspect Water.  Dartmouth, Mass.—“Southeastern Massachusetts University has ordered a ban on drinking the water on campus, suspecting that the water caused students and staff members to become ill, officials said. More than 300 people have suffered stomach cramps and vomiting in the last week. The ban took effect Monday night.”

CommentaryIn 1900, public health officials were getting comfortable using the new science of bacteriology. The unique genius of Dr. Robert Koch and his colleagues created new tools to assess the sanitary quality of food (like oysters) and water. These tools were being used on both sides of the Atlantic. Bacillus coli communis (also called B. coli) was the early name for what we now call total coliforms. The tests were quite different then as compared to now. Gas production in dextrose broth was considered a presumptive positive result (as opposed to using lactose broth). However, the story on this same date in 1985 shows that we have a ways to go. Failures in multi-barrier protection can result in disease and death even in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

November 6, 1893: Cholera Kills Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky’s Tomb

November 6, 1893: Death of Tchaikovsky. “On 6 November 1893, nine days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died in Saint Petersburg, at the age of 53. The official cause of death was reported to be cholera, most probably contracted through drinking contaminated water several days earlier. This explanation was accepted by many biographers of the composer. However, even at the time of Tchaikovsky’s death, there were many questions about this diagnosis.

The timeline between Tchaikovsky’s drinking unboiled water and the emergence of symptoms was brought into question. So was the possibility of the composer’s procuring unboiled water in the midst of a cholera epidemic with strict health regulations in effect. Also, while cholera actually attacked all levels of Russian society, it was considered a disease of the lower classes. The resulting stigma from such a demise for as famous a personage as Tchaikovsky was considerable, to the point where its possibility was inconceivable for many people. The accuracy of the medical reports from the two physicians who had treated Tchaikovsky was questioned. The handling of Tchaikovsky’s corpse was also scrutinized as it was reportedly not in accordance with official regulations for victims of cholera.”