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and others in the Sacramento Valley, with not so much organization
of the contending parties, however; but with legal points on both
sides, and denial and assertion of facts in a way almost identical.

The objection urged that the waters were rendered unfit for drink-
ing purposes was answered by saying that they ought to be filtered,
and that all waters ought to be filtered before drinking, anyhow.
About this stage of the contention other towns and cities resorted to
filtering their water supplies, and supplying companies were forced
by legislative enactment to maintain filter beds in connection with
their works.

In the meantime the attention of scientific men had been secured,
and a store of systematically arranged facts was accumulating from
observation and experiment. The aid of chemistry had been invoked
and waters were subjected to chemical analysis with comparatively
satisfactory but sometimes startling results, for waters which had
been regarded as pure, and which were so to all appearance, taste,
and smell, were shown to be laden with organic matter of a character
calculated to develop the most deadly zymotic diseases under con-
ditions favorable for such development.

Some apparent cases of self-purification of streams were shown to
be delusive: the waters were clarified and deodorized but not purified
either of their organic impurities or inorganic elements not to be
desired in potable waters.

The next step towards the truth was the result of systematic studies
into the causes of apparent self-purification of river waters in some
instances, by which results the old theory of the oxidation of organic
matters by contact w^ith the air, and the consequent purification of
river waters, as heretofore stated, is shown to have been altogether in

It is now kno^\^l that, as a general thing, waters polluted by the
organic matter of sewage do not purify themselves within any limited
space of time or distance of flow, as has been supposed, and in no
material degree by the sole action of the oxygen contained in the
water or of the air above it.

It is certain that alleged cases of self-purification are only apparent
to the eye and sense of smell, and are not real; and it is contended
that if waters are dangerous to health they had better have the nox-
ious appearance and smell, and thus carry with them a warning of
their character, than be tempting to the eye or lulling in effect.

It is explained that the action of self -purification of rivers of organic
matter, found to take place in some cases, is due to the admixture
from tributary streams or springs along their banks, of other waters
having certain mineral substances (such as ferric oxide, copper, and


alumina) in solution, or to the action of certain clays, or to the min-
eral constituents of certain clays which compose their beds or banks;
and hence that such instances of self-puritication are due to peculiar
circumstances, which, being local and not generally distributed, estab-
lish the rule as against self-purification at all.

It is understood that the action of the soil of the banks or bed of a
stream in purifying its waters of organic matter, after awhile ceases,
and that in the meantime the soil itself has become foul and poisoned
to a degree that its effect upon the water, were it really purified above,
would be to reimpart a noxious organic matter to it in a considerable


The line of authorities in support of these general conclusions is
so very extended that any attempt to give a fair idea of them in a
hurriedly prepared paper as this one must be, would be futile; and
at the same time it should be remarked that opinions are not all one
way. A careful tracing of the subject, however, has led me to the
conclusions which I have given; and I believe that any one at all
competent to judge of scientific argument, acquainted with the
standing of the leading men Avho have appeared in it, and who will
laboriously trace the subject through the records of the original
authorities, will find them overwhelmingly in support of the propo-
sitions I have laid down, both as to bearing of facts and argument.

A few citations will show their general tone on this point of the
pollution of river waters :

The Rivers Pollution Commission.

Consequent upon the rapid deterioration in the quality of river
waters in England, and upon the growing opposition to the mingling
of sewage with them, in 1865, by authority of law, a Royal Commis-
sion was appointed to inquire into the subject.

Men of the very highest professional and scientific standing and
widest experience were appointed to the Board. Sir Robert Rawlin-
son. Past President of the Institution of Civil Engineers; John T.
Harrison, Esq., Member of the Institution, and of the Local Govern-
ment Board of the Kingdom, and Professor John T. Way, one of the
leading chemists of the country, being the members.

In the first report of this Board (pp. 18 to 22) is to be found a sum-
mary of the extended series of experiments upon the subject of
"self-purification of river waters," and it is conclusively shown that
the idea is a fallacy — that purification in any considerable degree,
except in very rare cases, does not take place. This report raised a
perfect storm of opposition supposed to be in the. interest of capital
interested in property and works that would have to be heavily taxed
if anj' change \vas made in the manner of disposing of sewage.

In 1868 the Queen commissioned a new set of members of the
Rivers Pollution Commission. These were Sir W. T. Denison, Colonel
in the Corps of Royal Engineers; Edward Frankland, Esq., one of
the most eminent chemists of the present age; and John C. Morton,
Esq., an eminent sanitarian.

This was a collection of eminent men charged, by the terms of
their commission, with the duty of "inquiring how far the present
use of rivers or running waters in England, for the purpose of carry-
ing off the sewage of towns and populous places, and the refuse aris-


ing from industrial processes and manufactures, can be jjrevented
without risk to the public health, or serious injury to such processes
and manufactures, and how far such sewage and refuse can be util-
ized and got rid of otherwise than by discharge into rivers or running
waters, or rendered harmless before reaching them," etc.

For the sake of brevity, I quote only from the sixth report of the
Commission, issued in 1874, it being the latest to hand at this day.

Under the head of ^^ Quality of Water from Different Sources," the
Commission say:

6. River water, usually in England, but less generally in Scotland, consists chiefly of the
drainage from land which is more or less cultivated. When it is further polluted by the
drainage of towns and inhabited places, or by the foul discharges from manufactories, its use
for drinking and cooking becomes fraught with great risk to health. A very large proportion
of the running waters of Great Britain are either at present thus dangerous, or are rapidly
becoming so. (Sixth Rept. Riv. Poll. Com., p. 425.)

Under the heading, "As to the Possibility of Rendering Polluted Water
again Wiolesome :"

1. When the sewage of towns or other polluting organic matter is discharged into running
water the suspended matters may be more or less perfectly removed by subsidence and filtra-
tion, but the foul organic matters in solution are very persistent. They oxidize very slowly,
and they are removed only to a slight extent by sand filtration. There is no river in the United
Kingdom long enough to secure the oxidation and destruction of any sewage which may be
discharged into it, even at its source. (Work cited, p. 427.)

And, finally, for the purpose of this special point in my subject, I
quote a paragraph found under the heading — "As to the Propagation
of Epidemic Diseases by Potable Water-'"

1. The existence of specific poisons capable of producing cholera and typhoid fever is attested
by evidence so abundant and strong as to be practically irresistible. These poisons are con-
tained in the discharges from the bowels of persons suffering from these diseases.

2. The admixture of even a small quantity of these infected discharges with a large volume
of drinking water is suflScient for the propagation of those diseases amongst persons using such

3. The most efficient artificial filtration leaves in water much invisible matter in suspension,
but constitutes no effective safeguard against the propagation of these epidemics by polluted
water. Boiling the infected water for half an hour is a probable means of destroying its power
of communicating these diseases. (Work cited, p. 427.)

The Metropolitan Water Supply Commission.

Another systematic examination of a portion of this subject was
conducted by a Royal Commission similarly authorized by law, known
as the " Water Supply Cortimission."

It was charged with an inciuiry into resources of the country to
meet the rapidly increasing demand for pure water for the use of the
great metropolitan towns and cities of the kingdom.

Composed of the (afterwards) President of Her Majesty's Privy
Council (the Duke of Richmond); the President of the- Institution of
Civil Engineers (Mr. T. E. Harrison); the late President of the Geo-
logical Society and Professor of Geology at Oxford (Mr. J. Prestwich);
and the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works (Sir J.
Thwaites), this Commission also ranks high as a scientific and prac-
tical authority. It had ample means at its disposal to employ the
men best suited to conduct the work of the investigation, and we
must accept its conclusions, which were that the great cities might
continue to derive water from the rivers; provided, that there was


supplied "perfect filtration and efficient measures for excluding the
sewage and other pollutions." (Bailey Denton, Lectures, p. 44.)

Experimental Work.

Scientifically and practically this subject has been quite thoroughly
investigated by the first experimentalists of England and France.
Here is a brief outline of points made in one line of discussion imme-
diately connected with it.

M. Pasteur.

M. Pasteur, a French chemist, whose professional standing is so high
that his researches are frequently spoken of as being classical, has
shown that even at a temperature of 30° C. the oxygen of the air has
but a trifling action on extremelj'^ changeable material, such as the
albuminoid matter in yeast water, or a solution of sugar. {A^males
de Chimie et de Physique, 3d series, Vol. LXIV, jjp. 85 and 36, also p. 71.)

This fact, of course, goes contrary to the old theory of the self -purifi-
cation of river waters of organic matter by the action of the oxygen
contained in them, etc.

The conclusions of Pasteur were taken up by other chemists and
observers and applied directly to the sewage disposal problem, and
there are a number of opinions, based on experiment, to show that
the organic matter of sewage is not oxidized upon being turned into
a river, but is precipitated to the bottom or carried in solution.

Dr. Tidy.

Those opposed to the conclusions of Pasteur and other authorities
have not been without support amongst scientific men, and it was
attempted to be shown that instances did exist where river waters
purified themselves of organic matter held by them, that such action
was due to the oxidation of such matter, and hence that all rivers
being subject to the same general influence of air, should so become

Dr. Tidy, speaking of the clarification of the waters of the river
Shannon, and loss of organic peaty matter in flowing short distances,
says that the quantity of organic matter (of peaty origin) is kept in
check by the following means, which are two, namely:

1. The inherent power that water possesses of self-purification from the oxidation of the peat
by the oxj'gen held in solution in the water. This process is enormously helped by certain
natural and physical conditions, whereby the more complete aeration of the water and the more
intimate contact between oxygen and the peat is effected.

2. Mechanical precipitation by admixture with coarse mineral suspended matter. {"Tidy on
River Water," Jour. Chem. Soc, Vol. XXXVII, p. 295.)

Frankland and Halcrow.

As offsetting this evidence of Dr. Tidy's, in favor of the self -purifi-
cation theory. Dr. Frankland and Miss Lucy Halcrow conducted a
series of experiments which "lead to the conclusion that if peaty
matter, dissolved in river water, is spontaneously oxidized at all (of
which they consider there is no sufficient proof), the process takes
place with exceeding slowness, and cannot be accomplished to any
considerable extent, in the flow of a river. The evidence proved the
fact that peaty matter is less oxidizable than animal matters under
the same conditions." (Halcrow and Frankland's tests of Tidy's con-
clusions, Jour, of the Chem. Soc, Vol. XXXVII, p. 506, Trans.)


Dr. Frankland, criticising Dr. Tidy's experiments, remarks that
''the apparently superior action that Dr. Tidy attributes to air acting
on" (the organic matter in) "running water" "is absent in the case"
of water falling elsewhere than in the river channel. ("On the spon-
taneous oxidation of organic matter in water," Work cited, p. 538.)

Dr. Frankland has shown "that a flow of between 11 and 13 miles of a stream polluted with
sewasfe has verv little effect on the organic matter dissolved iu the water even at a temperature
of 18° Cent."

And he has shown in the ease of the River Wear, flowing between Bishop Aukland and Dur-
ham, which has been quoted by Dr. Tidy in illustration of his theory of oxidation of sewage,
the purification is caused by an admixture of highlj' ferruginous waters, a fact which dftes not
appear in Dr. Tidy's quotation.*

The above is an illustration of the class of error into which some
scientific men have fallen in this field of investigation, and the subse-
quent exposure of such error by other investigations more thoroughly

But the investigation has been recently carried further, and evi-
dence is now at hand which seems to set aside the strongest argument
of those who have held to the old theory — the argument of facts
observed of the self-purification of peaty rivers.

Sartley and Kinahaii's Experiments.

Mr. Gerard A. Kinahan, Association Royal College of Science,
Dublin, by and with the advice and consultation of Prof. W. N.
Hartle}', F.R.S.E., has made a most satisfactory study:

First — Of the effect of thorough aeration on the organic peaty
matter in river waters.

Second — Of the cause of the natural clearing of the waters of some
peaty rivers and loss of organic matter. (See "Report on the clearing
of peaty ivaters" by Gerald A. Kinahan, second series, Vol. Ill, Proc.
Rov. Irish Academy, pp. 447, 596. Also, "The self-purification of peaty
rivers," by W. N. Hartley, F.R.S.E., Jour. Soc. of Arts, 1882.)

Aeration does not produce oridation.

Waters highly charged with organic peaty matter, which in their
natural courses were dashed to spray in falling several hundred feet
(360 in one instance and 700 in another) in rock-bound channels in
their natural course, being thus thoroughly aerated, were found, as
shown by analytical testing of the carbon, nitrogen, and ammonia
contained therein, to have lost no appreciable part of such organic

Prof. Hartley says of these results: "I consider the foregoing
analyses conclusive evidence that a peaty river cannot undergo the
slightest degree of purification from its organic constituents by the
natural process of aeration."

Mechanical Action.

The mechanical action of clay sand, pure quartzose sand, gelatin-
ous silica, and magnesia, in reducing the amount of organic peaty
matter by subsidence, was tested, but no reduction thereby could be

* "On the Self Purification of Peaty Rivers,''' by W. N. Hartley, F.R.S.K., Journal Society of Arts, 1883.


The same action of carbonate of lime, powdered chalk, and lime-
stone was found to be practically nothing, but the chemical action
was slightly apparent in reducing the amount of organic matter.

In the same mechanical way the effect of particles of clay of dif-
ferent kinds was tested and found to be nothing, while the action of
iron and alumina associated with these particles had some material
effect on the peat coloring* matter in causing the particles to adhere
to the particles of clay "as to a mordant."

Professor Hartley says of this series of experiments :

The results of the experiments with clay sand, pure quartzose sand, gelatinous silica, and
magnesia, prove that there is no decolorizing action on the peaty coloring matter which can be
described as mechanical.

Effect of Mineral Waters.

The effect of waters containing mineral matter in solution was
tested where a tributary from a mining district, whose waters were
highly charged with such mineral matters as ferric oxide, alumina,
and copper, mingled with the waters of a peaty river, and it was
found "that with the increase in mineral matter there was a marked
decrease in the organic peaty matter held in solution."

Effect of Low Temperature.

It was found that low temperatures caused the concentration of
peaty coloring matters towards the bottom of a vessel, and the clarifi-
cation of that above; but the action was very slight in producing a pre-
cipitation of the peaty matter in the form of an insoluble sediment.

Peaty streams are less highly colored in cold weather, because the
bogs are frozen and the waters run over, instead of percolating

Oxides, etc.

Commonly occurring forms of metallic hydroxides — such as alum-
inic hydroxide and ferric hydroxide — caused a rapid and efficient
precipitation of the coloring matter of peat waters, Avhile the oxides
of these waters were efficient, but much less rapid, in producing the
same effect.

Chemical Action of Clays.

The chemical action of several kinds of clays, or their mineral con-
stituents, in causing the precipitation of organic peaty matter from
river waters was found to be very marked and prompt.

Peaty waters running in their natural beds are shown to be clarified
by coming in contact with beds of blue clay, and by an admixture of
iron stained waters flowing into them from marshy spots on their
course — the iron " causing ochreous precipitations of peaty matter "
"on to the stones of the channel," and "the waters becoming beauti-
fully clear."

Professor Hartley says:

This is a true case of the self-purification of a river water by the action of a mineral constit-
uent contained in its bed and banks.

Finally, the observations of Mr. Kinahan, and work of Professor
Hartley, have shown that the diminution in organic peaty matter
observed and shown by Dr. Tidy to take place in the waters of the


Shannon, is not c<aused by oxidation consequent upon aeration; "but
is nothing more than the mixing of two waters followed by the pre-
cipitation of organic matter contained in one of them."

The results of the series of experiments undertaken by Professor
Hartley and Mr. Kinahan, although not altogether applicable to the
question of sewage pollution of river waters, when taken in connec-
tion with the outcome of the researches of Pasteur and of Frankland,
seem to upset the arguments of Dr. Tidy, who has been one of the
ablest defenders of the old theory of self-purification of river waters.

Mr. Folkard.

One of the very latest writers on this subject is Mr. C. W. Folkard,
C.E., associate of the Royal School of Mines, member of the Institu-
tion of Civil Engineers. In 1882 he read a paper before the Institu-
tion, from which the following extracts and summarizations are
made : . .

Rivers are the natural drains of a country, into which every particle of rain falling within
tlieir watersheds (except, etc.,) ultimately finds its way, with everything which it is capable of
dissolving or suspending. Highly manured arable lands, pastures, with their thousands of
cattle and sheep, mills, factories, village cesspools, and lastly the town sewers, all contribute
tlieir quota of foul water; in some cases to such an extent that the river becomes an open sewer
in which no fish can live, and the exhalations from which, especially in hot climates, spread
fever and death around.

Speaking of the detection of impurities in waters contaminated by
sewage, Mr. Folkard says:

The organic substances in solution and suspension are the most important on account of their
dangerous nature, and, unfortunately, they are the ones with wliich the chemist is least able to
deal. As yet he has been compelled to be content with the examination and estimation of the
products of their decomj^osition — ammonia and nitrous or nitric acids — or with the determina-
tion of one or two of their constitutional elements (carbon and nitrogen).

It is, perhaps, needless to say that these "organic substances" are
contributed to sewage principally as the wastes of the human system.

Mr. Folkard asserts that in the matter of detecting organic impuri-
ties in water, chemists as yet are —

Powerless to helji the sanitarian in discriminating between wholesome and unwholesome
water. ••■ ■" ■■■ '• In the first place," he says, " it is an ascertained fact, proved beyond
the possibility of doubt," (by microscopical methods) "that mere dilution, however far soever it
be carried, does not render inoperative the specific action of living germs."

The generally accepted theory of the propagation of zymotic dis-
eases it that the living germ, or matter capable of evolving that germ
under favorable conditions, being taken into the system, such germs
are propagated in the blood, and hence the disease. Evidently in
view of this theory, Mr. Folkard says:

Provided the individual is sufficiently weakly or unliealthy, it is of small importance
wliether he receives one thousand or one million parts of infectious matter (whetiier in the
form of organized germs, or not, is immaterial), and, consequently, one part of infected sewage
containing the dejecta of persons suffering from zymotic disease, mixed with one million parts
of water, will be nearly as dangerous to him as one jjart per thousand.

The difference being simply, of course, the less chance there would
be of happening to drink the particular drop of water carrying the

germ matter when the rate of dilution is great than when it is small;



and, also, again to use the words of our authority, " the less contam-
inated water would probably not affect a person in more robust
health who might succumb to the use of the highly contaminated

This author insists " that it will be impossible to banish zymotic
disease from a town where water supply has been contaminated
Avith the dejecta of patients suffering from that class of disease. The
very weakly will contract it from the almost inappreciable amount
of infection contained in the water, and from them it will spread to
those who have resisted the poison in its diluted state."

He then goes on to state, as a conclusively established fact, " that
the germs which cause or accompany disease are endowed with the
most persistent vitality, and are capable of withstanding heat, cold,
moisture, drought, and even chemical agents, to a marvelous extent."

And illustrating this fact, he says:

So difficult is it to destroy them that for many years the now exploded doctrine of spontan-
eous generation found talented supporters who relied on their own carefully conducted experi-
ments to prove the theory, all which experiments were subsequently found to have been
rendered illusory by the astounding vitality of these low forms of life.

And finally upon this point, Mr. Folkard says:

The conclusion, that, once contaminated, water never purifies itself sufficiently to be safe for
dietetic purposes, becomes inevitable. * * * The only safe test of the wholesomeness of a
given water is by tracing it to its source, and ascertaining that no objectionable impurities gain
access to it.

Emphasizing the conclusion that the waters of a running stream
once polluted with the class of matter of which I have spoken, do not
purify themselves, Mr. Folkard says:

The chemist in the laboratory can effijct complete purification only by adopting a similar pro-
cess to that by which it is effected in nature — -fixation of the ammonia in the soil, or its oxida-
tion to nitric acid (by the effect of contact with air or free oxygen), followed by distillation bj'

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