Boating and Fishing in Water Supplies of Cities

Boating and Fishing in Water Supplies of Cities

Contamination from Railroad Crossings—Typhoid Carriers a Menace—Other Diseases Contracted by Pollution — Lessons from Recent Epidemics Applied to Subject in Hand

Director and Chief Engineer, Massachusetts Department of Public Health

(Continued from page 1260)

Contamination from Railroad Crossings

Three years after the Ithaca calamity came the great epidemic at Scranton, Pa., which occurred in December, 1906, and caused 1,155 cases of the disease and 111 deaths, in a manufacturing city in eastern Pennsylvania containing 119,000 inhabitants. The water supply of the city at that time was taken largely from a storage basin known as the Elmhurst Reservoir, which had a capacity of about 1,400 million gallons. In some way this reservoir became infected with typhoid bacilli in November, 1906, but the fact of the infection of this reservoir was made clear by studies of the epidemic and by the analyses of the water, and it is believed that in at least one sample of this water the typhoid bacillus was positively identified. There were several opportunities for infection of the reservoir, and suspicion was especially directed toward the lines of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, which crossed and re-crossed the brook above the reservoir, thus affording opportunities for contamination from the passenger coaches or from the trackmen. A most interesting fact about this epidemic is the demonstration that a great reservoir holding 1,400 million gallons of water can become so thoroughly infected with the typhoid bacillus as to cause a great epidemic. A further remarkable circumstance is that the infection resulted from a source so obscure that it was not discovered, and that the slight pollution which might have resulted from the passage of passenger trains through the watershed was held to be a possible cause of the outbreak.

It may be urged that there is no evidence to show that any of these great epidemics were caused by fishing in a reservoir, but that is not the point. The point is that these epidemics were caused by the pollution of a water supply by typhoid germs, and that in many cases the pollution was so obscure that it was never definitely ascertained.

A study of these and other epidemics establishes the fact that typhoid bacilli in water may be carried great distances and retain sufficient virulence to produce typhoid fever. At Millinocket, Me., a typhoid epidemic caused by a polluted water supply resulted in 200 cases of typhoid fever and 16 deaths. The remarkable thing about this epidemic is its most unfortunate sequel. Professor Whipple, from whose book, “Typhoid Fever,” the summaries of the foregoing epidemics have largely been taken, describes the sequel to the Millinocket epidemic as follows :

“….The sewage of Millinocket emptied into the Millinocket River and passed down into the Penobscot. Bangor, 84 miles below, used the river water imperfectly filtered, and so did the .cities of Old Town and Brewer. In each of these places epidemics of typhoid fever occurred during the months of April and May. In all there were more than 600 cases; in Bangor alone there were 36 deaths.

“The far-reaching effect of the ‘accident’ at Millinocket is seen from these facts. One cannot help wondering if the time will not come when some one will be held responsible for such ‘accidents.’”

The length of time typhoid germs will survive in water has been variously estimated. That they will travel long distances in water is well known. It is believed that typhoid germs discharged into the Potomac River at the time of the Mount Savage, Md., epidemic traveled down the river 185 miles and caused typhoid in Washington. Concerning it Professor Whipple says:

“….It is believed that this outbreak at Mount Savage caused an infection of the Potomac River water in the city of Washington, 185 miles down stream, where there was an unusual increase in the number of deaths from typhoid fever during September. If this were true, and the figures seem to indicate that it was true—the typhoid fever bacilli must have successfully passed down the acid waters of Jenning’s Run and Will’s Creek, down the Potomac River for 185 miles, and through the reservoirs into the service pipes….”

In the foregoing statements reference is made only to the most prominent epidemics and those which throw light on the most important phases of this subject. These statements show:

  1. That a very slight pollution by typhoid fever germs may infect reservoirs of very large capacity sufficiently to cause great epidemics of typhoid fever.
  2. That the typhoid germ can survive the severe winter weather of a northern climate and retain its virulence.
  3. That the germ can be carried long distances in water and may survive through many weeks of time.

Dangers from Typhoid Carriers

It has already been noted that in some of the epidemics the exact cause was never discovered, and this fact brings up another discovery of modern sanitary science relating to this disease, namely, that there are typhoid carriers, so-called, who, though apparently in good health, are capable of spreading the disease. Professor Rosenau in his book, “Practical Hygiene” (page 436), commenting on this fact, states:

“….an apparently well person is capable of infecting a water supply to a greater extent and with less optical evidence, or none at all, by a discharge of urine into a water course than an evidently sick one by a deposit of his feces into it or upon its banks. Experience has shown that about four per cent, of all the typhoid patients become what are known as chronic carriers of the disease, and this condition may persist over a long period of years….”

Furthermore, there are so-called walking cases of typhoid fever, that is, cases so mild that the patient is never obliged to go to bed, and there are others who are infected for a period of several weeks before finally coming down with the disease. Where numbers of persons are allowed to resort to ponds and reservoirs for boating and fishing, there will inevitably be carriers or possibly walking cases among them, and the infection of the water supply is not only possible but probable. Water boards and superintendents cannot subject a man who comes for a permit to fish to an examination to determine whether or not he is in good health, and any man could get a permit, even though he is a typhoid carrier, if he is not ill and is unaware that he carries the germs of the disease.

Other Diseases Contracted from Pollution

Only a few of the epidemics due to polluted water supply are mentioned here, though typhoid fever and other diseases contracted through polluted water supplies have claimed their victims by the hundreds, and even thousands in past times up to comparatively recent years. One other fact must be borne in mind in connection with the prevention of the pollution of water supplies, and that is that typhoid fever is by no means the only disease transmitted by contaminated water. Dysentery and other diarrheal diseases often precede or follow typhoid epidemics, or, as in the case of Peabody, a very serious epidemic may result from contaminated water unaccompanied by typhoid fever, and these diseases are doubtless due to the same general sources of contamination, though to different specific germs.

One of the most remarkable facts relating to the effect of drinking polluted waters was first pointed out by Hiram F. Mills in his studies of the effect upon the death rate at Lawrence resulting from the filtration of the water, that is, from the substitution of a filtered water for a polluted one. The reduction in the general death rate was much greater than could be accounted for by typhoid fever alone, or even typhoid fever and the other diarrheal diseases. Professor Whipple, referring to this fact in his book on ‘Typhoid Fever,” states:

“….The reduction of the typhoid fever death-rate following the substitution of a pure water for a contaminated water is often accompanied by a drop in the death-rate from other diseases. Thus, if the five years before and after filtered water was introduced into Albany, N. Y., are compared, it will be seen that the reduction in deaths from general diarrheal diseases and the deaths of children under five years of age were much greater than in the case of typhoid fever. . .That the reduction of infant mortality and deaths from diarrheal diseases was not due to other conditions seems probable from the fact that in the neighboring city of Troy, where the water supply was not changed, there was no such diminution during the same period. ^

“Hazen, in his paper on ‘Purification of Water in America, read at the International Engineering Congress at St. Louis, called attention to this same fact, that after the change from an impure to a pure supply of water, the general death rate of certain communities investigated fell by an amount considerably greater than that resulting from typhoid fever alone, indicating cither that certain other infectious diseases were reduced more than typhoid fever, or that the general health tone of the community had been improved…..”

It follows from this discovery that pollution of a water supply, even though it does not result in an epidemic of typhoid fever, may mean injury to health in other ways.

It has been urged that the danger of injurious contamination is less where the contaminated water of one pond has to pass through another and uncontaminated reservoir before reaching the water works intake, and this may not be wholly untrue in some circumstances, but the contamination of the great reservoir at Scranton and the reservoir at New Haven indicates that such a condition may not be adequate protection since, if one pond becomes thoroughly infected, the other would naturally also become infected if the polluted water flows into it. There are cases where the danger of contamination of a pond used directly for water supply purposes by the pollution of another pond which is its tributary may be remote, but the experiences already described indicate that this condition cannot be relied upon to protect the health of those to whom the water is supplied.

The Case of Lake Saltonstall, Haverhill

A most instructive example of what may happen when a water supply reservoir is thrown open for public use has been furnished recently in the city of Haverhill. Pending the completion of certain sewer connections within the watershed of Lake Saltonstall, it was deemed advisable by the State Department of Health that the use of this lake should be discontinued temporarily, at least until assurance could be had that the water was safe for drinking. The water board had been importuned to grant permits for boating, fishing, skating, etc., on this lake, and at the time when its use had been temporarily discontinued the water board was requested and practically directed by the city government to throw open the lake to public use until it should again be needed as a water supply. The lake is located close to the best residential quarter of the city, and it is interesting to note that more than one of the owners of land in the neighborhood of the lake favored the granting of the petition. In accordance with the request of the authorities, the rules of the State Department of Health for the sanitary protection of the lake were suspended and it was thrown open for public use. I he results were just what was expected by those familiar with water works matters, but wholly unexpected by many, if not most, of the petitioners who desired the opening of the lake. The lake and its neighborhood became the resort of persons who made the place unsafe and did much damage to the estates in the neighborhood. A few fish were caught from the lake in the beginning, but the supply of fish was apparently quickly exhausted.

This incident shows clearly the result of the unregulated use of a water supply reservoir for boating and fishing by the public. It will be urged, of course, that such conditions would not follow if boating and fishing were limited, but experience has repeatedly shown that attempts to limit boating and fishing on a water supply reservoir are generally utterly impracticable. Attempts to limit the number of permits or to discriminate between applicants are sure to lead to charges of favoritism and are impracticable. I his is well illustrated by a little incident connected with the effort that has been continuously made for many years by certain inhabitants of Natick to secure the privilege of fishing and boating in Lake Cochituate. During the war it was urged that fishing should be allowed from boats in order to add to the food supply, and the Metropolitan Water Board finally agreed to grant ten permits for fishing in Lake Cochituate within limits designated by them, the permits to be given to persons selected by the board of selectmen of Natick. No selections were ever made, the reasons being, as stated by a representative of the town before the Legislature, that no board of selectmen could survive politically who should attempt to designate a limited number of citizens to be granted such a privilege.

Lessons from Great Epidemics

To us in this day the lessons taught by the great epidemics of the past united to those instilled by many lesser ones seem self-evident, but they are very far from being so regarded by the boatmen and fishermen who demand access to water supply reservoirs and by many of the legislators and city councillors upon whom such demands are urged. If, through the fatuity of legislative bodies, state or municipal, the policy of the strictest sanitary protection of water supply reservoirs is broken down or impaired, calamities such as those herein recalled, and which now seem relatively remote, may easily follow. Furthermore, more memorable and farreaching consequences may result to those directly or indirectly responsible for such a calamity than was the case in the great epidemics of earlier years when sanitary science in its application to water supplies was less developed than is the case at the present day. Very few of the water takers in any community, and especially in large cities, have a thorough knowledge of the water supply system from which their drinking water is derived, and fewer still are familiar with the requirements of water supply sanitation. The great majority if they think of the matter at all rely upon the city or town government or water company and their officials to see to it that the water supply is properly maintained and adequately protected and know little of the measures necessary for such protection. Nevertheless, should an epidemic occur as a result of the selfishness or thoughtlessness of those who seek to use water supply reservoirs for their own pleasure, the blame would rest, not upon the fishermen, but upon the legislators or officials who yielded to their importunities. Already large sums have been collected in damages in cases where injury has resulted from the drinking of polluted waters, and where negligence on the part of the municipality or water company or the agents in charge of its water supply has been proved. It is not impossible that in the future individuals may be punished for such neglect, as has happened to those whose negligence has resulted in accidents on railroads and in the operation of other public utilities. So long as the active and enterprising seekers for the use of water supply reservoirs continue their efforts to sepure the special privileges which they seek, those charged with the guardianship of water supplies must be prepared at all times to meet their arguments. They must point out clearly to legislative bodies the great danger to the many involved in yielding to the selfishness of the few, whether through ignorance or, worse still, through fear of political consequences. Finally, constant vigilance must be maintained by health and water supply officials and others interested in the protection of the public health if this growing menace to the purity of water supplies is to be removed. Any attempt to impair the protection of even a single source of supply must be treated as a threat to all and be met by united opposition.

(Continued on page 1312)

Boating and Fishing on Water Supplies

(Continued from page 1305)

The knowledge of the effect of drinking waters of various kinds upon health is, it must be admitted, exceedingly limited. The injurious effects of certain minerals in water upon health, as well as the fact that some individuals are very susceptible to certain poisons to which others are apparently immune, are well known. With the greatly increased attention now being given by the medical profession to the influence of diet upon health, a rapidly widening knowledge of the effect of the use of various drinking waters eventually must result. In view of this probability, it is of the utmost importance to secure the purest water possible and to maintain that purity by every possible means.

Boating and Fishing in Water Supplies of Cities


Boating and Fishing in Water Supplies of Cities

Dangers from Pollution When These Practices Are Committed—How Such Privileges Are Abused by the Public— Cases of Epidemics Arising from Human Contamination

ONE of the most serious difficulties with which water works officials and health officers have to contend is the enforcement of necessary sanitary regulations for the prevention of the pollution of water supply reservoirs. This is especially true of that most serious source of danger which results from the use of such reservoirs for boating and fishing. If present tendencies continue, unless the public can be awakened to the situation, many naturally pure waters are likely to become contaminated, and there is grave danger that in places where the public is now getting the benefit of the very best uncontaminated drinking water, recourse will have to be had to methods of purification or sterilization, and the uncertainties of the human element will be introduced in order to make the waters safe for drinking, as set forth in a paper read before the New England Water Works’ Association at its annual convention in Holyoke, Mass. Where there is now an almost ideal condition as shown by actual death rates for water-borne diseases, an uncertain state of affairs is sure to arise in a field where uncertainties are most to be deplored—in connection with the public health. We may not doubt that with the growth of knowledge of these methods, the public will eventually protest against the use of polluted waters, whether purified or not, when we see the people of Lawrence ready to expend large sums of money to avoid the necessity for drinking the polluted water of the Merrimack River, no matter how well purified it may be.

Many Bills to Authorize Boating and Fishing

Year after year bills are presented to the Legislature to authorize boating and fishing on ponds and reservoirs used as sources of water supply, and as time goes on their advocates’ become more and more insistent in their appeals for such privileges. The department of public health and the water departments of the various cities, towns and districts are constantly urged to grant such privileges and, as one water commissioner has stated it, speaking of his own city:

“The political influence grows and grows until it has practically all the political authorities behind it. With a population of 70,000 they would rather endanger these lives to gratify the wishes and pleasures of one-tenth of one per cent., and yet this number is allowed to jeopardize the health of all the others….”

The average layman, including the average legislator and member of a city government, understands but little of the real nature of water-borne diseases and the means by which the germs of disease may be conveyed through the medium of drinking water to water takers long distances from the point of contamination. Furthermore, the more recent of the great water-borne epidemics of typhoid fever in New England occurred more than half a generation ago, and has no doubt long been forgotten except by the comparatively few engineers, sanitarians and water works officials whose professions or duties require a special knowledge of the subject.

Various arguments are commonly brought forward by the advocate of the fisherman which will not stand much scrutiny. He believes, or affects to believe, that the reservoir in w,hich he wishes to fish has become so filled with fish that they are a detriment to the quality of the water. This belief is sometimes strengthened in the minds of the general public in cases where the water, as sometimes happens, is affected by a noticeable taste or odor. Such tastes and odors, which are often described as fishy, are sometimes attributed by those unacquainted with their cause to the presence of an excess of fish. Of course every water works man knows that such tastes and odors are nearly always caused by microscopic organisms, certain kinds of which when present in sufficient numbers impart to water a noticeable and sometimes disagreeable taste and odor. Everyone acquainted with the subject knows that they are harmless, and that their appearance in water is not connected in any way with the presence of fish therein, since they will grow in water in practically any receptacle exposed freely to the light where no fish are ever present. Another claim often made to urge the desirability of allowing fishing in reservoirs is that the presence of fish results in the pollution of the water, and that the fish should be removed for that reason alone. This claim is hardly worthy of serious attention. Concerning it, however, Professor Rosenau in a report to the water board of the City of hall River, made the following sufficient answer:

….Fishing’ takes out a certain number of fish during the short season it is permitted; the few fish thus hooked, however, have little influence in decreasing the total number of fish in the pond for it is a well-known law of nature that thinning out the number of a species gives the survivors an easier time to find a livelihood, in other words, the multiplication of the species is favored by the thinning-out process. In any event, the number always be limited by the amount of available food, and a better way to diminish the number of fish is to prevent organic pollution which directly and indirectly furnishes sustenance for aquatic life.

In my judgment the fish in themselves do not pollute the water to any undesirable or even appreciable extent. It is not conceivable that the few fish taken out at the wall (in North Watuppa I ond) could materially diminish the number of fish or appreciably diminish the pollution of the pond. Even though the pond were overstocked with fish, it would not render the water as undesirable as the urine or feces from one person with typhoid fever dysentery or cholera, or the spittle from a person having tuberculosis. In other words, practically all the infections serious to man which enter a drinking water come from man and not from hsh. Owing to the habits of fish, the general effect of their presence in the water would be rather to keep the pond clean than to soil it…. ’

(From Thirty-ninth Annual Report, Watuppa Water Board, January 1, 1913).

Review of Causes of Present Legislation

It is desirable, under the circumstances, that the causes which have led to the adoption of the present regulations for the sanitary protection of water supplies should be reviewed to determine whether these rules should be modified—or “liberalized”—as the fishermen desire, or whether they should be maintained or made even more stringent. It is desirable in the first place to review briefly some of the experiences in the past upon which the existing regulations are founded, since there are indications that the lessons which they have taught are in danger of being forgotten, not indeed by members of this association, but by those on whom the public depends for its protection, that is, legislators of our states and municipalities. Furthermore, it is desirable that they should be reviewed for the benefit of the comparatively small number of individuals who are constantly seeking to break down essential sanitary regulations.

(Continued on page 1260)

Boating and Fishing on Water Supplies

(Continued from page 1254)

As one water commissioner has stated it: “We all know that boating and fishing lead to pollution.” This will be realized more fully if we remember always that there are persons who are naturally unsanitary in their habits, but who are entirely unconscious of it, and that there is, of course, a very large number who have no comprehension of the relation between filth and disease. If boating and fishing on reservoirs are allowed, there cannot be the slightest doubt but that pollution will occur, and there is no way of controlling it or stopping it except by preventing this practice.

Pollution of a water supply has been generally considered most dangerous on account of the epidemics known to have resulted therefrom. Typhoid fever is still the most important measure of dangerous pollution, but, while this disease will naturally be considered most in a review of the history of the results of pollution of water supplies, occasion will be taken later to show that there are other and more subtle pollutions which affect the public health. Typhoid fever does not necessarily come from typhoid patients; it often comes from typhoid carriers, and epidemics are often caused by persons who do not know that they have the disease.

One of the first of the great epidemics of typhoid fever in this country, where the cause was definitely ascertained, was that which occurred in 1885 in Plymouth, Pa. The epidemic was traced to a single case of typhoid fever, where the typhoid excreta were deposited near the edge of a reservoir in the winter season and subsequently washed into the water with the first thaw. All classes of people were attacked in all parts of the town, until before the epidemic ceased, out of the 8,000 inhabitants, 1,104 contracted the disease and 114 died. Dr. Taylor says of it in his report:

“•••• This epidemic was one of the most remarkable ones in the history of typhoid fever, and taught important lessons, though at a fearful cost. One is, that in any case of typhoid fever, no matter how mild, or how far removed from the haunts of men, the greatest possible care should be exercised in thoroughly disinfecting the poisonous stools. The origin of all this sorrow and desolation occurred miles away on the mountain side, far removed from the populous town, and in a solitary house situated upon the banks of a swift-running stream. The attending physician did not know that this stream supplied the reservoirs with drinking water. Here, if at any place, it might seem excusable to take less than ordinary precautions; but the sequel shows that in every case the most rigid attention to detail in destroying these poisonous germs should be enjoined upon nurses and others in charge of typhoid fever patients, while the history of this epidemic will but add another to the list of such histories which should serve to impress medical men. at least, with the great necessity for perfect cleanliness—a lesson which mankind at large is slow to learn.” (From “Typhoid Fever,” by George C. Whipple).