POLLUTION OF STREAMS IN OHIO

POLLUTION OF STREAMS IN OHIO

By C. O. Probst, M. D„ Secretary of the Ohio State Board of Health.

The Ohio State board of health began a study of streams and public water supplies in 1897. Every important stream and watershed, as well as lake Erie, was examined. The character and amount of pollution going to each was noted as accurately as possible. Frequent chemical and bacteriological examinations were made of streams above and below all towns of importance upon their banks. To take first the Ohio river towns: There are in Ohio, East Liverpool, Wellsville. Toronto, Steubenville, Mingo Junction, Martin’s Ferry, and Bridgeport. Bellaire. Marietta, Pomeroy and Middleport, Irontown, Portsmouth and Cincinnati, taking water directly from the Ohio river. In 1901, in an investigation of the Ohio river, were figured 1,961,922 inhabitants of villages and towns of 1,000 and over upon the watershed above California—the site for the new Cincinnati waterworks—representing 291 separate communities. Cincinnati and suburbs are not counted, as no Ohio towns are affected by this pollution. The towns are grouped about the upper part of the river. All of them, from Bellaire up, are within 100 miles of Pittsburg, with its enormous contributions of filth. Wellsville is only four miles from East Liverpool. Bellaire is within five miles of Wheeling. Bridgeport, and Martin’s Ferry, representing more than 50.000 people. Pomeroy and Mingo Junction are the only towns in this list that attempt to purify the water. The plant at Mingo Junction has not been very sufficien. Cincinnati is making radical changes in her water supply, and, no doubt, will eventually have an excellent filtered water. Marietta and Pomeroy probably receive water the least subject to pollution, but it may be doubted whether the Ohio river anywhere affords a safe water supply for Ohio towns. At times this Ohio river water from Portsmouth and above does not carry sufficient carbonates to take out all the alum needed to clarify the water by mechanical filtration. On several occasions alum has been found in the filtered water at Pomeroy, and then lime should be added to the unfiltered water. Lake Erie is a very shallow body of water, and during storms the wave action stirs up deposited mud for eight to ten miles or more from shore. The lake water will, therefore, frequently be muddy, for the intake can scarcely be carried that distance. The lake has a very slow current, normally to the east, but quickly changed by winds to the west. At Toledo, during a period of five years, the wind was to the west for a total of sixteen months of that time. At Cleveland, during five years, the wind blew almost as many hours from the east as from the west. Surface currents carrying sewage will often be westwards. An intake a short distance west from a sewer outlet gives but slight protection against polluted water. No city can expect to run its sewage into this lake, and take a pure supply of water out of it. The result of the Cleveland cxperi ment may require this statement to be modified. There they propose to carry all their sewage ten miles to the east of their lake intake, which is also to be extended This, no doubt, will greatly improve their supply. Muddy water they will certainly have at times. A satisfactory public water supply must be clear, and it is extremely probable that Cleveland will yet be compelled to resort to filtration. Lorain put in filters in 1896. They have been highly satisfactory as regards reducing the deaths from typhoid fever from forty-three in five years—eight and threefifths per annum to eleven in the next five years— two and one-third per annum. In August, 1903. there were no deaths from typhoid, till the filters were shut down for repairs, and within six weeks there were three deaths from that disease. At Conneaut, in 1899 the Cook wells failed to supply enough water, and the lake intake was opened. A serious outbreak of typhoid followed, which seemed clearly traceable to the lake water. Filters were introduced in 1899. and there was no more typhoid for some time. But another outbreak occurred in 1901. and it was shown that just before it little or no alum was used. Filters should be operated on the scale of efficiency, not of cost, and waterworks officials should be held strictly accountable for cheating of this kind. Like some other cities deriving their water supply from interior streams. Columbus has recently gained a most unenviable notoriety in regard to its water. Supplied by ground water, reasonably pure, during the wet months, it must resort to the Scioto river and then to Alum creek in times of drought. Both streams are impure, with water unfit to drink in a raw state. Excellent plans for a pure supply have long ago been adopted. The trouble is to get them carried out. Politics and injunctions seem to control the situation. Youngstown is in the thick of a water fight and in the midst of a bad typhoid fever epidemic, with about seventy deaths so far this year. The supply is from the Mahoning river, which was condemned by the State board of health several years ago as an unsafe source. Here, as at Columbus, pressingly needed improvements may be delayed by politics and other interests. Warren. not far from Youngstown, is filtering the Mahoning river water. It has practically no typhoid, and the supply is quite satisfactory. Toledo draws its supply from the Maumee. It is not seriously polluted, but is becoming so, and is extremely muddy at times. A commission of sanitary engineers has recommended the Maumee, higher up, with filters. Zanesville, Akron, Lima, and Springfield are other interior towns where the water supply is more or less unsatisfactory,and where improvements have been advocated. This list could be considerably extended. Dayton is a most fortunate exception to the large interior cities of Ohio, as regards water supply. Nature has provided it with an immense deposit of water-bearing drift, from which the city obtains an abundant and excellent supply. It may be said, I think, that, with few exceptions, none ot the streams of Ohio affords water of sufficient purity for a safe domestic supply. The headwaters of a few streams, by impounding and sedimentation, may still furnish a fairly safe and satisfactory supply for smaller towns that are accessible to them. These will be better off with a ground water supply, if obtainable. With some of the streams their pollution in certain places during the dry seasons has already reached unbearable proportions. Their wa ters have become wholly corrupt, unable to support animal life, and are the source of intolerable nuisances. Mill creek, from the sewage of Cincinnati and suburbs, is a common sewer, a source of annoyance to thousands, and a cause for complaint for many years. An investigation of this stream was recently made by the State board of health, and it was computed that fully 125,298 people contributed to the sewage pollution of the creek. An enormous quantity of trade-wastes also enters it. An intercepting sewer to carry all sewage now entering Mill creek to the Ohio river is being agitated. “The Cuyahoga river at Cleveland is another example of bad stream pollution. The work going on at Cleveland plans finally to relieve that stream of all sewage. The capital city is sinning most grievously in this direction. The Scioto river below Columbus, but within range of the noses of thousands of her citizens, is often an exceedingly foul stream. Alum creek, which receives much sewage, is considerably worse. I recently examined it. and the conditions found should disgrace the city. Plans have been made which would remove these conditions, but the everlasting question of money and politics prevents anything being done. At Findlay, Tiffin, Galion, Lima, and many other places there is more or less trouble from nuisances due to stream pollution. What is the remedy? Our laws prohibit the pollution of streamy; but there seems great difficulty in having them enforced. A number of suits have been brought against Columbus within the last ten years, but the nuisance continues, and is growing worse. The State board of health is doing what it can to protect the streams. An act of 1893 provides that no person or corporation shall introduce a sewer system, or change or extend any sewer outlet already in use, without the approval of that board. Under this act public water supplies have been protected, and stream pollution stopped as much as possible The Ohio river affords an interstate problem. It would be of little avail to require Ohio towns to purify sewage going into this stream, so long as cities on its other bank send raw sewage to it. We should legislate wisely for the future. Conditions are growing worse. Minimum stream-flows are becoming smaller, and the various sources of their pollution are steadily increasing. England has created river conservancy boards, with power to prevent the further pollution of her streams, and to bring them gradually back to something near the original purity. We should do well to follow some such line in Ohio. We should now enact and enforce laws for the prevention of what must otherwise be intolerable conditions twenty or thirty years hence. In conclusion, I would say that we can never hope to keep our streams fit for domestic water supplies, police them as we may. Our large cities must look to purification as their only remedy; but. no matter what form of purification is provided, it is better that the raw water should be as pure as possible.”

*Paper read at the convention of the Central States Water works association, Dayton, Ohio. September, 1903

The fireplugs at Wilmington, Conn., are to be flushed once a week.

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