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Why John Leal Decided to Chlorinate Water in Secret in New Jersey

Updated on December 29, 2017
Patrick Patrick profile image

Patrick has been working as a freelance writer for the past 3 years

John Leal

Contamination of drinking water

Although Chesbrough's innovation successfully managed to remove waste from the homes and backgrounds of the cities, it also resulted in a problem given that human waste would end up in sources of drinking water. This flaw in his design resulted in contaminated drinking water, which also killed fish in such sources as the Chicago River

In the early 1870s, German lens crafters, Zeiss Optical Works, began to produce new microscopes using mathematical formulas, which described the behavior of light. Using these devices, scientists like Robert Koch identified bacteria such as the cholera bacterium, which in turn helped develop and educate others of the germ theory of disease. In the process, Koch also developed sophisticated tools that allowed for the measurement of the density of bacteria in given quantity of water. He achieved this by mixing contaminated water with transparent gelatin, and viewed growing bacterial colonies on a glass plate. In doing so, Koch established a unit of measurement that could be applied to any quantity of water.

The detection of micro organisms using microscopes as well as measuring them in water helped device new ways of fighting germs in drinking water. Here, new chemicals would be used to attack the germs. In 1898, a New Jersey doctor by the name John Leal began to experiment calcium hypochlorite and even suggested it as an option for treating water. However, the idea was not well received given that the chemical was largely associated with epidemic diseases. As one chemist explained "The idea of chemical disinfection is repellent". However, for Leal, in the right amount, chlorine would help get rid of the disease causing bacteria without causing health problems to the people.

Chlorine water


The secret

Because he faced significant opposition, Leal decided to add chlorine to the New Jersey reservoirs in secrecy with the help of engineer Gorge Warren Fuller. According to historians, Leal built and installed a "chloride of life feed facility" at the Boonton Reservoir outside Jersey City. While this information eventually got out and reached the public resulting in a court hearing, the results of water treatment using chlorine turned out positive with New Jersey experiencing a significant decrease in waterborne diseases like typhoid fever. Because Leal did not attempt to patent this innovation, it was quickly adopted by municipalities that used the chlorination process as a standard process all over the United States and ultimately all over the world. In a study that was conducted by David Cutler and Grant Miller (Harvard professors) to determine the impact of chlorination between 1900 and 1930, it was shown that the process had resulted in a 43 percent reduction in total morality as well as 74 percent infant mortality in American cities, which was a great achievement.


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    • Patrick Patrick profile imageAUTHOR


      15 months ago from Nairobi

      Very true my friend. I found it to be very interesting

    • RTalloni profile image


      15 months ago from the short journey

      This interesting back story is a lesson filled account of what led to the clean water systems we have today. Being open to hearing from innovative people is important.


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