Water Treatment

The Pioneers of Wastewater Treatment


If you lived in the 1800s your water waste would travel untreated into waterways such as lakes and rivers. Urban policy makers and engineers believed that the waste would be self-purified by natural water sources. The public were also drinking from the same sources their wastewater was flowing into which led to a variety of diseases such as typhoid and cholera. Luckily a few bright minds found solutions to the wastewater crisis and saved nations from continued disease outbreaks. 


Here are the pioneers in wastewater treatment:
James Smith
One of the earliest pioneers of wastewater treatment was a British cotton mill owner named James Smith. He experimented with a wastewater piped distribution system that was used in farms in the 1840s. His method was officially adopted by the Health of Towns Commission, a key organization in the development of public health in the United Kingdom. According to Wikipedia: “The heavier solids were directed into ditches on the side of the farm and were covered over when full, but soon flat-bottomed tanks were employed as reservoirs for the sewage.” This helped to spark the imagination of other inventors, which led to the production of the septic tank.
Sir Edward Frankland
In the 1870s, Sir Edward Frankland, a British chemist, found the method of downward intermittent filtration for sewage. This meant that sewage could travel through porous soil and be filtered by the land into a drain below it. The experiments found that the ammonia from the waste was converted into nitrates and crops flourished when sewage passed through the soil. Frankland went on to experiment with different types of land filters instead of soil and found that porous gravel was the most effective filter due to its non-clogging characteristics and its ability of producing a high nitrate effluent.
Dr. Gilbert Fowler
In 1897 Dr. Gilbert Fowler, a scientist at the University of Manchester, carried out experiments where he aerated sewage and observed that it separated into a clear liquid with a settling deposit. He did not realize it at the time, but this was a ground breaking finding, and the settling solid would later be known as “active sludge”. Gilbert went on to observe experiments taking place at the Lawrence Experiment Station at Massachusetts involving the aeration of sewage in a bottle that had been coated with algae.
Edward Ardern and W.T. Lockett
Edward Ardern and W.T. Lockett discovered the activated sludge process in 1913 after working with Dr. Gilbert Fowler who had just returned from Massachusetts. It is now the most widely used form of biological treatment processes. Arden and Lockett carried out an experiment where they treated sewage with bacteria and continuously aerated the wastewater for about a month. The result was the complete nitrification of the solution. They presented their groundbreaking findings at a meeting for the Society of Chemical Industry with a paper called “Experiments on the Oxidation of Sewage Without the Aid of Filters,” which was then published in the Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry.

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