Wastewater Management by Direct Discharge into Soil and Bodies of Water The First Studies

In the middle of the 19th century, wastewater produced in the fast-growing industrial regions and cities was discharged directly into rivers and canals, as well as into the soil below the toilets at the courtyards of tenement blocks. Frequently, the drinking water pump was located directly next to the toilets. Therefore, it was no wonder that cholera illnesses often occurred, especially in large cities.

Drinking water drawn with these pumps occasionally smelled of H2S; and Rudolf Virchow was the first who assumed that it must be a product of anaerobic reduction of CaSO4 (gypsum) by "microscopic algae" (Virchow 1868).

The situation in English rivers and canals was characterized by Fig. 1.12, a drawing in the satirical journal "Punch" from 1858 (Föhl and Hamm 1985).

Fig. 1.12 Drawing from the satirical journal Punch, demonstrating the extremely polluted river Thames in 1858 with the title "The silent highway man" (Fohl and Hamm 1985).

The first step in solving the problem of river pollution was to describe it by taking samples and making measurements.

Frankland was instructed by the administration of London to present a monthly report about the water supply. In 1868, on the occasion of a meeting of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, he pointed out that the drinking water coming to London from the Cader Idris and Plyalimmon mountains (northern Wales) was polluted by "unhealthy germs" and chemicals (Frankland 1869a). In the same year, Frankland proposed ten analyses of water to characterize the river water quality (Frankland 1869b), but it took a long time to establish regular sampling and measuring.

A similar report and a description of measuring methods and results were published by Finkener and Zinreck, concerning the lakes and rivers in and around Berlin (Finkener 1871; Zinreck 1871). The results cannot be compared with those of today because of the different methods for sampling and measuring. Therefore, we will not report them here.

In 1871, the results of the River Pollution Commission led by Frankland were made available. Of special interest was the condition of the river Irwell and its tributaries. Over a length of 56 km there were 285 factories discharging their effluents into the small river, which was extremely polluted (Reich 1871).

At this time, it was discussed whether the concentration of pollutants could be reduced by chemical oxidation during its transport in a river. Eduard Wiebe, for example, was convinced that all the wastewater of Berlin discharged into the river Spree between Charlottenburg and Spandau was cleaned by "self-purification", a natural chemical process which can be used beneficially (Wiebe 1873).

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