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(1891 - 1957)
Scientific discoveries are often the result of collaboration. This process allows the strongest capabilities of two or more scientists to pursue a solution to a complex issue. So it was with the discovery of the precise formula for purifying water with chlorine. Linn Enslow, a chemist, met fellow scientist Able Wolman while studying at Johns Hopkins. Together, while working at the Maryland Department of Public Health, they devised a method of standardizing the use of chlorine to purify water. Though chlorination was already in use on a limited basis, it was Wolman's process that allowed purifying water through chlorination to become widespread, and it was hailed as possibly the most significant public health advance of the twentieth century.
The early twentieth century saw the American landscape changing quickly. Cities grew at a rapid pace and modern conveniences, such as running water, became more common. But, in this case, the technological advances outpaced safety. This meant the convenience of tap water came at a potentially deadly price. City water supplies, still in their infancy, were often the unintended carriers of diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. Prior to treating water supplies with chlorination, cities had no effective means to purify their drinking water. The water supplies were especially vulnerable during times of heavy rain, as the runoff would carry animal waste and other contaminants into the system. Chlorination was the key to preventing this. Chlorine is a greenish yellow gas, discovered in 1774, which is over two and one-half times denser than air. It is detectable, through its noxious odor, at levels as small as one part per million. It is now widely used in disinfecting processes. Chlorination allowed cities to kill deadly microorganisms and deliver fresh, pure water to their citizens. The widespread use of chlorination to purify water stopped waterborne diseases in their tracks, significantly extending average life expectations. Life Magazine, in 1997, called the purification of drinking water "probably the most significant public health advance of the millennium."
Introduction by Tim Anderson
Table of ContentsIntroduction
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American Journal of Public Health article discussing Enslow & Wolman's work:
Johns Hopkins Magazine article discussing Enslow & Wolman's work:
American Public Works Association discusses the Abel Wolman Award:
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The Science Behind the Discovery
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