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Enslow, Linn

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Linn Enslow

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Linn Enslow

(1891 - 1957)
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1919

Develops Most Significant Public Health Advance of 20th Century

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."

Chlorination was not a new concept. In fact, John Snow had used chlorine in the London cholera epidemic of 1854, and the first American patent for a chlorination system was granted in 1888. But, there was a problem. Though it was widely accepted that chlorine could kill bacteria, the process was still poorly understood. Chlorine was not only a powerful purifier, but it was also a powerful poison - capable of killing human beings if not used in exactly the right amounts. This left city officials in a terrible dilemma. Though they desperately wanted to purify their public water supplies, many felt the risk was simply too great. Enslow and Wolman provided the solution they needed. The pair devised a precise formula to use in chlorinating city water supplies - a formula that could be accurately applied to any water source. Enslow and Wolman analyzed all the relevant factors, including acidity, bacteria, purity, as well as factors related to taste. Their method provided the first rigorous scientific standards by which chlorination could be uniformly and safely controlled. It was the breakthrough that laid the foundation for purified water to become available throughout the world. But, their 1919 discovery was just the first step in the process. Though the process was a major public health advance, its acceptance was slow. City officials were still wary of adding a known poison to their municipal water supplies. But, in the end, the chlorination process was adopted on a widespread scale and- by 1941, 85 percent of all American water systems used chlorination to purify their supplies.



Introduction by Tim Anderson


Table of Contents

Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

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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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research


Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.

Lifesavers Who Developed Water Purification
Abel Wolman
Used chlorine to purify water, the most significant public health advance of the 20th century.

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science