What do cows in Chicago have to do with water in Boston? As it turns out, cows in Chicago are behind the reason we chlorinate municipal water. Slightly more than 100 years ago, the cows in the Chicago Union stockyards weren’t gaining weight. In fact, the only time the cows would gain weight was when they drank Chicago city water.
The cows were watered from a source known as Bubbly Creek, so named because the water bubbled from the methane and hydrogen sulfide in the water. The creek was also polluted from meat waste from the slaughterhouses. Even though the water was filtered, the cows – which arrived in Chicago from all over the Midwest – couldn’t gain weight. At the time, the City of Chicago wasn’t willing to supply the stockyards with municipal water, so the stockyard operators had to do something.
The stockyards contracted a New York firm to test the water in Bubbly Creek. Although the freshly filtered water was of acceptable quality and was treated with copper to inhibit the growth of algae, the firm noted that the bacteria count in the samples exploded within a short time of being drawn. The firm began experimenting with sanitizers to reduce the bacteria count in the Bubbly Creek water. After testing with a powdered chlorine compound known as “chloride of lime,” the Bubbly Creek water cleared to such quality that it was actually cleaner than the Chicago municipal water supply!
Other major cities, including Boston, began to chlorinate their municipal water supplies in an effort to fight typhoid fever and other water-borne illnesses. The sanitization of municipal water was so successful at fighting certain diseases that chlorination has become a standard mechanism to treat both municipal water and water where organic or biological contamination is suspected.
Pathogens still account for notable contamination in 25%-50% of rivers, streams, creeks and costal areas, but thanks to simple water treatments, most otherwise harmful contaminants are neutralized before they hit our taps. If you don’t like the chlorine taste in municipal water, you can buy inexpensive water filtration systems that attach to your tap and will successfully remove the chlorine and other chemicals prior to drinking.
If you would like more information on chlorine filtration systems for your kitchen tap, whole house water filtration systems or reverse osmosis water filters, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. Don’t forget to friend Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook!