Timeline of water treatment

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This is a timeline of water treatment, attempting to describe events related to any process that makes water more acceptable for a specific end-use.

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Time period Development summary
Ancient times Methods to improve the taste and odor of drinking water are recorded as early as 4000 BC. Ancient Sanskrit and Greek texts recommend water treatment methods such as filtering through charcoal, exposing to sunlight, boiling and straining.[1] Throughout antiquity, tasty or tasteless, cool, odourless and colourless water is considered the best, while stagnant, marshy water is avoided.[2]
6th Century – 16th Century There's little development in the water treatment area during this period. In medieval cities wooden plumming is used. The water is extracted from rivers or wells, or from outside the city. Soon, circumstances would become highly unhygenic, because waste and excrements are discharged into the water. Illness and death prevails among people drinking this water. To solve the problem, many would drink water from outside the city, where rivers are unpolluted. This water is carried to the city by so-called water-bearers.[3]
18th Century Filtration is established as an effective means of removing particles from water. However, the degree of clarity achieved is not measurable at the time.[1] Water filters are made of wool, sponge and charcoal.[3]
19th Century It becomes clear that water quality has a significant impact on health.[4] The role of water in the transmission of several important diseases – cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever and diarrhoeas – is realized.[2] Slow sand filtration begins to be used regularly in Europe. During the mid to late century, scientists gain a greater understanding of the sources and effects of drinking water contaminants, especially those invisible to the naked eye.[1] The development of steam navigation creates a demand for noncorroding water for boilers.[5]
20th Century Early in the century, it becomes understood that germs transmit illness, and that chlorinating drinking water could help kill bacteria. Continuous chlorination starts being implemented.[6]

Full timeline

Year Category Details Country/location
2000 BC Publication Sanskrit writings describe purification of foul water by boiling in copper vessels, exposure to sunlight, filtering through charcoal, and cooling in earthen vessels.[7]
1500 BC Sedimentation Egyptians use the chemical alum to cause suspended particles to settle out of water.[1] Egypt
470 BC Scientific development Greek scientist Alcmaeon of Croton becomes the first Hellene doctor to state that the quality of water may influence the health of people.[8][2] Greece
400 BC Publication Greek physician Hippocrates publishes his treatise Airs, Waters, Places, which deals with the different sources, qualities and health effects of water.[8] Greece
384 BC – 322 BC Scientific development Greek scientist Aristotle describes an evaporation method used by Greek sailors as a process of desalting seawater.[5] Greece
98 AD Publication Sextus Julius Frontinus, water commissioner of Rome, writes the first engineering report on water supply and treatment.[7]
250 – 900 AD Filtration The Classic Mayans at Palenque use household water filters using locally abundant limestone carved into a porous cylinder, which work very similarly to modern ceramic water filters.[9] Mexico
701 – 800 Publication An Arab writer produces a treatise on distillation.[5]
1561 – 1626 Filtration English scientist Sir Francis Bacon is attributed the first recorded experiment for filtration in modern history. Bacon believes that using sand to filter seawater would purify it. Though his hypothesis prove to be incorrect, it would pave the way towards further studies on clean drinking water filtration.[10] United Kingdom
1676 Scientific development Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek first observes water micro organisms.[3]
1804 Filtration John Gibb, the owner of a bleachery in Paisley, Scotland, installs an experimental filter, selling his unwanted surplus to the public. This is the first documented use of sand filters to purify the water supply.[11][12] United Kingdom
1806 Filtration A large water treatment plant operates in Paris. The water settles for 12 hours, before being filtered. Filters consist of sand and charcoal, being both replaced every six hours.[13] France
1827 Filtration Robert Thom invents slow sand filters, which are installed in Greenock, Scotland.[4] United Kingdom
1829 Filtration English engineer James Simpson builds a sand filter for drinking water purification. Simpson's prototype would become widely used around the world[13][4] United Kingdom
1835 Chlorination Scientists realize that adding chlorine to water in controlled portions can help alleviate foul odors.[14]
1855 Scientific development English physician Dr. John Snow proves that cholera is a waterborne disease by linking an outbreak of illness in Londin to a public well that is contaminated by sewage.[1] United Kingdom
1869 Desalination The first patent for a desalination process is granted in England.[5] United Kingdom
1869 Distillation The first water-distillation plant is built by the British government at Aden, to supply ships stopping at the Red Sea port.[5] Yemen
1879 Chlorination William Soper uses chlorinated lime to treat the sewage produced by typhoid patients.[9]
1885–1889 Scientific development French microbiologist Louis Pasteur demonstrates the "germ theory" of disease, explaining how microscopic organisms (microbes) could transmit disease through media like water.[1] France
1887 Facility The Lawrence Experiment Station is established in Lawrence, Massachusetts. It's the world's first trial station for drinking water purification and sewage treatment.[15] United States
1890 Chlorination Scientists discover that chlorine is a great disinfectant for drinking water.[14]
1893 Chlorination Early attempts at implementing water chlorination at a water treatment plant are made in Hamburg.[9] Germany
1896 Filtration An improved method of water filtration arises when American Louisville Water Company starts using coagulation, paired with rapid-sand filtration to successfully filter out 99% of bacteria, leaving water clear, crisp and healthier.[14] United States
1897 Chlorination Maidstone in England becomes the first city to have its entire water supply treated with chlorine.[9] United Kingdom
1902 Chlorination As it becomes understood that germs transmit illness, and that chlorinating drinking water could help kill bacteria, Belgium becomes the first country to implement continuous chlorination.[16]
1902 Filtration Blaisdell Slow Sand Filter Washing Machine at Yuma, Arizona is invented by Hiram W. Blaisdell as a device to wash sand filters used in the treatment of drinking water.[17] United States
1903 Chlorination British officer Vincent B. Nesfield, working in the Indian Medical Service, develops a technique of purification of drinking water by use of compressed liquefied chlorine gas.[18] India
1903 Desalination Water softening is invented as a technique for water desalination.[3]
1905 Crisis Serious typhid fever epidemic breaks out in Lincoln , England. Dr. Alexander Cruikshank Houston uses chlorination of the water to stem the epidemic. This marks the beginning of permanent water chlorination. The same year, the London Metropolitan Water Board starts applying drinking water disinfection after researching the disinfection mechanism of chlorine in water purification, under the view that chlorine disinfection is a suitable alternative for long-term storage of raw water. [9][19][10][9] United Kingdom
1908 Chlorination Chlorination starts implementation in the United States at Boonton reservoir in Jersey City. The courts deem the right to chlorinate water a safeguard to public health, paving the way for the rest of the nation’s drinking water supplies.[14] United States
1910 Chlorination U.S. Army Major Carl Rogers Darnall, a Professor of Chemistry at the Army Medical School, develops the technique of purification of drinking water by use of compressed liquefied chlorine gas.[20] United States
1913 Wastewater treatment The activated sludge process, a type of {{w:wastewater treatment}} process for treating sewage or industrial wastewaters, is first discovered.[21] United Kingdom
1912 – 1914 Policy The Public Health Service Act is passed in the United States, authorizing regular surveys and studies of water pollution. The act is aimed at discovering the dangers water could have on human health. In 1914, the act would introduced the idea of maximum contaminant levels, but only for water supplies serving interstate transportation.[14] United States
1919 Publication Civil engineer Abel Wolman and chemist Linn H. Enslow of the Maryland Department of Health in Baltimore publish an article describing a test for chlorine absorption, thus establishing a controlled method of chlorination of municipal water supplies. To determine the correct dose, Wolman and Enslow would analyze the bacteria, acidity, and factors related to taste and purity. This process would eventually transform water treatment and later bring safe water supplies to much of the world.[22][23] United States
1930 Desalination The first large-scale desalination plant is built in Aruba.[5]
1938 Desalination The first modern desalination plant is built in Saudi Arabia.[24] Saudi Arabia
1947 Technology American company eerie Water Treatment starts developing and manufactoring an automatic regeneration control valve for water softeners.[25] United States
1948 Publication American author Moses Nelson Baker publishes The Quest for Pure Water: The History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century, which is a milestone on history of water filtration. The book is still in use today. United States
1951 Policy Water fluoridation becomes an official policy of the United States Public Health Service. By 1960, water fluoridation would become widely used in the country, reaching about 50 million people.[9] United States
1953 Policy Water fluoridation is introduced in Brazil. By 2004 71% of the population would have access to it.[9] Brazil
1959 Facility American company CDM Smith designs the first dual–media, multiple–tray water treatment plant.[26] United States
1960s Desalination Kuwait becomes the first state in the Middle East to begin using seawater desalination technology, providing with both fresh water and electric power using a technology known as multistage flash (MSF) evaporation. The MSF process begins with heating saltwater, which occurs as a byproduct of producing steam for generating electricity, and ends with condensing potable water. Between the heater and condenser stages are multiple evaporator-heat exchanger subunits, with heat supplied from the power plant external heat source. During repeated distillation cycles cold seawater is used as a heat sink in the condenser.[22] Kuwait
1962 Policy The Public Health Service Drinking Water Standards Revision is passed in the United States, setting forth the minimum requirements that public water suppliers must meet."[14] United States
1968 Filtration The Jardine Water Purification Plant begins functioning. Located in Chicago Illinois it is the largest capacity water filtration plant in the world.[27] United States
1977 Organization The Mar del Plata United Nations Conference on Water becomes the first intergovernmental water conference.[28] Argentina
1980s Wastewater treatment South African engineer James Barnard develops the Bardenpho process, a wastewater treatment process that removes nitrates and phosphates from wastewater without the use of chemicals. The process converts the nitrates in activated sludge into nitrogen gas, which is released into the air, removing a high percentage of suspended solids and organic material.[22]
1980 Crisis A hepatitis A outbreak surges due to the consumption of water from a feces-contaminated well, in Pennsylvania.[29] United States
1987 Crisis The 1987 Carroll County Cryptosporidiosis outbreak in western Georgia is caused by the public water supply of which the filtration was contaminated.[30] United States
1987 Funding The United States Congress establishes the Clean Water State Revolving Fund in the Water Quality Act of 1987 as a self–perpetuating loan assistance authority for water quality improvement projects in the United States.[31] United States
1987 Technology Advanced oxidation process (AOP) is introduced as a set of processes that "involve the generation of hydroxyl radicals in sufficient quantity to affect water purification".[32]
1988 Crisis Many people become poisoned through contaminated drinking water supply in Camelford, after a worker puts 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate in the wrong tank. United Kingdom
1993 Crisis 400,000 people fall ill in Milwaukee from using drinking water that is contaminated by Cryptosporidium cysts.[33] United States
1993 Crisis Overfeeding of fluoride results in a fluoride poisoning outbreak, in Mississippi.[34] United States
1996 Technology Indian scientist Ashok Gadgil, working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, invents the UV Waterworks, an effective and inexpensive device for purifying water. The device, a portable, low-maintenance, energy-efficient water purifier, uses ultraviolet light to quickly, safely, and cheaply disinfect water of the viruses and bacteria that cause cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and other deadly diseases.[22][35] United States
2000 Crisis A gastroenteritis outbreak is brought by a non-chlorinated community water supply, in southern Finland.[36] Finland
2001 Statistics At the end of the year, there are 15,223 completed or contracted plants worldwide, with fresh water

production capacity of more than 6.8 billion gallons of water daily. Nearly 60% of that capacity uses, or will use seawater, with the remaining using brackish or other feedwater.[24] ||

2004 Crisis Contamination of the community water supply, serving the Bergen city centre of Norway, is reported after the outbreak of waterborne giardiasis.[37] Norway
2005 Statistics More than 10,500 desalination plants producing a total of more than 55 billion litres (in excess of 14.6 billion gallons) of potable water per day are in operation throughout the world.[5]
2007 Crisis Contaminated drinking water leads to the outbreak of gastroenteritis with multiple aetiologies in Denmark.[38] Denmark
2010 Statistics The largest producers of desalinated water are Saudi Arabia, with 17% of total global output, the United Arab Emirates, with 13.4%, and the United States, with roughly 13 percent of the total output (mostly in Florida, Texas, and California). The majority of all desalination plants are reverse-osmosis systems, with multistage flash distillation being the second-ranking process.[5]
2012 Statistics 502,000 diarrhoea deaths are estimated to be caused by inadequate drinking water.[39]
2015 Statistics Some 18,426 desalination plants are reported to operate worldwide, producing 86.8 million cubic meters per day, providing water for 300 million people.[40]

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How the timeline was built

The initial version of the timeline was written by User:Sebastian.

Funding information for this timeline is available.

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See also


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  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "THE HISTORY OF CLEAN DRINKING WATER". freedrinkingwater.com. Retrieved 29 September 2017. 
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  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 Burke, Joseph. FLUORIDATED WATER CONTROVERSY. Retrieved 4 August 2017. 
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