The preceding research, and much more that isn’t mentioned, provided an important foundation for the 1972 amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act—aka the Clean Water Act, which has controlled the release of pollutants into our surface water.
Even if you can detect that your water’s not clean, how do you make it clean? One set of studies in the early 1960s examined the effectiveness of a variety of treatment processes to remove radioactive, biological contaminants (like viruses), and chemical contaminants (like pesticides) from water.
In this peak year of the baby boom, 4.3 million babies were born! What would the population explosion mean for water availability? And what would the growing plastics and chemical industries (and the corresponding increase in waste) mean for water safety?
Despite our colloquial language, we don’t just “toss” our garbage. It goes to a sanitary landfill, carefully designed to minimize the leaching of chemicals into our ground water. But today’s solid waste management is a result of in-depth research, like a series of projects from around 1950, about waste’s characteristics throughout the breakdown process.
How can we tell how clean our water is? One method developed in 1950: use a molecular filter membrane to catch bacteria, give it some nutrients to grow on, and count the number of visible colonies that arise. Then you can determine how many were in the original water sample.
World War II brought new challenges for water research: how to treat and dispose of munitions? What effect would their waste effluents have on streams? How to disinfect water for military field operations? Researchers met the challenges.
Congress authorized the first U.S. water pollution study— a comprehensive look at Ohio River pollution and natural stream purification, led by a US Public Health Service research station in Cincinnati.