Chlorine and Water Disinfection Have Saved Millions of Lives


In the 1890s and early 1900s, waterborne disease and death were facts of life in the U.S. Wells and rivers became more polluted in the U.S. as urbanization and industrialization exploded. The public health movement to remove “filth” from cities encouraged sewer construction. At the same time, centralized water systems rose in popularity. Thus, A highly efficient means of conveying contaminated drinking water to urban populations was created.

Perhaps no other advancement of public health has been as significant. Yet, few know the intriguing story of a simple idea—disinfecting public water systems with chlorine—that in just 110 years has saved more lives than any other health development in human history.

At the turn of the 20th century, most scientists and doctors called the addition of chloride of lime, a poisonous chemical, to public water supplies not only a preposterous idea but also an illegal act—until a courageous physician, working with the era’s greatest sanitary engineer, proved it could be done safely and effectively on a large scale.

This is the first book to tell the incredible true story of the first use of chlorine to disinfect a city water supply, in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1908. This important book also corrects misinformation long-held in the historical record about who was responsible for this momentous event, giving overdue recognition to the true hero of the story—an unflagging champion of public health, Dr. John L. Leal.

Featured on the PBS Series and bookHow We Got to Now  by Steven Johnson

Amazon Reviews

“I could not put it down! This is terrific with tons of great info. McGuire hit it out of the ballpark.” Kimberley M. Knox, Community Outreach Manager, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, Laurel, Maryland

“It is a fascinating history of the introduction of chlorine as a disinfectant…” James K. Edzwald, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts

“Aimed at lay readers as well as professionals…McGuire's book is sure to be the definitive account of the chlorine story for years to come.” California Professor

The Chlorine Revolution…is an extraordinary book telling a remarkable story.” Michael E. Campana, Professor of Hydrogeology and Water Resources Management, Oregon State University

“McGuire takes us down the long road to safeguard our water supply at the beginning of the twentieth century and does with clear and engaging prose that lay readers can understand.” Penelope Grenoble, Editor, Source magazine

“Intriguing. This is a true story full of twists and turns--real life being better than fiction--of how courageous individuals, willing to risk their professional careers stopped water borne disease.” David LaFrance, Executive Director of the American Water Works Association

“McGuire has penned an excellent historical accounting of how chlorine…has dramatically improved our health and our lives. This is a must read for anyone interested in water!” Paul Crocker, Water Treatment Plant Operator, Kansas City, Kansas