Reprint of: Sewage Pollution and Institutional and Technological Change in the United States, 1830-1915
This article examines institutions for water pollution control and their interaction with water supply and sanitation technologies in the United States before the First World War. The article discusses how growth of settlements polluted waters and created pressure to adopt local institutional responses and networked water supply and sewerage technologies in the mid-19th century. However, the new urban technologies undermined local institutional responses and expanded the scale of water pollution problems they were expected to resolve. Water companies, households and local governments litigated their water pollution conflicts in the courts in the absence of other alternatives. In the end of the 19th century, many states adopted water pollution policies. At first, public health authorities enforced the new policies to protect public water supplies from sewage contamination. However, when the effectiveness of filtration and chlorination of drinking water was demonstrated in the early 20th century, public health authorities ceased to enforce discharge prohibitions and instead pressured water companies to adopt the new technological measures to protect public health.
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National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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