From experiments made by allowing water to filter through spongy iron on to meat, it has been found that after 6 weeks the meat remained fresh. Another test was made by preparing a hay infusion, which was kept till it showed abundance of organic life. The infusion was filtered through spongy iron with layers of pyrolusite, sand, and gravel, and then was kept in contact with meat for many weeks. The meat showed no signs of putrescence. In some of the experiments filtered air was supplied, which proves conclusively that bacteria or their germs are not revived when supplied with oxygen after the filtration; this is a result of importance, as it demonstrates that by filtration through spongy iron, putrefaction of organic matter is not only suspended for a time, but that it ceases entirely until reinstated by some putrefactive agent foreign to the water. The peculiar action of spongy iron is believed to be thus explained. If a rod be inserted into a body of spongy iron which has been in contact with water for some time, gas bubbles are seen to escape.
The material was introduced for filtration purposes some years ago by Prof. Bischof. His ordinary portable domestic filter consists of an inner, or spongy iron, vessel, resting in an outer case. The latter holds the "prepared sand," the regulator arrangement, and the receptacle for filtered water. The unfiltered water is, in this form of filter, mostly supplied from a bottle, which is inverted into the upper part of the inner vessel. After passing through the body of spongy iron, the water ascends through an overflow pipe. The object of this is to keep the spongy iron, when once wet, constantly under water, as otherwise, if alternately exposed to air and water, it is too rapidly oxidised.
On leaving the inner vessel, the water contains a minute trace of iron in solution, as carbonate or ferrous hydrate, which is separated by the prepared sand underneath. This consists generally of 3 layers, namely, commencing from the top, of pyrolusite (manganese black oxide), sand, and gravel. The former oxidises the protocompounds of iron, rendering them insoluble, when they are mechanically retained by the sand underneath. Pyrolusite also has an oxidising action upon ammonia, converting it more or less into nitric acid.
The regulator arrangement is underneath the perforated bottom, on which the prepared sand rests. It consists of a tin tube, open at the inner, and closed by screw caps at its outer end. The tube is cemented water-tight into the outer case, and a solid partition under the perforated bottom referred to. It is provided with a perforation in its side, which forms the only communication between the upper part of the filter and the receptacle for filtered water. The flow of water is thus controlled by the size of such perforation. Should the perforation become choked, a wire brush may be introduced, after removing the screw cap, and the tube cleaned. Thus, although the user has no access to the perforation allowing of his tampering with it, he has free access for cleaning. Another advantage of the regulator arrangement is that, when first starting a filter, the materials may be rapidly washed without soiling the receptacle for filtered water. This is done by unscrewing the screw cap, when the water passes out through the outer opening of the tube, and not through the lateral perforation.
Various modifications had, of course, to be introduced into the construction of spongy iron filters, to suit a variety of requirements. Thus, when filters are supplied by a ball-cock from a constant supply, or from a cistern of sufficient capacity, the inner vessel is dispensed with, as the ball-cock secures the spongy iron remaining covered with water. This renders filters simpler and cheaper.
As the action of spongy iron is dependent upon its remaining covered with water, whilst the materials which are employed in perhaps all other filters lose their purifying action very soon, unless they are run dry from time to time, so as to expose them to the air, the former is peculiarly suited for cistern filters.
Cistern filters are frequently constructed with a top screwed on to the filter case, by means of a flange and bolts, a U-shaped pipe passing down from this top to near the bottom of the cistern. This tube sometimes supplies the unfiltered water, or in some filters carries off the filtered water, when upward filtration is employed. This plan is defective, because it practically gives no access to the materials; and unless the top is jointed perfectly tight, the unfiltered water, with upward filtration, may be sucked in through the joint, without passing at all through the materials. This is remedied by loosely surrounding the filter case with a cylindrical mantle of zinc, which is closed at its top and open at the bottom. Supposing the filter case to be covered with water, and the mantle placed over the case, an air valve is then opened in the top of the mantle, when the air escapes, being replaced by water. After screwing the valve on again, the fiter is supplied with water by the siphon action taking place between the mantle and filter case and the column of filtered water, which passes down from the bottom of the filter to the lower parts of the building. These filters are supplied with a regulator arrangement on the same principle as ordinary domestic filters.
The washing of materials, on starting a filter, is easily accomplished by reversing 2 stop-cocks, one leading to the regulator, the other to a waste pipe.
The use of spongy iron has now been applied on a large scale to the water obtained from the river Nette, for the supply of the city of Antwerp. Dr. Frankland has visited the Antwerp Waterworks at Waelheim, about 15 miles above that city, and reported on the result of his inquiry. He attaches especial value to the fact that spongy iron filtration "is absolutely fatal to Bacteria and their germs," and he considers it would be "an invaluable boon to the Metropolis if all water supplied from the Thames and Lea were submitted to this treatment in default of a new supply from unimpeachable sources."