Baltimore, Maryland, United States
The Abel Wolman Municipal Building
Baltimore City College, Baltimore, Maryland, United States
In 1909 Abel Wolman graduated from the Baltimore City College.
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, United States
In 1913 Abel Wolman received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor of Science in engineering in 1915.
In 1909 Abel Wolman graduated from the Baltimore City College. In 1913 he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor of Science in engineering in 1915.
In 1937 Johns Hopkins granted Abel Wolman an honorary doctorate in engineering when he accepted the position of professor and chair of the departments of sanitary engineering at both the School of Engineering (now Whiting School of Engineering) and the School of Hygiene and Public Health (now Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health). He continued at Johns Hopkins until 1962. He also taught at Harvard, Princeton, the University of Chicago, and the University of Southern California.
Wolman began his career in health services even before completing his engineering degree. In 1913 he conducted pollution studies of the Potomac River in Washington for the United States Public Health Service. In 1914 he took a position with the Maryland State Department of Health, serving as chief engineer for the department from 1922 to 1939. He oversaw the formation of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the consolidation of the Baltimore metropolitan area into a single water supply region and developed during these years a firm belief in regional solutions to problems of sewerage and water supply.
In 1919 Wolman and former Hopkins classmate Linn H. Enslow published a paper that established standards for the application of chlorine to drinking water. The benefits of using hypochlorite salts to kill bacteria in water had been demonstrated as early as 1896 by George Fuller; however, because no method existed for determining the absorption of chlorine into different kinds of water, it could not be applied to drinking water safely or reliably. Wolman and Enslow devised a formula for calculating the correct amount of chlorine based on particular water conditions and desired qualities. Their methods soon gained universal acceptance.
At the federal level, Wolman’s advice was sought by the Senate select committee on national water resources, the House committee on science and astronautics, and the United States Geological Survey. At the state level as well, his reputation for careful analysis and his ability always to see the broader impact of policy decisions earned him consultancies to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Potomac River Commission, and the New Jersey Master Water Plan. Cities around the nation as well as the international community (more than fifty foreign governments, including Brazil, India, and Senegal) benefitted from Wolman’s knowledge and experience concerning drinking water and wastewater systems.
Wolman’s expertise guided the National Research Council in its efforts to improve sanitary engineering and environmental health issues in the U.S. military during World War II. When the United Nations was organized after the war, Wolman was chosen to assist the surgeon general of the U.S. Public Health Service in negotiations that established the World Health Organization (WHO). Under his influence, the agency broadened its initial mandate to promote health by medical intervention, vaccines, and medicines to include an emphasis on controlling and preventing water-borne disease. Wolman’s association with WHO was to last the rest of his life. His work with the National Research Council led to a position as consultant to the Department of Defense, and he later became a consultant to the United States Atomic Energy Commission. Wolman formulated sanitary engineering guidelines for the commission, and in the 1940s became a member of its advisory committee on reactor safety.
In the 1950s Wolman became uneasy about the environmental impact of the growing nuclear power industry and made his case eloquently to scientists such as J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller. It was Wolman who insisted that the first of the commercial nuclear power plants in West Milton, New York, include a concrete containment structure. Toward the end of his life, he was increasingly concerned that overpopulation would neutralize the benefits of improvements to the world’s water supply and supporting environmental systems, particularly in developing countries.
Abel Wolman was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Faraday Society, the Royal Institute of Public Health (now Royal Society for Public Health).
Abel Wolman enjoyed playing the violin, often accompanied by his wife on the piano.
On June 10, 1919, Abel Wolman married Anne Gordon. In 1984 she died. They had a son, Markley Gordon Wolman.