Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum Water Quality - Pollutant Sources and Impacts
As little as 150 years ago, it was not known
that diseases originated in a microbiological world and people
were unaware of the dangers of contaminated drinking water.
Epidemic diseases such as cholera were thought to be a consequence of living
in sinful ways, as many of those affected lived ‘dissolute … and
filth ridden lives.’ Scientists of the time believed that
cholera was caused by an “influence in the atmosphere”,
a miasma or poison contracted by those who were weakened by participating
in certain behaviors. Those who lived a clean and upright life
would not be affected.
In 1854, an outbreak of cholera occurred in London,
England. A doctor named John Snow had been promoting a new theory
of waterborne disease transmission, but his warnings were ignored
by officials. Through a masterful and scientific bit of detective
work, Dr. Snow eventually determined that the source of the 1854
epidemic was a drinking water pump that had been contaminated by
a broken sewer pipe that passed close by. When he showed the results
of his detective work to local officials, they took action immediately
to eliminate the source of the problem. How do you think that they
detectives are called epidemiologists and they are a very important
part of the public health profession.
The origin of the London cholera epidemic
of 1854 was traced to a contaminated drinking water pump.