November 16, 2006 The Pump Handle 1Comment

The story of the pump handle is familiar to any first-semester public health student: During the London cholera epidemic of 1854, John Snow examined maps of cholera cases and traced the disease to water from a local pump. At the time, the prevailing theory held that cholera spread through the air, rather than water, so Snow faced criticism from others in the science community – not to mention resistance from the water companies. He finally convinced community leaders to remove the pump’s handle to prevent further exposure

We’ve created The Pump Handle blog to serve as a gathering place for people interested in public health and the environment. Science is the product of community effort, and it often takes a community effort to make sure that science is used appropriately, and not buried or corrupted for ideological or profit-making reasons.


Are there new ideas or discoveries from the public health or environmental fields that you think deserve more attention – or that aren’t getting explained quite right in the mainstream media? Leave us a comment and let us know.

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  1. I like to say that a modern version of the John Snow story is the parents in Woburn contending that the water from two contaminated wells was causing their children to get leukemia. They insisted that the health and environmental agencies do their jobs, which led to the well pumps being shut off in 1979. After that, the number of cases of leukemia began to subside, and subsequent epidemiologic studies indicated that exposure to water from the contaminated wells, especially prenatal exposure, was linked to childhood leukemia risk in their town. In this analogy, the citizens played the role of John Snow, and the chemical effluents of modern industry were the equivalent of the vibrio cholerae.

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