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.

More than a century later, thousands of people still die from cholera each year, and providing clean drinking water to the world’s entire population is a far-off goal. The Pump Handle symbolizes both a public health victory and the challenges facing the public health and environmental fields today.

The Pump Handle first went on-line in January 2007. Its original contributors were Liz Borkowski, MPH; Dick Clapp, DSc, MPH; David Michaels, PhD, MPH; and Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH. Liz and Celeste continue as weekly contributors, joined by Kim Krisberg. We welcome inquiries about being a guest contributor.