Document Type

Article

Rights

This item is available under a Creative Commons License for non-commercial use only

Disciplines

2.7 ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING

Abstract

In the mid-1800s, Dr. John Snow (1813–1858), an obstetrician and anaesthesiologist, theorised that cholera, a highly infectious gastrointestinal infection associated with extremely high rates of mortality, was caused by faecal contamination of water supplies (Donaldson and Scally 2009). During the summer of 1854, a significant cholera outbreak occurred in the Soho district of London (UK), resulting in the deaths of 616 people. As part of this first modern epidemiological investigation, Dr. Snow noted that “within 250 yards of the spot where Cambridge Street joins Broad Street there were upwards of 500 fatal attacks of cholera in 10 days (…) suspected some contamination of the water of the much-frequented street-pump (a public well) in Broad Street.” Snow subsequently developed what is now referred to as “The Ghost Map”, a geographical grid indicating where and when cholera cases and associated mortalities occurred in relation to the public well (Hempel 2007). Not only did the map confirm that almost all cases related to drinking water from the pump, but also that specific residential clusters were not associated with infection; for example, workers in an adjacent brewery did not contract the illness due to their daily allowance of beer. Later research discovered that the hand-dug well had been constructed just 0.9 m from a defunct septic tank/cesspit (Johnson 2006; Hempel 2007). Thus, it might be said that the science of epidemiology, considered the cornerstone of public health and defined as “the study and analysis of the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions within a specific population” (Porta 2008), has its very roots in hydrogeology and the subsurface.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-017-1585-1

Share

COinS