Dr John Snow and an early investigation of groundwater contamination
John Snow was a physician but his studies of the way in which cholera is spread have long attracted the interest of hydrogeologists. From his investigation into the epidemiology of the cholera outbreak around the well in Broad Street, London, in 1854, Snow gained valuable evidence that cholera is spread by contamination of drinking water. Subsequent research by others showed that the well was contaminated by sewage. The study therefore represents one of the first, if not the first, study of an incident of groundwater contamination in Britain. Although he had no formal geological training, it is clear that Snow had a much better understanding of groundwater than many modern medical practitioners. At the time of the outbreak Snow was continuing his practice as a physician and anaesthetist. His casebooks for 1854 do not even mention cholera. Yet, nearly 150 years later, he is as well known for his work on cholera as for his pioneering work on anaesthesia, and his discoveries are still the subject of controversy.