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Tasty Tidbits in GIS History – The Cholera Outbreaks of the 19th Century

Tasty Tidbits in GIS History – The Cholera Outbreaks of the 19th Century

Published November 25, 2013 by Lori Page

I have to admit that creating this graphic was not particularly fun, especially as it grew close to lunchtime around the office. Still it was a really neat tasty tidbit (or not-so-tasty tidbit) to share about GIS.

Imagine living in 19th century London, a time when a lot of common illnesses went largely unexplained. The safeguards we have today to ensure that our drinking water won’t kill us were simply non-existant in those days. The Southwark Vauxhall Waterworks Company, a major contributor in the cholera outbreak, was described by microbiologist Arthur Hassall as “the most disgusting which I have ever examined”. Even in the years after the outbreak, the company continued with poor filtration and had the worst quality of water out of 7 other competing water companies. When another analyst sampled their water in 1876, it was “slightly turbid from insufficient filtration, and contained moving organisms”.

Imagine a world where we didn’t use analysis or tools to probe and ask important questions like “how safe is our drinking water?” Imagine if people like John Snow didn’t strive for a higher level of insight. I think that if Snow were alive today, he would be absolutely blown away by what GIS has the power to do.

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