The Use of the Microscope in Water Filter History
van Leeuwenhoek used his discovery of the microscope to
see and describe the teeming life in a single drop of water.
Robert Hooke, considered
the English father of microscopy, confirmed Leeuwenhoek’s descriptions
of tiny, living organisms in a drop of water and further refined
the microscope. Soon scientists were examining tiny particles
of life they had never before seen nor known existed prior to
the invention of the microscope.
The microscope has an interesting place in water filter history.
In mid-19th century London, where diseases ran rampant because
of the tight quarters of the working class, city officials began
to link the spread of cholera
to poor drinking water quality (Baker & Taras, 1981). In areas
where sand water filters had been installed, the outbreak of
cholera had greatly decreased. To further corroborate this conclusion,
John Snow, a British
scientist, was able to link several cholera deaths to water
from the Broad Street Pump, a nearby water pump that had become
contaminated by a leaking sewer (Baker & Taras, 1981). Using
a microscope, he was able to confirm the presence of tiny cholera
bacteria in the water. Ironically, this water came from a pump
that had been noted throughout the city for its overall good
taste and quality. This instance proved once more that the taste
and visual clarity of water does not necessarily indicate purity.
As British government officials noted the effect of water quality on cholera outbreaks, both through Snow’s discovery and through the evidence of decreasing cases of cholera where sand water filters had been installed, they mandated the installation of sand water filters throughout the city. This mandate was one of the first instances of government regulation of public water and would set a precedent for municipal water systems.