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The Pump Handle blog began in January 2007 as part of a project led by David Michaels, PhD, MPH at the School of Public Health at George Washington University. At the time, The Pump Handle was one of the few blogs focused exclusively on public health topics. (Michaels later served as the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA from 2009-2017.) 

Over more than 13 years, contributors Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH, Kim Krisberg and the late Lizzie Grossman wrote hundreds and hundreds of blog posts about worker health and safety.  They covered everything from farmworkers and pesticides; poultry workers and production line speeds; domestic workers and wage theft; and coal miners and black lung disease, to government efforts (or lack thereof) to protect people from work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths.  Liz Borkowski, MPH, the most prolific contributor to The Pump Handle writes extensively about women's health, scientific integrity, and most recently about the COVID19 pandemic. 

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.