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What is the greatest medical breakthrough since 1840? Make your nomination at

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 07 September 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:0-g

Rapid Response:

Greatest Medical Breakthrough: water disinfection

Keith Christman is Director of Disinfection and Government Relations
at the Chlorine Chemistry Council (CCC), writes that "The filtration and
disinfection of drinking water has been responsible for a large part of
the 50 percent increase in life expectancy in this century. That fact led
Life magazine to cite filtration of drinking water and use of chlorine as
'probably the most significant public health advance of the millennium'."

The British led the way with this development. In 1850 John Snow
attempted to disinfect the Broad Street Pump water supply in London after
an outbreak of cholera. In 1897, Sims Woodhead used "bleach solution" as a
temporary measure to sterilize potable water distribution mains at
Maidstone, Kent (England) following a typhoid outbreak. Water
chlorination eradicated typhoid, cholera and dysentery in one swoop.

Bill Sardi
Knowledge of Health, Inc.
San Dimas, CA 91773

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

09 September 2006
Bill Sardi
San Dimas, California USA 91773