ALTHOUGH MEDIA REPOR TING on health
risks has a tendency to stir up worry, this
worry is often misplaced when reports
involve the misrepresentation of unsubstantiated scientific evidence. The presence of endocrine-disrupting compounds
(EDCs) and pharmaceuticals and personal
care products (PPCPs) in the water supply
has attracted substantial media attention,
particularly in the United States (Figure 1).
This has been followed by intense
policy discussions, despite the fact there
is no concrete evidence to suggest a risk
to public health. Research findings from
Consumer Perceptions and Attitudes Toward
EDCs and PPCPs in Drinking Water (
project #4323, Rundblad et al.) explored the
public’s perspective on the health risks
posed by EDCs and PPCPs, their science,
and regulation in an effort to support the
water community in the development of
fresh and effective communication. Many
of the findings can be applied on a generalized level to water contaminants, as well
as specifically to EDCs and PPCPs.
Some key findings include:
º Information provided by water utili-
ties is trusted and frequently used
º The Internet is a common informa-
tion source for consumers on water-
º A larger variety of terms are used to
refer to contaminants in the media
compared to utility outreach.
º Consumers are open to technical
details and educated consumers
desire more detailed information,
although consumers do not
equate technical detail with
º Regulations have strong positive asso-
ciations with safety and security and
the notion of “unregulated contami-
nants” causes worry to consumers.
Some related recommendations for
water utilities are:
º Communicate about current research
initiatives that the water industry is
undertaking and what the investiga-
tions hope to achieve.
º Employ some of the lay language that
is used in media reports about con-
taminants on utility Websites so that
consumers can find utility informa-
tion when using lay language in
º Highlight the positive role of water
utilities in testing and treating water.
º Highlight that monitoring and test-
ing for contaminants enforces a stan-
dard of care.
º Minimize mentioning when contami-
nants are not regulated.
º Avoid using terms with negative
associations, especially if the mes-
sage is positive.
The final products from this proj-
ect include a final report, a Webcast, a
PowerPoint® presentation, and five refer-
ence sheets that provide key findings and
recommendations geared to different
water utility staff.
Consumer Perceptions Toward EDCs,
PPCPs, and Other Contaminants
Figure 1.Media coverage in the UK and US in relation to an Associated Press story on unregulated contaminants in
drinking water in March 2008