medicines and personal care products,
and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The animated film, Protecting Our
Drinking Water, provides context about
drinking water in general, the regulatory process, and substances in water.
Animations deliver messages in a simple
way while still ensuring technical accuracy.
They have proved successful for science
programming and social media (Figure 1).
Protecting Our Drinking Water was produced to build trust, which is critical, and
provide context for more specific messages. The animation emphasizes sophisticated monitoring and control systems
used by water utilities that are highly
protective of public health, as shown by
the dramatic decline in waterborne disease over the past century. It also puts a
new twist on the detection of substances
in water. Instead of viewing detection in
an alarming way, the animation presents
detection as the first step in protection.
In addition to the animation, the
research team also developed Core
Message Sheets and Technical Information
Sheets for each of the four substances.
The Technical Information Sheets provide
detailed information related to occurrence,
toxicity, and treatment efficacy for each of
the substances. The animation and Core
Message Sheets were produced for direct
distribution to and viewing by the general
public, while the Technical Information
Sheets were developed as a resource
for water utilities to have more detailed
information available, should a question
or concern arise.
Focus groups were held in Colorado,
Oregon, Nevada, and Kentucky to evalu-
ate the effects of the animation and Core
Message Sheets. Several conclusions
were drawn based on the focus group
discussions, as follows. First, local water
organizations are often perceived as hav-
ing primary responsibility for maintain-
ing safe drinking water. The safety of the
water depends on the level of resources
and enforcement policies, mainly at the
local level. The EPA is generally perceived
as credible, but at the same time weak as
a regulatory agency. Trust in the media
appears to be low.
Second, information must be cred-
ible. People want to know the source of
the information so they can evaluate any
potential biases. Additionally, the informa-
tion should be as complete as possible.
Simple conclusions are not very helpful;
context and explanation are needed. The
data suggest that presenting levels of
exposure and consequences of exposure
would be an appropriate communication
strategy. The information should be easy
to understand, but not “dumbed down.”
In general, both the animation and Core
Message Sheets were perceived as being
informative, educational, well-constructed,
and useful (Figure 2). Participants thought
both would be effective in calming public
reactions to contamination reports. The
generally positive response suggests that
the messages were designed effectively.
While no message will be universally
accepted, the messages produced should
appeal to a broad range of audiences.
Additionally, the focus group responses
indicate that trust is best maintained
through open and honest communication.
Messages that seem veiled or incomplete
undermine trust. Utilities should avoid
presenting overarching conclusions, but
rather should provide data and context.
Further, communications should explain
what contaminant has been identified,
what the level of the exposure is, and the
potential consequences of exposure.
A Primer for Public Outreach
ANOTHER PROJECT DESIGNED to help
utilities communicate with their customers about contaminants was project #4387,
Development of a Water Utility Primer on
EDCs/PPCPs for Public Outreach (Bruce and
Pleus 2015). The objective of this project
was to distill and synthesize current information on pharmaceutical and personal
care product (PPCPs) ingredients and
endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs)
in source and drinking water. The project
resulted in three deliverables: a primer,
a technical summary report, and a slide
deck. Drinking water utilities can use these
deliverables to further their understanding of these issues and support decision-making and communication efforts. It is
anticipated that these materials will serve
as a benchmark for future investigations
of PPCPs and EDCs in water.
Source: Macpherson et al. 2015
Figure 1. Screenshot from the animation Protecting Our Drinking Water