Public perceptions of drinking water: A postal survey of residents with private water supplies

Division of Community Health, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland, A1B 3V6, Canada.
BMC Public Health (Impact Factor: 2.26). 02/2006; 6(1):94. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2458-6-94
Source: PubMed


In Canada, the legal responsibility for the condition of private water supplies, including private wells and cisterns, rests with their owners. However, there are reports that Canadians test these water supplies intermittently and that treatment of such water is uncommon. An estimated 45% of all waterborne outbreaks in Canada involve non-municipal systems. An understanding of the perceptions and needs of Canadians served by private water supplies is essential, as it would enable public health professionals to better target public education and drinking water policy. The purpose of this study was to investigate the public perceptions of private water supplies in the City of Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), with the intent of informing public education and outreach strategies within the population.
A cross-sectional postal survey of 246 residences with private water supplies was conducted in May 2004. Questions pertained to the perceptions of water quality and alternative water sources, water testing behaviours and the self-identified need for further information.
Private wells, cisterns or both, were the source of household water for 71%, 16% and 13% of respondents, respectively. Although respondents rated their water quality highly, 80% also had concerns with its safety. The most common concerns pertained to bacterial and chemical contamination of their water supply and its potential negative effect on health. Approximately 56% and 61% of respondents used in-home treatment devices and bottled water within their homes, respectively, mainly due to perceived improvements in the safety and aesthetic qualities compared to regular tap water. Testing of private water supplies was performed infrequently: 8% of respondents tested at a frequency that meets current provincial guidelines. Two-thirds of respondents wanted more information on various topics related to private water supplies. Flyers and newspapers were the two media reported most likely to be used.
Although respondents rated their water quality highly, the majority had concerns regarding the water from their private supply, and the use of bottled water and water treatment devices was extensive. The results of this study suggest important lines of inquiry and provide support and input for public education programs, particularly those related to private water testing, in this population.

Download full-text


Available from: Shannon Majowicz, May 05, 2014
  • Source
    • "A postal survey of 246 residences in Ontario, Canada found that 80% of respondents were " very concerned " or " concerned " about the overall safety of the water from their private source, yet 21% of all households had never tested their well water and among those that did, testing for parameters other than Escherichia coli and total coliforms was very uncommon (Jones et al., 2006). The most common reasons households gave for not testing were inconvenience, time issues, and having no health problems or noticeable water changes (Jones et al., 2006). Another study of private well owners in Ontario, Canada attempted to improve well testing rates by removing the barriers of cost and convenience, delivering well water information kits with sampling bottles directly to well owners and collecting them the following day, offering nitrate and bacteriological sampling at no charge (Hexemer et al., 2008). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In 2001 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted a new standard for arsenic (As) in drinking water of 10μg/L, replacing the old standard of 50μg/L. However, for the 12% of the U.S. population relying on unregulated domestic well water, including half of the population of Maine, it is solely the well owner's responsibility to test and treat the water. A mailed household survey was implemented in January 2013 in 13 towns of Central Maine with the goal of understanding the population's testing and treatment practices and the key behavior influencing factors in an area with high well-water dependency and frequent natural groundwater As. The response rate was 58.3%; 525 of 900 likely-delivered surveys to randomly selected addresses were completed. Although 78% of the households reported that their well has been tested, half of it was more than 5years ago. Among the 58.7% who believe they have tested for As, most do not remember the results. Better educated, higher income homeowners who more recently purchased their homes are most likely to have included As when last testing. While households agree that water and As-related health risks can be severe, they feel low personal vulnerability and there are low testing norms overall. Significant predictors of including As when last testing include: having knowledge that years of exposure increases As-related health risks (risk knowledge), knowing who to contact to test well water (action knowledge), believing that regular testing does not take too much time (instrumental attitude), and having neighbors who regularly test their water (descriptive norm). Homeowners in As-affected communities have the tendency to underestimate their As risks compared to their neighbors. The reasons for this optimistic bias require further study, but low testing behaviors in this area may be due to the influence of a combination of norm, ability, and attitude factors and barriers.
    Full-text · Article · May 2014 · Science of The Total Environment
  • Source
    • "Similar findings have been found among private water users in Hamilton, Ontario where an even larger discrepancy between respondent ratings of safety and level of concern were observed [5]. Jones et al. (2006a) suggests that this seemingly contradictory evidence may be due to a lack of perceived health problems from consuming water. We hypothesize that the levels of concern evidenced in this study represent a general level of concern, or interest, in the safety of the water they consume, rather than an immediate, specific concern over its safety. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The first objective of this study was to investigate the public perceptions of private water and alternative sources with respect to safety, quality, testing and treatment in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), Canada. The second objective was to provide public health practitioners with recommendations for improving knowledge translation (KT) efforts in NL, based on assessments of respondents' perceived information needs and preferred KT methods. A cross-sectional telephone survey of 618 households with private water supplies was conducted in March-April, 2007. Questions pertained to respondents' perceptions of their tap water, water concerns, alternative water use, well characteristics, and water testing behaviours. Approximately 94% of households were supplied by private wells (50% drilled and 50% dug wells), while 6% obtained water from roadside ponds, rivers or springs (RPRS). While 85% rated their water quality highly, 55% nevertheless had concerns about its overall safety. Approximately 11% of respondents never tested their water, and of the 89% that had, 80% tested at frequencies below provincial recommendations for bacterial testing. More than one-third of respondents reported treating their water in the home, and 78% employed active carbon filtration methods. Respondents wanted more information on testing options and advice on effective treatment methods. Targeted advertising through television, flyers/brochures and/or radio is recommended as a first step to increase awareness. More active KT methods involving key stakeholders may be most effective in improving testing and treatment behaviour. The results presented here can assist public health practitioners in tailoring current KT initiatives to influence well owner stewardship behaviour.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2013 · BMC Public Health
    • "Without considering the health benefits, water quality consumer complaints are triggered by changes in sensory properties (Whelton, Dietrich, Burlingame, Schechs, & Duncan, 2007), mainly taste and odour (Bae, Shin, & Choi, 2007 ). Some authors reported that sensory characteristics are very important perceptions for the quality of drinking water (Gray, 2008; Jones et al., 2006 ) and are also considered aesthetic relevant factors when choosing drinking water (Dietrich, 2006 ). The first sensory studies concerning water samples, implemented in the mid-80s, were mainly focused on taste and odour identification (Mallevialle & Suffet, 1995) and off-flavour detection (Krasner, 1988). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: As bottled mineral water market is increasing in the world (especially in emergent and developed countries), the development of a simple protocol to train a panel to evaluate sensory properties would be a useful tool for natural drinking water industry. A sensory protocol was developed to evaluate bottled natural mineral water (17 still and 10 carbonated trademarks). The tasting questionnaire included 13 attributes for still water plus overall impression and they were sorted by: colour hues, transparency and brightness, odour/aroma and taste/flavour/texture and 2 more for carbonated waters (bubbles and effervescence). The training lasted two months with, at least, 10 sessions, was adequate to evaluate bottled natural mineral water. To confirm the efficiency of the sensory training procedure two sensory groups formed the whole panel. One trained panel (6 persons) and one professional panel (6 sommeliers) and both participated simultaneously in the water tasting evaluation of 3 sample lots. Similar average scores obtained from trained and professional judges, with the same water trademarks, confirmed the usefulness of the training protocol. The differences obtained for trained panel in the first lot confirm the necessity to train always before a sensory procedure. A sensory water wheel is proposed to guide the training in bottled mineral water used for drinking, in connection with their chemical mineral content.
    No preview · Article · Nov 2013 · Food Chemistry
Show more