Association between perceptions of public drinking water quality and actual drinking water quality: A community-based exploratory study in Newfoundland (Canada)

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Abstract

Studying public perception on drinking water quality is crucial for managing of water resources, generation of water quality standards, and surveillance of the drinking-water quality. However, in policy discourse, the reliability of public perception concerning drinking water quality and associated health risks is questionable. Does the public perception of water quality equate with the actual water quality? We investigated public perceptions of water quality and the perceived health risks and associated with the actual quality of public water supplies in the same communities. The study was conducted in 45 communities of Newfoundland (Canada) in 2012. First, a telephone survey of 100 households was conducted to examine public perceptions of drinking water quality of their respective public sources. Then we extracted public water quality reports of the same communities (1988–2011) from the provincial government's water resources portal. These reports contained the analysis of 2091 water samples, including levels of Disinfection By-Products (DBPs), nutrients, metals, ions and physical parameters. The reports showed that colour, manganese, total dissolved solids, iron, turbidity, and DBPs were the major detected parameters in the public water. However, the majority of the respondents (>56%) were either completely satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of drinking water. Older, higher educated and high-income group respondents were more satisfied with water quality than the younger, less educated and low-income group respondents. The study showed that there was no association with public satisfaction level and actual water quality of the respective communities. Even, in the communities, supplied by the same water system, the respondents had differences in opinion. Despite the effort by the provincial government to make the water-test results available on its website for years, the study showed existing disconnectedness between public perception of drinking water quality and actual quality. We had little scope to explore the possible explanations, and hence further studies are required to verify the age, gender educational status and income differential about the satisfaction of public service like water supply.

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