How Do We Explain Contaminants in Drinking Water?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are 150,110 operational public water systems in the United States. Communities rely on these vital systems to provide safe, reliable drinking water to their residents, businesses and visitors; however, some of these systems face challenges including aging infrastructure, limited resources, operational and maintenance system failures. In some cases, these challenges can lead to the contamination of a public drinking supply.

The Safe Drinking Water Act protects public drinking water supplies throughout the United States. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, a “contaminant” is defined as any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter in our water.

The following are the EPA’s general categories of drinking water contaminants:

  • Physical contaminants primarily impact the physical appearance or other physical properties of water.

  • Chemical contaminants are elements or compounds. These contaminants may be naturally occurring or man-made.

  • Biological contaminants are organisms in water. They are also referred to as microbes or microbiological contaminants.

  • Radiological contaminants are chemical elements with an unbalanced number of protons and neutrons resulting in unstable atoms that can emit ionizing radiation.

When a public drinking water source has been infiltrated by a contaminate, it is the responsibility of the water utility to provide timely and accurate information both internally and externally. Upon confirmation of a water security emergency, the appropriate notification must be issued such as a,“boil water, do not drink or consume” order. If carefully designed, a communication plan can save precious time when an emergency occurs and enable leaders and spokespersons to focus on particulars of the emergency at hand and the quality, accuracy, and speed of their responses.

The quality of outgoing communications during a contamination event will directly influence a community’s action or lack of action. Insufficient or poor communications can heighten emotions and undermine trust. By communicating clearly and concisely, utilities can rally support, calm constituents, and provide the information needed for water consumers to make solid decisions that may affect their health. Here are a few tips that our team uses in strategy regarding communications for crisis events:

  • Stay factual - do not use too many analogies.

  • Keep it simple - use understandable terminology.

  • Give specific guidelines and recommendations.

  • Provide a plan of action.

We take a “By Any Means Necessary” approach in developing our communication strategies to encompass many diverse groups of constituents. This is handled by disseminating information through methods that may include: door hangers, messages in their water bills, community meetings, press releases and media advisories, social media posts, educational forums, radio and television spots. Our team works with organizations to convey timely, accurate, clear, and credible information. We enable audiences to better understand issues, act constructively upon the information provided, recover more quickly, and gain or regain trust in the drinking water stewardship of their community.

At Capital Strategic Solutions, we provide our clients with the support that they need to help manage effective risk and crisis communication during water security emergencies. If you are interested in these types of services and/or learning more about what we do, please contact or call 508-690-0046.

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