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Marketing and Comms
Majority of Americans Concerned About Contaminants in Tap Water

It’s National Drinking Water Week, but new survey results suggest Americans may have more concerns on their minds than reasons to celebrate. Most Americans feel unknowledgeable about what is in their drinking water and are concerned about contaminants.

It presents an opportunity for water companies to consider how they are communicating with their customers and seek out ways to improve. With lead contamination still an ongoing issue in places such as Flint, MI, it seems unlikely that Americans will be reassured without better communication from their water providers.

The majority of the US population drinks tap water on a regular basis: 71 percent drink tap water at least sometimes while only one in ten (12 percent) say they never drink tap water. Higher income households ($80k+) are more likely to drink tap water at least sometimes (75 percent) and less likely to be concerned about contaminants (53 percent) compared to lower income (under $40k) households (68 percent and 59 percent, respectively). Females and parents are also more likely to be concerned than their male peers and those without children.

However, there is an underlying gap between consumer knowledge and action. Though they are concerned, the majority of Americans don’t take steps to better understand what’s in their drinking water and purify it accordingly.

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Approximately one-third of individuals (31 percent of those who have a well and 35 percent of those who use a municipal source) do not seek out information on what is in their drinking water. And while most understand that different home drinking water filters reduce different contaminants (71 percent) and some work better than others (72 percent), this understanding is lower among Millennials, lower income households and parents compared to other groups.

Few are taking real action to improve their drinking water quality through filtration, including finding the right filtration system to treat their specific drinking water needs. Two-fifths (42 percent) of individuals do not take any steps to purify their home drinking water; this is higher among lower income households (51 percent) and those who do not have children (44 percent) compared to higher income households (29 percent) and parents (37 percent). The most common filter/systems are built in fridge filters (24 percent) and water filter pitchers (18 percent), and the most common reason amongst those who do purify their water is that the system came with the house or fridge they own (28 percent). Of those who do purify their water, only 1 in 10 (8 percent) are actively looking for third-party certification on their water filters.

These results are based on a survey of 1,106 Americans conducted by NSF International, a global public health and safety oganization, to understand their perceptions and behaviors around drinking water quality and safety. Despite the relatively small sample size compared to the US population as a whole, it is clear that concerns are high across age, gender and income demographics.

Without reassurance about tap water, it seems unlikely that the US could curb its bottled water industry, which poses major environmental and waste management concerns. Despite various efforts to improve the materials used to make water bottles and recycle them into other products, recycling rates in the US remain low across the board. Any increases in bottled water use add pressure on local landfills. What’s more, consumers are becoming less and less fond of single-use plastics, including plastic water bottles.

Together these factors present an opportunity for water providers to help change consumer behavior around water use. Customers need reassurance about tap water, education on the different water filters available and what is best suited for their area, and where they can safely refill reusable bottles.