This article originally appeared in WQP November 2020 issue as "Consumer Conversations"
WQP Associate Editor Cristina Tuser spoke to Derek Mellencamp, CMO and general manager for Aquasana, about the company’s second Annual Water Quality survey. The survey explores common water contaminants that are of greatest concern to Americans and how concern surrounding the quality of municipal drinking water has changed year-over-year.
Cristina Tuser: What factors into the survey’s trend that trust in municipal drinking water quality is on the decline year-over-year?
Derek Mellencamp: We have seen a growing awareness the past few years around the presence of harmful contaminants in drinking water, including lead and PFOA/PFOS, among our customers and the broader public, as supported in this year’s Water Quality Survey. From the uptick in news coverage of local water crises like in Flint, Michigan, and around the country, to mainstream motion pictures like “Dark Waters” and “The Devil We Know,” there has been a national spotlight on these topics recently, and people are paying attention. As consumers learn more about these contaminants, how they get into our drinking water systems, their devastating health effects, and the difficulty in addressing them at the municipal level, it is understandable that public confidence in the quality of their drinking water would be impacted as a result.
Tuser: How can trust with consumers be improved?
Mellencamp: One of our core missions over the past two decades has been to help educate and empower consumers when it comes to understanding what may be in their drinking water, but in no way do we want to disparage the municipal water providers. Trust is not the issue here. The municipal water providers work hard every day to provide a quality product to their end customers. However, many people in the country are on private wells, and frankly, there are so many emerging contaminants entering our water sources daily that even their best efforts may still fall short. We encourage folks to take control of their own water quality by installing high-quality water filters in their home as a final line of defense. So while they can trust that their water provider is doing what they can to provide the best product, they can get peace of mind knowing they have taken an extra step to ensure they have great water at home.
Tuser: What is your impression of consumer knowledge of contaminant issues and certifications?
Mellencamp: We believe consumers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable on water quality issues, which is supported by several of our key survey findings around consumer thoughts and behavior. For example, we found nearly three out of four U.S. adults (73%) filter their water at home, and that awareness of PFOA/PFOS is on the rise among consumers, with a 44% year-over-year increase in familiarity with the “forever chemical” as it relates to water. When it comes to what to look for when purchasing a filter, the vast majority of U.S. adults (89%) think it is important for water filters to be tested and certified by an independent, third-party organization.
Tuser: What do you believe are the consequences of an increased awareness around PFOA/PFOS? How can the momentum be continued?
Mellencamp: As with all drinking water contaminants, increased awareness is paramount to making real, lasting change to protect the broader public. The more consumers understand the enormity of “forever chemicals” in our drinking water and the serious health implications, the stronger the call for resolution from all parties involved will grow. On an individual level, we are seeing more people take proactive steps to protect their homes by installing a water filter. On the official side, we are seeing more conversations take place on the local, state and national levels with proposed legislation to regulate PFOA/PFOS in drinking water, drastically decrease “safe exposure” limits, and address cleanup.
While our survey found that PFOA/PFOS trail behind lead; bacteria and cysts; herbicides and pesticides; chlorine and chloramines; and fluoride as Americans’ top contaminant concerns, we saw significant year-over-year growth in the percentage of people who said they are familiar with the chemicals as they relate to drinking water. In fact, Gen Z awareness of PFOA/PFOS grew by 114% from 2019 to 2020.
*Responses have been edited for length and clarity.