Research

Four in ten Americans distrust their tap water

Most people in the US have access to clean, safe drinking water at home. But only 60% of Americans trust the water that comes from their taps, according to a recent survey commissioned by Kemira. That means that more than one in every three American feels unsure about drinking their tap water.

Four in ten Americans distrust their tap water

Whether due to historic contamination issues, recent headlines about water that’s tainted by lead or “forever chemicals”, or simply because of perceptions around the taste and smell of tap water, it’s clear that many Americans are suspicious of their water quality. Sadly, even in many places where it’s unwarranted, public confidence in water has eroded across the US. Some Americans have resorted to exclusively drinking bottled water.

State of trust: trust varies by location

To better understand attitudes toward water, Kemira recently commissioned a consumer survey that included 2,808 people from a sample of seven US states. It was part of a broader poll that also included five European countries. The idea was to better understand public sentiments related to water and raise awareness of the challenges facing the water supply.

We found that levels of trust vary significantly based on where people live. Here are how a handful of different states stack up when it comes to believing in the safety of their water supply.

“I trust the tap water in my home for drinking” – level of agreement (%)

Generally, the numbers were quite low when compared to the European countries in the survey.

“Everyone deserves access to clean, safe drinking water regardless of where they live,” says Michael Cavallero, Kemira’s regional vice president. “While most drinking water is safe, unfortunately that is not true everywhere across the US. As a result, the public seriously questions water quality.”

In every group we surveyed, participants admitted to knowing little about the details of their local water cycle. Fifty-five percent of Americans said they know where their water comes from and how it gets to their home. Fifty-two percent said they know where it goes after they use it. Cavallero says this lack of familiarity with the water cycle may shape public perceptions. People are often uncomfortable with what they don’t know.

Worried about water

Americans say there are a few reasons they distrust the water supply. Primarily, they are afraid their water is affected by contamination, chemicals, bacteria, disease, and old infrastrure. In fact, rather amazingly, survey respondents reported they are more worried about the quality of tap water in the US than access to healthcare.

Cavallero says that improving public confidence in water is key because water infrastructure requires continuous improvement. Taxpayer support is essential.

Many of the Americans we surveyed said it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure quality water. But few people said they would support related tax increases. Only 18% said that household water should be taxed at a higher rate.

“Household water should be taxed at a higher rate” – level of agreement (%)

Cavallero says that high quality water depends on cooperation and investment from a number of stakeholders including the public, the government, utilities operators and technology solutions providers like Kemira. Turning to bottled water is not a sustainable option.

In Finland, where 97% of the public trusts their tap water (also home to Kemira’s headquarters), the public and private sectors are collaborating to address current issues and find solutions for emerging concerns, like micropollutants and climate change, which also affect the water supply.

“The point is that water is a valuable resource. Everyone needs it. The US can address the issue of trust as well as actual water issues, where they exist, by bringing various stakeholders to the table and investing in new solutions including physical infrastructure, digital monitoring, and chemistry,” says Cavallero.

The good news is that modern water treatment technologies are already capable of delivering extremely high-quality water to millions of people, and researchers are continuously developing solutions to safeguard the water supply well into the future.

To learn more about the insights from our survey, download the data summary below.

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