209208 Emerging Contaminant Risk Communication: Water Utilities and the Public Health Community

Wednesday, November 11, 2009: 12:30 PM

Gary A. Burlingame, MS in Envir Sci , Bureau of Laboratory Services, Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia, PA
Lisa J. Ragain, MAT , Aqua Vitae, Arlingotn, VA
The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) serves over 1.5 million people by supplying over 250 million gallons a day, from three water treatment plants and over 250 million gallons of storage, through more than 3,000 miles of pipe. In the early 1990s, PWD conducted research on the emerging microbial contaminant Cryptosporidium . PWD shared its results with the public that while the parasite could be found in the rivers, the drinking water was safe. Philadelphia's newspapers came out with headlines that alarmed the public (e.g., “There's something in the water”). Subsequently, PWD began a risk communication process to put risks into context, and to frame risks associated with drinking water.

The PWD process involves a technical review of the issue, development of core messages, research, and outreach. This includes the local health department, academics, and public health organizations. In 2008 the Associated Press asked PWD for its drinking water research data on pharmaceuticals, another emerging contaminant. This time the local news in Philadelphia stated that the tap water was safe (e.g., “The infinitesimally small amounts of pharmaceuticals in Philadelphia's drinking water should not pose a health hazard”). The public was not alarmed, but did express and interest in preventive actions. PWD recognizes the benefits from its risk communication process, providing an example that benefits the community and the utility. As PWD continues to move forward in the risk communication process, our goal is to expand our work and collaborations with a wide range of the public health community.

Learning Objectives:
• Describe the goals and characteristics of risk communication for emerging contaminants associated with drinking water. • Evaluate the effectiveness of risk communication practice in achieving public health objectives. • Discuss the importance of building partnerships between water utilities and the public health sector. • Identify future risk communication needs and benefits for water utilities and public health practitioners.

Keywords: Risk Communication, Water Quality

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a water quality specialist that developed the risk communication program for the Philadelphia Water Department
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.