Talking to Customers and Communities About PFAS

May 6, 2020
Katie Henderson, Allison Deines, Kenan Ozekin, Jeff Moeller, Alice Fulmer, and Stefani McGregor

Key Takeaways

  • Scientific research on PFAS is ongoing, but risk communication guidance can be used by drinking water utilities to protect public health and establish trust with customers.
  • Risk communication strategies enable utilities to be timely, credible, and respectful in addressing customer concerns about PFAS risks from drinking water.
  • In an uncertain time, proactive messaging can ensure a water utility responds to customer inquiries about PFAS with empathy and transparency.

Thanks to improvements in analytical methods over the past few decades, new compounds are being detected in our watersheds, but often we become aware that these compounds are present long before we understand their potential health effects. Communicating with customers about these unfamiliar compounds is an important responsibility, and often a significant challenge, for water and water resource recovery utilities. This is certainly the case today with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Scientific and regulatory uncertainty around PFAS makes speaking about them challenging, but proactive messaging ultimately benefits utilities and the customers they serve. Risk communication research conducted by The Water Research Foundation (WRF) has identified best practices that can be applied to utility messaging about PFAS.

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About WRF

The Water Research Foundation (WRF) is the leading not-for-profit research cooperative that advances the science of water to protect public health and the environment. Governed by utilities, WRF delivers scientifically sound research solutions and knowledge to serve our subscribers and stakeholders in all areas of drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, and reuse.