Terminology for Improved Communications Regarding CECs


The general public is increasingly concerned over minute amounts of compounds in treated drinking water, even those whose presence in tap water have not been shown to cause adverse health effects in humans. These compounds are often referred to as contaminants of emerging concern (CECs)—a term that supports the assumption that public concern is warranted. Media coverage of CECs has heightened public risk perception, since it often relies heavily on so-called “dread words,” which have a predictable negative effect on the general public.

This presentation will cover the findings of the WRF project Terminology for Improved Communications Regarding CECs (#4551), which explored how the terminology used by media differs significantly from that of water professionals, but (importantly) not from the general public’s. We will address how the language utilized by the water industry and regulators fails to tap into the innate link between language and cognition. Language and cognition impact trust, with the public being more likely to trust a message about the minute presence of known dangers than the lack of evidence for health effects cause by unknown dangers. Health communication needs to be short and simple, explicit and authoritative, visually augmented, and layered. This presentation will provide practical examples of best language practice.