The United States Environmental Protection Agency mandates that community water systems (or water utilities) provide annual consumer confidence reports (CCRs) – water quality reports – to their consumers. These reports encapsulate information regarding sources of water, detected contaminants, regulatory compliance, and educational material. These reports have excellent potential for providing the public with accurate information on the safety of tap water, but there is a lack of research on the degree to which the information can be understood by a large proportion of the population. This study evaluated the readability of a nationally representative sample of 30 CCRs, released between 2011 and 2013. Readability (or ‘comprehension difficulty’) was evaluated using Flesch–Kincaid readability tests. The analysis revealed that CCRs were written at the 11th–14th grade level, which is well above the recommended 6th–7th grade level for public health communications. The CCR readability ease was found to be equivalent to that of the Harvard Law Review journal. These findings expose a wide chasm that exists between current water quality reports and their effectiveness toward being understandable to US residents. Suggestions for reorienting language and scientific information in CCRs to be easily comprehensible to the public are offered.
- consumer confidence reports
- health communication
- tap water
- water quality
- First received 13 August 2014.
- Accepted in revised form 7 December 2014.
- © IWA Publishing 2015