Exploring perceptions and behaviors about drinking water in Australia and New Zealand: Is it risky to drink water, when and why?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


Consumers in most developed countries, including Australia and New Zealand, presume their drinking water is safe. How social perceptions about drinking water are formed, however, remains inadequately explored in the research literature. This research contributes exploratory insights by examining factors that affect consumer perceptions and behaviors. Individual perceptions of drinking water quality and actions undertaken to mitigate perceived risks were collected during 183 face-to-face interviews conducted at six research sites. Qualitative thematic analysis revealed the majority did not consider drinking water a 'risky' activity, trusted water management authorities to manage all safety issues and believed self-evaluation of drinking water's taste and appearance were sufficient measures to ensure safe consumption. Quantitatively, significant relationships emerged between water quality perceptions and sex, employment status, drinking water treatment and trust in government to provide safe water. Expert advice was rarely sought, even by those who believed drinking tap water posed some health risks. Generational differences emerged in media usage for drinking water advice. Finally, precautionary measures taken at home and abroad often failed to meet national drinking water guidelines. Three major conclusions are drawn: a. broad lack of awareness exists about the most suitable and safe water treatment activities, as well as risks posed; b. health literacy and interest may be improved through greater consumer involvement in watershed management; and c. development of health campaigns that clearly communicate drinking water safety messages in a timely, relevant and easily understandable fashion may help mitigate actual risks and dispel myths.
Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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