WIT Press

Vigilance Of Tap Water Quality: What Is The Potential For Relying On Individuals As Alarm Raisers?


Free (open access)





Page Range

261 - 273




620 kb

Paper DOI



WIT Press


C. Heitz, P. Ward-Perkins


As part of a bi-national research project, 600 tap water users living in three European cities (two in France, one in Germany) have been surveyed by telephone in order to explore laypersons’ (i.e. non-specialists) expectations of drinking water quality and how they might respond in the event of a sudden crisis related to tap water quality. Our survey as a whole explores: water consumption behaviour, knowledge of the water distribution system, perceptions of water quality and its risks, legitimacy of experts to inform the public about water quality, and the capacity of consumers to react rapidly and communicate effectively (i.e. to “raise the alarm”) in the event of an unexpected crisis. This paper mainly focuses on the latter of these aspects. Results of the survey firstly reveal a fairly low level of knowledge of the public water distribution system and its stakeholders. Results also suggest a common definition of “quality water”, that includes being free of colour, smell, taste, chlorine and limestone but should contain minerals. Results finally reveal that water users view favourably the idea of the lay public participating in water quality vigilance but in practice it would appear that, in the current configuration, water users would make poor “alarm raisers”. To develop greater consumer vigilance, in the interests of public safety, this study suggests a need for greater awareness of risks relating to drinking water, and thus a need for more effective communication between the water supplier and tap water users.


drinking water quality, survey, tap water quality perception, technology and vigilance, individual behaviour