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Water: Consumer Information

Statement of Purpose/Objectives

II. Statement of Purpose/Objectives

In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA) was passed by Congress to ensure public safety of tap water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was deemed responsible for the administration of this act. Under this act, EPA is responsible for setting standards for drinking water. Standards are set for all contaminants that can be found in drinking water. Drinking water standards allow for a margin of safety at which no known health effects will occur. These standards must be met all Public Water Systems (PWS) that provide tap water.

The new requirements in the SWDA require the EPA to provide more information to the public about drinking water, and provide opportunities for public involvement. The new SWDA amendments emphasize public participation and consumer right-to-know initiatives.

In order to prepare for increased information about drinking water and to enhance the EPA's ability to provide the public with information about drinking water, the EPA contracted with Macro International Inc to conduct a series of 8 focus groups and 32 one-on-one interviews. The goal of this research was to help the EPA understand how the public thinks about drinking water, specifically their perceptions and concerns about drinking water. The qualitative research addressed the following questions:

  • What do people think about their drinking water?
  • What do they know about their drinking water?
  • What would they like to know about drinking water?
  • How can EPA present information in a meaningful way?
  • How can EPA get the public more involved?
  • How is EPA doing?

III. Strengths and Limitations of Qualitative Research

For this study, focus groups and one-on-one interviews were used to help EPA understand public perceptions and concerns about drinking water. Focus groups and interviews are a qualitative research method. This type of research is helpful in gaining feedback and individual perceptions and ideas that cannot be obtained through quantitative research. Focus groups generate discussion that can lead to the expression of ideas and opinions useful to clients. Data from focus groups cannot be projected to the general population. The selection of focus group participants is not based upon randomization or other population representative methods. Therefore, focus groups are not intended to provide measurable data that can be applied to an entire population. The findings reflect on the generated ideas and beliefs of the participants.

IV. Methodology

Macro International Inc. conducted 8 focus groups and 32 one-on-one interviews to address the needs of this project. Two focus groups and eight one-on-one interviews were conducted in each of the following locations: Alpharetta, Georgia on April 6-7, 1998; Tacoma, Washington on April 29-30, 1998; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota on May 13-14, 1998. For each location, one focus group was with participants who are involved in community volunteer work ("involved") and one focus group was with participants who do not take part in volunteer work ("uninvolved"). Also in each location, four of the interviews were with "involved" participants and the remainder were with "uninvolved" participants. On May 11, 1998, one focus group was conducted in Washington, DC with "involved" respondents, and four interviews were conducted with "uninvolved" respondents. On May 12, 1998, one focus group was conducted in Calverton, MD with "uninvolved" respondents, and four interviews were conducted with "involved" respondents.

Participant screeners developed by Macro International Inc. were used by independent recruiting firms in each location to screen prospective participants. Eligibility requirements for the focus groups were met by all participants. For all groups, a representative sample of the general population was sought: a mix of race/ethnicities reflective of the general area population, equal proportions of women and men, and no more than two years of college. Half of the respondents were involved in some sort of community activity or organization (e.g., PTA), with the exclusion of safe water or other environmental action activities, and the remainder of respondents were not involved in community activities. Respondents were excluded if they indicated they were employed with water or sewage treatment facilities, the EPA, or other environmental action organizations. For more information, please refer to the participant screeners in the Appendices.

A moderator's guide was also developed at Macro International to answer the questions listed in the background section of this report. All focus groups were led by Ms. Lynn Halverson, a trained moderator from Macro International Inc.

Each focus group and interview was audio and video taped. Transcripts were prepared from the audiotapes by Shirley Jones and Associates, Inc., a professional transcription firm. Transcripts from all focus groups and interviews were used in the preparation of this report, and video tapes were used to compile a video highlights tape which accompanies this report.

Participant Knowledge of Drinking Water Issues

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