It’s been 4 years since the Flint water crisis came to light and since then, more instances of lead in water have been discovered, calling into question the safety of drinking water in many communities. A new C.S. Mott Children's Hospital national poll from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor asked a national sampling of parents for their perceptions about the safety of drinking water at home and school.1 The report was based on the responses from 1940 parents with at least 1 child aged 2 to 18 years.
Overall, 60% of parents believe that home tap water and school drinking fountains are safe for their child, while higher-income parents (68%) are more likely than lower-income parents (52%) to say their child’s water supply is safe at both home and school.
Tap water at home
Most parents (79%) report the source of tap water at home as city water, 13% use well water, 5% use a rural water system, and 3% are unsure. Parents rate the taste of their home’s tap water as excellent (22%), good (44%), fair (25%), and poor (9%).
Most parents (76%) say their home tap water is safe to drink, but 13% feel it unsafe to drink unless filtered and 11% are unsure. Most parents (72%) also report tap water testing to determine if it’s safe to drink. One-third of parents (33%) believe the city or county would notify them about a problem with their home’s water supply, while 16% of the parents say they’d know there was problem because of taste or smell.
Comparing parents in households earning more than $100,000 per year with those earning less than $50,000 per year, higher-income parents are more likely than lower-income parents to say their home tap water is safe (84% vs 68%) and that it’s been tested (80% versus 62%). Lower-income homes are more likely to rate the taste of their tap water as fair or poor (46% vs 26%).
Water at school
Most parents (68%) say it’s safe for their children to use the drinking fountains at school, 5% believe it’s unsafe, and 27% are unsure. Higher-income parents are more likely than lower-income parents to think the school drinking fountains are safe (75% vs 62%).
Eighty-four percent of the parents say their children have access to bottled water during school hours, either from home (64%) or provided by the school (25%).
Implications of the poll
· State and federal regulation establish requirements for testing. 1 in 10 parents in this poll were unsure about the safety of their home tap water but may not have thought to look for water testing reports, may not know where to find them, or may not understand the technical language used in the reports.
· Taste and smell are not suitable ways to assess safety. Contaminants may not have taste, color, or odor. Lead is a key contaminant that can’t be detected via smell or taste, while water discolored by iron might be incorrectly perceived as unsafe.
· One-third of parents assume the city or county will notify them if there’s a problem with their home water supply. Communities do not have a uniform way of reporting water testing. It’s important to encourage parents to be proactive in finding out about the safety of their tap water.
· Many parents are unsure about the safety of school drinking fountains. It’s recommended that schools test their drinking water for lead to confirm it’s safe for students but there are no universal requirements. Parents should inquire about the water testing policy at their children’s school.
· Parents should think carefully about their needs and even review water testing results before utilizing a home water filtration system. Some filtration systems don’t remove all contaminants, and others remove elements that are beneficial for public health.
1. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. National Poll on Children's Health: Safety of children’s water supply at home and school. 2020;35(5). Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/safety-childrens-water-supply-home-and-school. Published February 17, 2020. Accessed February 20, 2020.