Examining influential drivers of private well users' perceptions in Ontario: A cross-sectional population study
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Private well users are responsible for managing and maintaining the quality of their drinking water source. Previous studies in Canada have reported low testing rates among well users, a cornerstone of well stewardship behaviours that can prevent the consumption of contaminated groundwater. To improve well stewardship, it is important to understand the interactions between, and the impacts of, various factors that may influence behaviours. Accordingly, the objective of the current study was to investigate the impact of socio-demographics, property characteristics, and experiences with well construction and acute gastrointestinal illness (AGI) (i.e., previous experiences) on levels of awareness, attitudes, risk perceptions, and beliefs (i.e., risk domains) among private well users in Ontario. A link to a province-wide online survey was circulated between May and August 2018 and novel "risk domain" scoring protocols were developed to classify and summarize response data. The survey was undertaken by 1228 respondents, of which 1030 completed the survey in full. Results indicate a low level of waterborne pathogen awareness, with 50.8% of respondents unaware of any groundwater associated pathogens. Respondents' geographic location, gender, and well type were significantly associated with well users' attitudes and perceptions of risk regarding their personal well water supply and the quality and quantity of local groundwater sources. Higher levels of awareness and lower risk perception scores (i.e., lower perceptions of risk) were associated with residential presence during well construction (p < 0.001 and p = 0.017, respectively). Previous case(s) of AGI within the respondent's household were significantly associated with negative attitudes towards their well water (p < 0.001) and higher risk perception scores (p = 0.025) with respect to the quantity of local groundwater sources. Results may be used to identify critical experiential control points (e.g., during well construction or after a physician confirmed AGI diagnosis) and develop improved risk management and communication strategies aimed at private well users.
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