Private groundwater contamination and extreme weather events: The role of demographics, experience and cognitive factors on risk perceptions of Irish private well users
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Extreme weather events (EWEs) may significantly increase pathogenic contamination of private (unregulated) groundwater supplies. However, due to the paucity of protective guidance, private well users may be ill-equipped to undertake adaptive actions. With rising instances of waterborne illness documented in groundwater-dependent, developed regions such as the Republic of Ireland, a better understanding of well user risk perceptions pertaining to EWEs is required to establish appropriate educational interventions. To this end, the current study employed an online and physical questionnaire to identify current risk perceptions and correspondent predictors among Irish private well users concerning extreme weather. Respondents were elicited via purposive sampling, with 515 private well users elucidating perceived supply contamination risk in the wake of five EWEs between the years 2013-2018 including drought and pluvial flooding. A novel scoring protocol was devised to quantify overall risk perception (i.e. perceived likelihood, severity and consequences) of extreme weather impacts. Overall risk perception of EWEs was found to demonstrate a significant relationship with gender (p = 0.017) and event experience (p < 0.001), with female respondents and those reporting prior event experience exhibiting higher median risk perception scores. Risk perception was additionally mediated by perceived self-efficacy in undertaking supply maintenance (p = 0.001), as well users citing confidence in ability scored significantly lower than those citing no confidence. Two-step cluster analysis identified three distinct respondent subsets based on risk perception of EWEs (high, moderate and low perception), with female respondents and those with a third-level education significantly more likely to fall within the high perception cluster. Study findings affirm that certain demographic, experiential and cognitive factors exert a significant influence on private well user risk perceptions of EWE impacts and highlight potential focal points for future educational interventions seeking to reduce the risk of human infection associated with groundwater and extreme weather.
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