How to Talk About Lead Programs with the Public 

Insight
How to Talk About Lead Programs with the Public 
Rose Hanson Autumn McNeill
Water utilities are required to communicate with residents and businesses more than ever before about lead in drinking water. We’ve compiled four best practices to effectively communicate with customers.

Whether your utility is developing their service line material inventory, developing home and school sampling programs or preparing for and imple­ment­ing lead service line replacement programs, public education and outreach are critical to the success of your endeavors. Below are four best practices to effectively communicate with your community.  

Lead Service Lines Public Outreach Consistent public education and outreach is essential for any effective lead removal program.
Put Public Health First

1. Be Transparent and Put Public Health First

The goal of public outreach is to establish community trust and engagement with your utility’s lead program. If a community has been hearing/seeing reports saying there’s no lead in their water, learning about lead service line initiatives can be alarming. Commu­ni­cat­ing the require­ments and how old plumbing plays into exposure and risk are key.

The following ideas are some places to start when engaging with your community:  

  • Explain the require­ments and overall timeline for any inventory and lead service line (LSL) replacement programs along with any potential oppor­tu­ni­ties for public input.      
  • Don’t assume a community knows the health effects of lead and where it typically enters the water; help them understand.
  • Identify specific actions a customer can take to evaluate and address their unique risk; offer preven­ta­tive options and mitigation measures.
  • Shape your commu­ni­ca­tions with the intention that the end goal is to protect the community from a public health risk—not to protect the utility from potential legal blow-back.
  • State the actions (testing, corrosion control treatment changes, etc.) the water system is currently and will be undertaking to continue to protect the drinking water and reduce lead exposure.
  • Identify mechanism(s) for community input and response to public inquiries; facilitate community partic­i­pa­tion.

 

Understand the Community

2. Understand the Community

To effectively communicate about lead programs, you need to know about general demo­graph­ics and community values (needs and concerns).

The message of your outreach should consider community assessment factors like the following: 

  • If residents/businesses rent or own
  • If the community has had a previous water quality problem the utility had to address
  • If the program is creating local job oppor­tu­ni­ties temporarily or permanently
  • If affected residents/businesses have the financial means to implement preven­ta­tive and mitigation measures

 

Leverage Existing Community Networks

3. Leverage Existing Community Networks

Using existing networks to tell the program story is crucial to building trust. Engage groups like faith-based orga­ni­za­tions and community councils to help craft your messaging. Attuned to community values, these groups can often turn out to be your most effective ambassadors! You can also use existing social media neigh­bor­hood networks and community centers to help spread the word.

 

Focus on Accessibility

4. Focus on Acces­si­bil­ity

Remember that this information is new and unfamiliar to the public. Meeting the reader on their playing field helps encourage an under­stand­ing of the information provided, achieve an accurate public health risk perception and improve program partic­i­pa­tion.

You can make your commu­ni­ca­tions accessible by: 

  • Using at least two platforms for every commu­ni­ca­tion, like mail and web
  • Using plain, simple language
  • Using formatting conventions that work for those relying on acces­si­bil­ity readers 
  • Translating materials into common community languages and accounting for cultural consid­er­a­tions
  • Designing for under­stand­ing, using more graphics and less words 

Focusing on these best practices will help your community understand, accept, and engage with your compliance endeavors.

Rose Hanson is a commu­ni­ca­tions specialist passionate about helping the intended audience understand a message. With more than 8 years of experience, she focuses on crafting accessible commu­ni­ca­tions that directly address potential audience concerns. She has led print, virtual, and visual media development for lead service line inventories and replacement program stakeholder engagement, as well as PFAS risk commu­ni­ca­tion.

Autumn McNeill, MPH is an envi­ron­men­tal planner focused on community engagement and outreach. She provides public health analysis and commu­ni­ca­tions for lead, PFAS and other envi­ron­men­tal topics with an emphasis on community engagement, envi­ron­men­tal justice and health equity. 

Lead and Copper Rule Improve­ments (LCRI)
https://passport.cdmsmith.com/en/Campaigns/LCRI-Timeline
On November 30, 2023, the EPA announced the proposed LCRI. Our materials will be updated once the LCRI is finalized which is anticipated in October 2024. In the meantime, please see this anticipated timeline based on the proposed regulations.
Get LCRI Timeline
Rose Hanson Rose Hanson
To help your community better understand your program, it's important to tailor communications to your audience.
Rose Hanson Public Engagement Specialist
Autumn McNeil Autumn McNeil
Emphasizing community engagement, environmental justice and health equity is our goal.
Autumn McNeill, MPH Envi­ron­men­tal Planner
AWWA Leaders Discuss PFAS Regulatory Concerns AWWA Leaders Discuss PFAS Regulatory Concerns
Have any public education or outreach questions? 
Connect with our commu­ni­ca­tions team at water@cdmsmith.com to start developing a compre­hen­sive program today. 

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