How can we improve communication between consumers and the drinking water industry?
By Renata Carneiro
Ph.D. Student, Water INTERface IGEP and Food Science and Technology
As part of the Water INTERface IGEP, I was challenged to work in a multidisciplinary project advised by Dr. Andrea Dietrich (Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering). Our project was focused on using a new approach to facilitate communication between consumers and the drinking water industry: a check-if-apply (CIA) list of taste and odor descriptors. In our study, a total of 75 volunteers tasted 7 different water samples and helped us validate the CIA list and its use as a variable tool to monitor drinking water quality. Our results showed that untrained consumers were able to detect problems related to the presence of undesired components in their drinking water and associate these components with expected descriptors of the CIA list. The CIA method was suggested as a friendly tool to receive feedback from consumers, the list could be available for example, through apps or websites.
Our study was selected to be presented at the 10th International Conference on Environment Science and Engineering (ICESE 2020). The conference was originally planned to be held in Vienna, Austria, but due to the COVID-19, it was held online on May 20 and 21, 2020. The title of our oral presentation was “Check-If-Apply: A Sensory Approach to Improve Communication Between Consumers and The Drinking Water Industry” (authors: Renata C. V. Carneiro, Chunmiao Wang, Jianwei Yu, Sean F. O’Keefe, Susan E. Duncan, Conor D. Gallagher, Gary A. Burlingame, Andrea M. Dietrich). Our abstract was also presented at the 36th GSA Research Symposium (GSARS) at Virginia Tech and it was awarded 3rd place in the Eye-opening societal interventions category. Also due to the COVID-19, the GSARS poster presentation was changed to a 2 min video presentation. Overall, the pandemic made the presentations very challenging. For instance, the ICESE conference was held at Vienna local time (4 hours ahead), so I could not watch all the presentations, neither network with the other participants as I would like to do. However, I acknowledge that the COVID-19 situation showed us how to be more resilient and it provided us with a unique experience. Looking at the bright side, I was pushed to learn new skills (e.g., how to make a short video for the GSARS) and I was still able to share our study with researchers from all over the world.