Customers primarily perceive the safety of drinking water on aesthetic qualities. Chlorine, geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol (2-MIB) are common causes of taste and odour complaints in Australia. Variance in customer preference, perception, cultural differences and individual experiences make regulation of these, in the form of guidelines, challenging to establish. Here, analysis of historical water quality and customer complaint data showed the use of customer complaints as an indicator of deteriorating water quality is not robust. The use of a modified Flavour Ratings Assessment showed a statistical decrease in customer acceptance from control samples when chlorine concentration in drinking water increased above 0.2 mg/L and when geosmin or 2-MIB concentration was greater than 10 ng/L. However, geosmin was only rated ‘unacceptable’ at 30 ng/L while chlorine and 2-MIB were not rated ‘unacceptable’ for the range tested. For all samples, including ‘blanks', customers indicated a greater tendency to complain in a social setting rather than formally to their water provider.

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