How individuals perceive the safety of their public drinking water influences whether they reach for the tap to quench their thirst, or an alternative such as bottled water or a sugary drink. In turn, mistrust of drinking water quality and subsequent reliance on alternative beverage sources can adversely impact health, welfare and the environment. Using data from the 2013 American Housing Survey, we provide the first national, rigorous assessment of individuals’ perception of their public drinking water supply. We found strong evidence that perception of water quality is most influenced by individual and household indicators of socioeconomic status – education level, household income, racial or ethnic minority status, and most importantly foreign-born nativity, especially from Latin America. By contrast, our findings provide little indication that perception is tied to known built environment or neighborhood risk factors affecting water safety and quality. We outline the implications of our findings for proponents of enhanced tap water consumption, including public drinking water systems, county public health agencies, and particularly for environmental justice non-profits.

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