BLACKSBURG, Va. — March 1, 2016 — Annual water quality reports published by drinking water utilities should provide clear information about whether the water is safe to drink, according to a study published in the Journal of Water and Health.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires public water systems to provide annual consumer confidence reports (CCRs) giving details of water quality, compliance with regulations, source water and consumer education, stated the release. Although it specifies certain report formats, there are no criteria ensuring that consumers understand messages in these reports.

Researchers at Virginia Tech analyzed a national sample of CCRs and found that the reports failed to communicate important information because they used complicated language and sophisticated data tables, noted the release.

They said that the reports should directly state whether the water is safe to drink according to state and federal safety regulations. This message should then be followed by possible actions to take, such as calling water providers to learn more about testing, regulatory requirements and potential risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes a Clear Communication Index to help writers ensure public health materials are written in plain everyday language for broad public audiences. It suggests materials contain a main message, informing people of an overall health message.

“The goal is to inform people about their drinking water and whether water is safe to drink,” said Katherine Phetxumphou of Woodbridge, Virginia, a Ph.D. student in civil and environmental engineering and lead author of the paper, in the release. “This is the clearest way to do it.”

You can find the entire release here.