An overwhelming majority of consumers continue to have doubts about the quality of their household water supply - but plumbers aren't getting much of the business, according to a survey conducted by the Water Quality Association.

The survey noted that while local home water treatment companies continued to compete with home centers and other discount retail chains to maintain market share, the number of consumers purchasing water treatment devices from plumbers dropped to 4 percent in 1999.

Although consumer concerns re-garding water quality have remained steady since the WQA first started conducted the survey in 1995 and again in 1997, the plumbers' share of market has been cut down by more than two-thirds.

That single digit figure is by far the lowest of other places consumers indicated they purchased water treatment equipment. Local water treatment dealers and home improvement centers account for half the market, with each on the receiving end of 25 percent of the purchases. Department or discount stores received a 20 percent share of the business.

Water quality will almost certainly remain on the public agenda since later this year municipal water districts throughout the country will have to issue Consumer Confidence Reports by this October. The reports, essentially water quality report cards, are a new requirement mandated by the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996 as part of an initiative to make consumer aware of their local drinking water supplies.

Other highlights include:

  • Consumer concerns about some aspect of their water supply remained steady at 72 percent, with almost half of respondents indicating worry about possible health contaminants in their drinking water. These numbers remain consistent with previous WQA surveys.
  • For the first time, consumer use of home water treatment devices equaled that of bottled water.
  • Consumer use of home water treatment systems reached an all time high. Thirty-eight percent used some type of home water treatment device, an increase of 19 percent since 1997 and 28 percent since 1995.
  • Those using home water treatment, bottled water or both increased from 57 percent to 62 percent recorded in a 1995 survey.
  • In response to a question first asked this year, 47 percent said that if they were in the market for a new home, they would be more likely to purchase one with a water treatment system.

Water quality is an essential quality of life issue for most Americans. Sixty percent believe the quality of their drinking water affects their health, almost half are concerned about possible health-related contaminants in their water supply and one in five is dissatisfied with the quality of his or her household water supply.

Simple devices such as pitchers fitted with filters remained a top choice for consumers aged 18 to 34. Con-sumers over 35, however, are more likely to have water treatment devices attached directly to their plumbing.

"As Americans' lifestyles have changed, so have their habits as they refuse to take water quality for granted in an era of heightened awareness about the importance of diet, exercise and environment when it comes to their health and sense of well being," said Peter Censky, executive director of the WQA. "Twenty years ago, a similar WQA survey found that four out of 10 adults thought water quality was linked to health."