The EPA requires water departments to send out warnings to
their customers when the required tests show any results that are
outside of the normal range. I get them from Cambridge quite
frequently in the winter, because the reservoir is next to a lot
of roads and parking lots that get salted in icy weather, so the
salt content of the water temporarily goes above the limit.
I was visiting Fall River yesterday, and there was one next to
the toilet about some pollutant I’d never heard of. It was one of
20 testing sites that had showed a slightly higher than allowed
There were “reassuring” sentences after this required
information about how it’s not something you have to worry about
drinking a little of — you might get cancer if you drank that
much for years at a time. I understand a waiting room full of
cancer patients failed to find this reassuring.
What struck me about it, though, was that it was written for a
pretty high reading level — I’m not an expert, but I’d guess at
least seventh grade if not higher. When I get these notices from
Cambridge, they’re translated into three or four languages, with
information in a dozen more about where to go to get it in those
In Fall River, where half the population speaks Portuguese, and
although many of those also speak English, they haven’t had their
primary education in English, they had a paragraph similar to this
the bottom of the English letter:
Este relatório contem informação muito importante sobre sua água potável. Por favor traduza-o ou fale com alguém que-lhe compreende. As cópias deste relatório em Português podem ser obtidas no escritório do Departmento de Água no terceiro andar em Government Center, ou chamando 508-324-2330.
Which is a translation of:
This report contains important information about your drinking water. Please translate it or speak with someone who can, if needed. Copies of this report in Portuguese may be obtained at the Water Department’s Offices on the 3rd floor at One Government Center or by calling 508-324-2330.
I don’t have the actual document to point you to, because it
isn’t on the website. The Portuguese paragraph is from another
document that is on the website, but I’m sure it was similar.
I think if it’s information important enough to mail to all the
customers, it might be important enough to send it out in both
languages. Or at least to put the translated version on the website.