Chemical Plume in the Groundwater

The Situation 

A mid-sized city of 200,000 residents discovered a chemical spill in the soil that contaminated 10% of the entire town, including a municipal water well used to supply water to the city at large.

The Plan

Train the spokespeople.  I worked with the Mayor, Director of Public Works and several related officials to change the way they spoke about the situation.  It was critical that we be able to talk openly and honestly, without reverting to technical jargon or use language that was scary to uninformed residents.

Diffuse the situation.  I had the municipality change the way the map indicating chemical contamination was presented, to use far less alarming colors and labels.

Bring in experts.  We hosted two 'poster board' style meetings for residents, where people could ask any question they wanted one-on-one.  Whether it was regarding real estate values, chemicals, water quality, animal health or anything else, we could provide a reasonable, well thought out answer.  Key expert spokespeople were trained on how to answer questions without causing fear or alarm.

Timing is everything.  While not as obvious as holding the news conference at 3:30 on a Friday of a long weekend, we DID schedule the initial press conference the morning after a key City Council meeting.  This approach was still sincere, but meant that the traditional "pit-bull" reporters were still asleep from the night before. 

The Results

No class action lawsuit filed, media coverage was minimal, only two phone calls received to a special "hotline" for concerned residents, and everyone is now drinking clean water.  We took what could have been a horror story, and turned it into a non-event.

If you have other questions or want to talk about your situation, you can always reach me here, or give me a call at (888)662-4550.