Is Airline Drinking Water Safe for Consumption?
tests of the water aboard 169 U.S. passenger planes conducted
by the Environmental Protection Agency in November and December
found contamination by fecal coliform bacteria on about
17 percent of them — almost 5 percent more than was found in tests done
in August and September.
There's a clue to the source of the contamination:
Only 4.8 percent of the faucets in airplane galleys produced contaminated
water, but 15.5 percent of the lavatory faucets did.
not hard to speculate why the bathrooms might be dirtier
than the galleys," says Tom Skinner of the EPA's Office
of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
EPA is investigating the sources of the contamination. Among
the possibilities: local water supplies, unsanitary water-hose
nozzles, incorrect tank-filling procedures, tainted pumping
systems or the passengers themselves.
airliners can take on water several times a day in different
cities, some overseas, the agency says it's difficult to
isolate a contamination source.
bacteria aren't usually dangerous, but might indicate the presence
of organisms that can be a threat
to public health.
EPA advises passengers with compromised immune systems —
such as cancer and transplant patients and people with HIV
— to request canned or bottled drinks and try to avoid coffee and
tea made with tap water.
news is that no dangerous bacteria were found, says Doug
Willis of the Air Transport Association, the airline industry
summer tests found two planes contaminated with E. coli,
a potentially deadly bacteria that can cause diarrhea and
industry's position is that an airliner bathroom is no different
than any other public bathroom.
of people use them. You need to take precautions to protect
yourself," Willis says. "I suspect our lavatories
are no different than the public restrooms at the EPA."
major airlines signed memorandums of agreement with the
EPA requiring they disinfect the trucks that bring water
to planes monthly and the tanks on planes that hold water
every three months. They agreed to test their water systems
once a year.
news that the water may have traces of feces
is "a fairly gross variable," Skinner says it's
no reason to panic.
have been flying for 40 years in the this country and there
haven't been reports of mass outbreaks of intestinal illness
on any given flight. And conditions haven't changed for
the worse in the last 40 years," Skinner says.
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