Water Quality On Planes Improves Little Since Previous EPA Study
By Sara Jerome
It might be wise to buy bottled water at the gate. The drinking water on aircraft is often contaminated.
EPA testing has brought the problem to light, according to NBC 5 Investigates.
"The numbers show, nine years after EPA launched a major effort to ensure the safety of drinking water on-board planes, the water may not be much cleaner than it was when EPA conducted sample tests in 2004," the report said.
In the previous round of tests nine years ago, the agency tested water from hundreds of planes. The test found that 15 percent of them tested positive for coliform, a bacteria scientists often target because it indicates the likely presence of a wide range of other bacteria.
(Water Online was following this issue way back when. For a throwback, click here.)
The EPA issued new tests last year, and NBC got the results via a Freedom of Information Act request. Not much improvement: This time, 12 percent of airplanes tested positive for coliform.
“I would say that’s still a high percentage,” Bill Honker, an EPA official, told NBC 5 Investigates. “I think there is more that needs to be done. So we’re expecting to see further improvement by all the airlines in the country.”
The EPA's water quality rules for commercial aircraft are governed by the Aircraft Drinking Water rule, the EPA says.
The rule "requires that the water provided through lavatory and galley faucets and drinking fountains on the aircraft meet standards for human consumption," according to the EPA document "Guidance Manual for the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule."
The rule was created four years ago to tailor "drinking water regulations to provide a more feasible way for air carriers to comply with" EPA standards, the manual said.
Water quality on planes can be affected by many variables, according to the EPA.
"Because aircraft board water from airport watering points via temporary connections, aircraft drinking water quality depends on a number of factors," the agency said. "These factors include the quality of the water boarded from each source, the care used to board the water, the water transfer equipment, such as water cabinets, trucks, carts, and hoses, and the operation and maintenance of the onboard water system."
Sanitation rules for aircraft are enforced not only by the EPA, but also the Federal and Drug Administration (FDA).
For instance, the FDA mandates that "constant temperature bottles and other containers used for storing or dispensing potable water [on aircraft] shall be kept clean at all times and shall be subjected to effective bactericidal treatment as often as may be necessary to prevent the contamination of water so stored and dispensed.”
The best advice to stay healthy while flying? A few years ago, The Wall Street Journal asked medical experts whether passengers should avoid the water on planes.
The water from the tap in bathrooms is okay for washing your hands but should not be consumed, according to Christie Reed from the Centers for Disease Control.
Image credit: "Silk Air Flight Attendant Water," © 2008 georgeparrilla, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/