Environmental Protection Agency Finds About 17% of Airplanes Have Contaminated Water
About 17% of 169 randomly tested passenger airplanes had drinking water that failed to meet federal safety standards, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday, USA Today reports (Weise, USA Today, 1/20). EPA conducted the tests in November and December on water from galley water taps and lavatory faucets on airplanes with domestic and international passengers. The tests found that 29 planes had water contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria, which is "usually harmless by itself but an indicator of the possible presence of other harmful organisms," the AP/Boston Globe reports (AP/Boston Globe, 1/20).
EPA tests conducted in August and September found that about 12% of airplanes had water contaminated with coliform bacteria and that two airplanes had water contaminated with E. coli; none of the airplanes in the more recent test had had water contaminated with E. coli. The more recent tests also found that 4.8% of galley faucets produced contaminated water, compared with 15.5% of lavatory faucets. According to EPA, potential sources of the contamination include local water supplies, unsanitary water-hose nozzles, incorrect tank-filling procedures, tainted pumping systems or passengers.
Doug Willis of the Air Transport Association said that airplane bathrooms are no more contaminated than other public bathrooms. "Lots of people use them. You need to take precautions to protect yourself," Willis said, adding, "I suspect our lavatories are no different than the public restrooms at the EPA."
Tom Skinner of the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said that although contamination of airplane water is "a fairly gross variable," consumers should not become concerned. "People have been flying for 40 years in 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 said, adding, "It's probably something that's been with us for a while. But now that we know about it, we're committed to making it better" (USA Today, 1/20).