EPA finds E coli , coliform in airplane water tests

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Sep 27, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – More than 12% of passenger aircraft contained Escherichia coli or coliform bacteria in a recent round of testing, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found.

Drinking water aboard 158 randomly selected passenger planes was tested. While 87.4% of the planes met EPA drinking-water quality standards, 12.6% did not. Initial testing showed 20 planes had positive results for total coliform bacteria; two of them also tested positive for E coli. Both of those contaminants are indicators that the water could contain other disease-causing organisms.

Flights in Virginia, Georgia, Texa, and California were tested in August and September. Repeat tests on 11 aircraft indicated eight planes still didn't meet EPA's water-quality standards.

Passengers with compromised immune systems may want to request canned or bottled beverages, EPA suggested in a Sep 20 news release.

The Air Transport Association (ATA) said that about 90% of member aircraft could be traveling internationally and loading water from sources not subject to EPA standards.

EPA had begun a review of rules and guidelines in 2002 but is speeding up the process in light of the aircraft test results, the agency announced. The agency is placing specific emphasis on preventive measures, adequate monitoring, and sound maintenance practices such as flushing and disinfection of aircraft water systems.

EPA and ATA are collaborating to reach agreement on how airlines will bring drinking water up to acceptable standards, a news release said, but added that if they cannot agree, EPA will exercise its enforcement authorities.

See also

EPA announcement [News release]

EPA answers to frequently asked questions about airline water safety [FAQ]

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