EPA, airlines announce pact on drinking-water safety

Nov 11, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and major US airlines announced an interim agreement this week to strengthen procedures for testing and disinfecting drinking-water systems on airliners.

The agreement follows EPA's report in September that water aboard 12.6% of 158 airliners tested by the EPA failed to meet agency standards. Water from 20 planes failed the standard for total coliform bacteria, and two of those had Escherichia coli in their water.

The agreement covers 12 of the 14 major carriers belonging to the Air Transport Association, the EPA said. It will remain in effect while EPA works on permanent regulations in a review process that began in 2002.

In a news release, the Air Transport Association said the agreement calls for the following:

  • Member airlines will sample the drinking water on all aircraft over the next year and report results quarterly to EPA.
  • Airlines will disinfect aircraft drinking-water systems quarterly and drinking-water carts once a month.
  • If a water sample fails to meet standards, the airline will immediately disinfect the drinking-water system or stop serving water until it can be disinfected. (Previously, EPA protocols called for retesting to confirm the problem before taking action.)

In addition, the EPA said it will test the water on 169 randomly selected airliners at 14 airports and publish the results by early January. Also, airlines are required to analyze possible sources of contamination outside aircraft and report practices regarding the use of water from foreign supplies not regulated by the EPA, officials said.

"The agreements we are announcing today will provide critical information, and at the same time provide increased protection to the flying public," Thomas V. Skinner, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, stated in the EPA release.

The Air Transport Association statement said, "While we remain confident that the protocols now in place ensure that aircraft drinking water is just as safe as the municipal water systems that supply it, we have voluntarily agreed to take these additional steps to address any lingering questions about the quality of aircraft drinking water in light of a recent EPA study."

Airlines included in the agreement are Alaska, Aloha, American, America West, ATA, Continental, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Midwest, Northwest, United, and US Airways. Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines are negotiating separate agreements with the EPA, the agency said.

The EPA said it is working on similar water-quality agreements with regional and charter airlines.

See also:

Nov 9 EPA news release

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