Airline Water - Is it Safe?

FAQ from the EPA

  1. What is EPA announcing regarding airline water quality?
  2. What are the results of EPA's sampling of aircraft in 2004?
  3. What is EPA doing about this problem?
  4. Which airlines signed agreements with EPA?
  5. What will the orders require the airlines to do?
  6. What are coliforms?
  7. What is E. coli?
  8. Is the water on planes unsafe?
  9. What should the traveling public do?
  10. Where does the water on passenger airplanes come from?
  11. What about international flights?
  12. Who regulates water on passenger airplanes in the United States?
  13. What is the airlines' role in ensuring safe water on aircraft?
  14. How is water currently regulated on passenger airplanes?

1. What is EPA announcing regarding airline water quality?

EPA is announcing that it has signed agreements (administrative orders upon consent) with 11 major domestic airlines and 13 smaller charter and low-cost airlines to ensure the safety of the drinking water used by their passengers and crew . This announcement is an update to one that was made on Jan. 19, 2005, when EPA announced the results of the additional water quality inspections by EPA enforcement officials on 169 randomly selected domestic and international passenger aircraft at 12 airports throughout the U.S.

2. What are the results of EPA's sampling of aircraft in 2004?

During the summer of 2004, EPA conducted water quality sampling of one or more galley water taps, water fountains or lavatory faucets on each of 158 aircraft at 7 airports. As EPA announced in September 2004, 12.7% of those aircraft (20 aircraft) were found to be positive for the presence of total coliform bacteria.

During November-December of 2004, EPA conducted a second round of water quality sampling of 169 aircraft at 12 airports. This second round of monitoring sought water samples from galley water taps as well as lavatory faucets for each aircraft. EPA found that 17.2% of these aircraft (29 aircraft) were total-coliform-positive.

Of the aircraft sampled by EPA in this second round of sampling, 76.3% were US-based. For this round of sampling, the results for foreign-based or US-based aircraft were relatively close. Of the 40 foreign-based carriers sampled during this round, 17.5% (7 aircraft) were total-coliform-positive. By comparison, of the 129 US-based aircraft sampled during this round, 17.1% (22 aircraft) were total-coliform-positive.

Overall, adding together the results of the first and second rounds of EPA sampling of aircraft, EPA has sampled 327 aircraft in 2004. Overall, 15.0% of the aircraft sampled were found to be total-coliform-positive. Overall, 4.3% of the galleys or water fountains sampled were found to be total-coliform-positive; 14.0% of the lavatory faucets sampled were found to be total-coliform-positive. Overall, 49 aircraft were found to be total-coliform-positive. Overall, 76.8% of the aircraft sampled by EPA in this second round of sampling were US-based, and 23.2% of the aircraft. Of the 76 foreign-based carriers sampled overall, 19.7% were total-coliform-positive. By comparison, of the 251 US-based aircraft sampled, 13.5% were total-coliform-positive.

3. What is EPA doing about this problem?

EPA has met with airline officials many times to ensure that they are aware of the problem. EPA is negotiating with the industry to increase monitoring of aircraft water systems and ensure that in the event of contamination, contingency plans are immediately implemented. EPA is negotiating agreements with Delta Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Omni Air International and Southwest Airlines. EPA has also begun negotiations with the smaller, regional and charter aircraft carriers to address drinking water quality with orders similar to those reached with the major carriers. The Agency will also negotiate similar orders with foreign flagged carriers to the extent that it has jurisdiction.

After two rounds of testing, data showed 15 percent of the aircraft had water samples that tested positive for total coliform contamination. As a response to these findings, EPA has initiated several actions to ensure that airline water is as safe as any other public drinking water supply. These orders require the carriers to take steps to investigate the problem, take corrective actions, and notify the public. Furthermore, the orders will require each airline to complete testing of their entire fleet within a period of 12 months and to submit a detailed report to EPA on its findings.