Think before you drink

October 16, 2013

Tests have revealed drinking water served on commercial airline flights test positive for bacteria.

In a NBC 5 News investigation, samples conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that more than one in 10 planes (12 per cent) are contaminated with coliform bacteria.

In 2004 the EPA sampled about 300 planes and found 15 per cent of them, or just more than 1 out of every 10 planes, tested positive for coliform, an indicator that other potentially harmful bacteria may be in the water. At the time EPA said that percentage was “high”.

New EPA data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request by NBC 5 News , shows in 2012, 12 per cent of commercial airplanes in the US had at least one positive test for coliform. That’s still just about one out of every 10 planes.

“I would say that’s still a high percentage,” said Bill Honker, deputy director of the Water Quality Protection Division, EPA Region 6, in Dallas.

 “I think there is more that needs to be done. So we’re expecting to see further improvement by all the airlines in the county,” Honker said.

Coliform itself is not likely to make a person sick, but it can be a red flag that other bacteria, like E. coli, have made their way into the water. E. coli presents bigger health concerns, but is only rarely found in samples taken from commercial airliners.

The EPA now requires airlines to test for coliform and E. coli on every airplane at least once year.

If a plane tests positive with either bacteria, EPA requires airplanes to flush the tanks and re-test the water.