Think twice the next time you want to order any drinks while on an airplane, unless it is bottled water. In 2013, NBC 5 investigated test results by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding water safety consumption an a plane. As it turned out, nine years after EPA began a program to clean airplane water in 2004 there’s still the problem of bacteria on high percentage of airline flights.
In 2004 the EPA sampled about 300 planes and found 15 percent 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”.
According to John Goglia, a Forbes contributor said:
Thirty years ago when I was working for USAir, we began a process to bleach the water tanks that hold the water and flush out the system. This was done on a regular basis.
Yet, it was clear to anyone working on these tanks and their hoses that a lot of sediment was accumulating in the system, sediment that was akin to pond scum. Even after the tanks were bleached and flushed, some sediment always remained.
It’s hard to drink anything made with water from those tanks after seeing what accumulates in there.
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. The airline also has to restrict access to the water on the plane until tests show it is clean.
The EPA said it doesn’t have any documented cases of people getting sick from airplane drinking water. However, doctors said that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. In most cases it would be very difficult to track an illness back to water served on a plane.
While most airlines now serve bottled water on their beverage carts, many airlines still make coffee and tea with water that comes from a tank on-board. That tank is filled at airports in all different cities. And sometimes the hoses used to fill the tanks are filthy.
Is It Safe To Drink Water On An Airplane?
“Flight attendants will not drink hot water on the plane. They will not drink plain coffee, and they will not drink plain tea,” one flight attendant told Business Insider in February.
“Water onboard is regulated under the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure safe drinking water on the aircraft,” the The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told Business Insider.
“The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA pushed for this regulation over 15 years ago. The regulation gives broad discretion to airlines on how often they must test the water and flush the tanks. AFA does not believe this regulation goes far enough or is sufficiently enforced.”
Dr. Cedric Spak, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor University Medical Center, told NBC that people with a compromised immune system should steer clear of the in-flight beverage. He additionally noted that people with infants should “think twice” before filling a baby’s bottle with airplane tap water.
Aircraft Drinking Water Rules
The primary purpose of the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR) is to ensure that safe and reliable drinking water is provided to aircraft passengers and crew.
Both the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs) were designed for stationary public water systems. Using a collaborative rulemaking process, EPA developed ADWR to address aircraft public water systems. The ADWR establishes barriers of protection from disease-causing organisms targeted to the air carrier industry.
Drinking water safety on airlines is jointly regulated by:
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
- and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
EPA regulates systems that supply water to airports and onboard aircraft. FDA regulates water used in food and drink preparation and water supply lines for the aircraft. FAA oversees airline operation and maintenance programs, including the potable water system.
The regulatory structure for all public water systems, including aircraft, relies upon self-monitoring and reporting of results to the primacy agency. The primacy agency for aircraft public water systems is EPA.
This guide provides an overview of the ADWR, major provisions, critical deadlines and requirements, and public health benefits.
Can You Take Your Own Water On An Airplane?
Frozen liquid items are allowed through the checkpoint as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening. If frozen liquid items are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they must meet 3-1-1 liquids requirements.
The 3-1-1 rule for liquids, aerosols and gels in carry-ons is as follows: containers must be 3.4 ounces or less; stored in a 1 quart/liter zip-top bag; 1 zip-top bag per person. Larger amounts of non-medicinal liquids, gels, and aerosols must be placed in checked baggage.
If the liquid is considered a hazardous material that is permitted onboard an aircraft, it is still subject to the 3-1-1 limitations. Many questions arise on whether an item is hazardous material and what requirements must be met to take it on an aircraft.
The Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) at 1-800-467-4922 or the aircraft operator on which you are flying can assist you with your questions concerning hazardous material.
Full explanation here : http://apps.tsa.dhs.gov/mytsa/guide_main.aspx
Drinking Water From The Airplane Bathroom’s Tap (Bad Idea)
So apparently this article of the Wall Street Journal got it all started in 2002. An excerpt:
some little-noticed studies from Japan to the Netherlands have turned up some unfriendly bacteria in the tank water, including E. coli and the germ that causes Legionnaire’s disease.
They also did some own testing with similarly distressing results:
contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits.
According to the article it is also not uncommon that the water from the taps is served for people to drink when supplies of bottled water run out.
Some other water-smart safety tips when you’re flying
Skip the ice. If you really want a very cold drink, ask the flight attendant for the source of the ice first. Find out if it was brought on board by a catering service or made on the plane with water from the plane’s tanks.
Brush with bottled water. Don’t use the bathroom tap water to brush your teeth. There’s a chance you could swallow some — which is bad news if there’s bacteria in it. Instead, take a bottle of water with you and your toothbrush when you head to the lavatory.