Contaminated water on American airlines

Through information gathered through the Freedom of Information Act, it appears that fewer than half the airlines ordered as early as 2005 to begin testing their water have done so. In 2004, tests conducted on 327 planes by the US Environmental Protection Agency found 15-percent of the aircraft evaluated had water contaminated with coliform.

"Coliform bacteria can indicate that the water has been contaminated and it could be contaminated by something that can make people sick," explains June Weintraub, an epidemiologist with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The presence of coliform could mean other more harmful bacteria could be in the water, and that could lead to diarrhea, nausea and other symptoms.

Canada conducted its own tests on Canadian aircraft in 2006 and found similar results to the EPA.

This is the same water many airlines use to make your coffee and tea. "For coffee and tea on an airplane, they don't boil it long enough to destroy any germs," says Weintraub.

It's also the same water you use to wash your hands or even brush your teeth on the plane. Weintraub says the bacteria can get on your hands and then be transmitted to your food.

Since 2005, 45 airlines have signed orders agreeing to test the water on those planes. But through the Freedom of Information Act, it has been discovered only 16 of those airlines have actually released results of those tests. Those tests results show water samples taken from 2,200 aircraft found coliform 10-percent of the time. Meantime, 29 airlines either haven't completed or begun their first round of testing or haven't released their test results.

Tests show contaminated water on airplanes (ABC7News, 14 February 2008)