Monday, June 05, 2006

Airlines Agree to Drinking Water Tests

Airlines Agree to Drinking Water Tests

JOHN HEILPRIN Associated Press WASHINGTON - The government and a dozen airlines struck a deal Tuesday requiring sanitation improvements and increased testing of drinking water aboard aircraft after officials found evidence of harmful bacteria in the water of one in every eight planes tested. At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would perform random water quality tests on 169 domestic and international passenger aircraft at 14 airports throughout the United States and publish the results by the end of the year. If coliform bacteria are discovered, the airliners will have to be disinfected within 24 hours unless the agency grants an extension because the plane involved is outside the United States. In the meantime, passengers would find signs posted in the lavatories and galleys of affected aircraft. Two months ago, EPA tested drinking water aboard 158 randomly selected domestic and international passenger aircraft and found that 12.6 percent had drinking water that did not meet federal safety standards. Twenty of the tested planes - small commuter aircraft to jumbo jets - returned positive results for coliform bacteria, usually harmless itself but an indicator of the possible presence of other harmful organisms. Two planes tested positive for E. coli bacteria, which can cause gastrointestinal illness. The EPA advises passengers with immune system problems to avoid drinking water from airplane galleys or lavatories. The airlines said they are confident their drinking water is safe, and they believe the number of airplanes that failed the agency's safe water test is closer to one in 20. In a statement, the Air Transport Association, which represented the airlines in Tuesday's agreement, said, "Our members wanted to address once and for all questions the EPA raised about airline drinking water." Still, the association said, the airlines believe "aircraft drinking water is just as safe as the municipal water systems that supply it." The EPA summer tests showed that 87.4 percent of the planes tested had water that met federal standards, slightly below the 90 percent compliance among municipal drinking water systems in the United States. The new agreement could be costly to the industry, in part because some planes will have to be flown to airports capable of the flushing and testing required. The agreement with major carriers require the airlines to analyze possible sources of contamination that exist outside aircraft and to tell the government how they get drinking water from foreign public water suppliers not regulated by EPA. Under the agreement: _Airlines must disinfect and flush each airplane's potable water system quarterly. _Airlines must flush out trucks, carts and hoses that carry the water monthly. _Airlines must notify EPA immediately when an airplane tests positive for coliform bacteria; EPA will ensure the problem is corrected. _EPA will meet with the airlines quarterly over the next year to determine whether changes in the process are needed. _After the first year, the airlines and EPA will meet for 30 days to decide on the process for the next year. _Airlines must notify the public or discontinue water service on aircraft that return coliform-positive test results. The airlines must disinfect airplanes within 24 hours of positive test results, or longer if an extension is granted because the plane is outside the country. Signing agreements with EPA were Alaska Airlines, Aloha Airlines, American Airlines, America West, ATA Airlines, Continental Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Midwest Airlines, Northwest Airlines, United Airlines and U.S. Airways. Separate agreements are being negotiated with Delta and Southwest airlines, EPA officials said. While the 14 airlines constitute the majority of U.S. airlines, the agency said it also is working with smaller, regional and charter aircraft carriers to improve drinking water quality.
ON THE NET EPA: http://www.epa.gov/airlinewater
Air Transport Association: http://www.airlines.org

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