October 19, 2005

Most airlines agree to step up water monitoring

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. airlines will step up water
quality monitoring on their planes after some samples taken
from commercial aircraft last year were not safe to drink,
environmental regulators said on Wednesday.

Eleven major airlines and 13 smaller ones reached
agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency to
routinely monitor water and disinfect aircraft water systems
serving galleys and bathrooms as well as water transfer

Carriers are to report any contamination to regulators and
study possible sources of contamination from outside the
aircraft, according to the agreements.

"The water passengers drink on a plane should be as safe as
the water they drink at home," said Ben Grumbles, an EPA
assistant administrator.

"The settlements announced today show that it's time to
fine-tune and upgrade EPA's water regulations to specifically
address airplanes," Grumbles said.

The agency said it would continue to monitor water quality
on U.S. commercial aircraft while it develops permanent

Most major carriers have signed agreements with the agency.
Negotiations continue with JetBlue Airways, Delta Air Lines and
Southwest Airlines.

EPA said passengers with compromised immune systems or
others concerned about water quality can request bottled
beverages. Most domestic carriers serve bottled water.

Last year, more than 30 aircraft in an EPA investigation of
U.S. and internationally based airlines at 19 airports had
water systems contaminated with coliform, or fecal, bacteria,
which by itself may not pose a health risk. But fecal bacteria
in drinking water indicates that other disease-causing
organisms, or pathogens, may be present.

Regulators said they could not identify any illnesses
related to aircraft water but said it was possible that some
passengers got sick. Many of the contaminated samples came from
bathrooms. Aircraft water comes from municipal water supplies.

There are thousands of planes in the commercial fleet and
big airlines questioned the test results. Airlines can be fined
more than $27,000 for each violation under the new agreements,
the EPA said.

Airlines can do the water monitoring themselves or contract
the work.