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Airlines Ordered To Monitor Water

Oct 7, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Airlines Monitor Water

EPA Revealed Aircraft Water Was Noncompliant With Regulations

In 2004, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspection revealed that every aircraft public water system was noncompliant with national primary drinking water regulations, the Environment News Service (ENS) reported. In response, the EPA just published a final rule that is meant to make sure that “safe and reliable drinking water” be provided to airline passengers and crews, said (ENS). The rule only applies to the water systems existing on airlines.

Under the ruling, airlines are mandated to inspect water systems no less than once every five years, said ENS, noting that airlines must also report testing results to the agency and correct “significant deficiencies.” The rule, said ENS, is meant to incorporate “multiple-barrier protection” mandated for coliform sampling. Such sampling relates to a long-existing test standard to determine the sanitary quality of water and food. Coliforms, which apply to a broad array of bacteria found in the environment—for instance mammal feces, soil, vegetation, and water—can be used to determine if other fecal pathogens, such as E. coli, are in the test environment. Such pathogens indicate the potential presence of dangerous, sometimes deadly and disease-causing contaminants.

Because drinking water should be free of such organisms—such as viruses, bacteria, and protozoa—and because pathogens carried in water can result in hepatitis, giardiasis, and dysentery, it is critical that drinking water is checked and coliform sampling criteria be used. Coliform is an easier, effective, and financially inexpensive method of conducting such testing. To test for the vast variety of known potential pathogens is considered prohibitive in terms of budgets and time.

"This rule is a significant step forward in protecting people's health when they travel," said Peter Silva, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water, quoted ENS. "EPA has taken this step to make sure the public has drinking water that meets standards, both in the air and on the ground," Silva added.

Coliform Sampling

In addition to providing protection for coliform sampling, the rule also mandates “best management practices, corrective action, public notification, and monitoring and operator training,” said ENS, which complies with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The EPA does advise consumers with concerns or, for instance, who have compromised immune systems, to request pre-packaged drinks and steer clear of beverages made with tap water, such as coffee or tea, according to ENS.

Reuters said the rule, which took about five years to develop, requires regular disinfection of airline onboard drinking water; this move represents the first time the EPA has applied public water regulations to commercial airlines. The mandates are expected to impact 63 airlines and over 7,000 craft and could potentially raise air flight costs that would ultimately be passed on to consumers, said Reuters. According to the EPA, reported Reuters, the cost is expected to run some $7 million per year; airlines have been given one and a-half years to develop plans.

Recently, the Associated Press reported that the EPA has been urged by the government to look at reports of polluted drinking water systems in this country’s school systems.

Need Legal Help Regarding Airlines Water?

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