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08 October 2009

EPA Changes Rules for Airline Drinking Water

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a change of rules when it comes to aircraft drinking water. The change isn't due to any recent dramatic event, but from research the EPA conducted several years ago.

In 2004, the EPA tested 327 airliners and found that 15 percent tested positive for the presence of coliform bacteria. Coliform bacteria are organisms that are present in the environment and in the feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. Coliform bacteria will not likely cause illness. However, their presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms could be in the water system.

EPA Actions
Since 2004, the EPA worked with airlines to come up with a new set of rules that all US airlines have to follow. The short story is that the water systems on just about all airliners have to be regularly tested for the presence of coliform, and their water systems flushed and disinfected.

Airline Actions
Airlines that operate in the US have a choice of how frequently the systems have to be tested and cleaned. If the aircraft has its system flushed and cleaned at the minimum rate of once per year, it must be tested at least once each month. If the airline chooses the minimum testing frequency of once per year, the system must be flushed and cleaned at least once per month.

If coliform bacteria or other contamination is discovered on an aircraft, passengers and crew will not be able to drink the water from that aircraft's water system until it has been flushed and disinfected, and has passed another set of tests.

What Should You Do?
The EPA suggests that passengers with suppressed immune systems or others concerned may wish to request bottled or canned beverages while on the aircraft and refrain from drinking tea or coffee that does not use bottled water. Keep in mind that the water used to prepare coffee and tea aboard a plane is not generally brought to a high enough temperature to guarantee that pathogens are killed.

If you don't have a suppressed immune system, but you are still concerned about water quality, you should also avoid drinking any water from the airplane's water system, including coffee or tea prepared on board.

Past Events is not aware of any case in which aircraft drinking water contamination led to the serious injury or death of a passenger. However, it doesn't mean that it's never happened, it just means that such events have not been mentioned in any of the public aviation safety databases that are routinely reviewed by If any readers of the News know of any docuemented cases, feel free to leave a comment and a link to the data.

Background on EPA Aircraft Drinking Water Rule
Drinking Rule Fact Sheet


  1. When I questioned American Airlines why the cabin crew were filling empty bottled water containers from the galley faucet and then serving it as bottled water to passengers, I was told no law prohibited them from doing so. I felt this practice was deceitful, passengers should have been informed accordingly.

  2. My son is an A&P mechanic for an airline and he advises never drink the coffee of tea on a flight, in other words, don't trust the water.