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Archive - Health Canada cautions air travellers with compromised immune systems regarding water quality on aircraft

Starting date:
June 30, 2006
Posting date:
June 30, 2006
Type of communication:
Microbiological - Other
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Identification number:

Health Canada is informing air travellers with compromised immune systems that they should avoid drinking any tap water on aircraft, including tea, or coffee from the galley or using water from the lavatory faucets for brushing teeth.

There is always a possibility that bacteria can enter the aircraft water system from time to time from a variety of sources. As part of its random inspections of aircraft water, Health Canada found Total Coliform bacteria, which usually indicates the water is of poor quality or stale and that the water system should be sanitized. Total Coliform is normally not harmful to human health. However, if E.Coli, a type of coliform bacteria, is present, this can be harmful to human health.

Whenever Health Canada finds bacteria in airline water, it notifies the airline of the problem and directs that corrective action be taken, including posting warnings in the lavatories and galleys, providing bottled water to passengers and staff, and shutting down the water system. The system must be sanitized within 24 hours for E. Coli and 48 hours for Total Coliform. Water systems must then be re-tested.

Recent random testing of water on aircraft showed 15.1% of aircraft tested positive for Total Coliform bacteria and 1.2% tested positive for E.Coli bacteria. Most contamination was found in water from lavatory faucets. These results are consistent with those found by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States in 2004.

The airlines have been provided with their results and satisfactory remedial action was taken in all instances where deficiencies were found. If you are planning to travel by air and have specific questions regarding the water quality and safety, please contact your airline or your health-care provider directly.

Health Canada will continue to work with the airline industry on the goal of safeguarding public health.

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Health Canada
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