Friday, November 1, 2002

Airline Drinking Water: Be Afraid...

Wall Street Journal: How Safe Is Airline Water?

The results of our water-quality snapshot: a long list of microscopic life you don’t want to drink, from Salmonella and Staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs. Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits. “This water is not potable by any means,” says Donald Hendrickson, the director of Hoosier Microbiology Laboratories in Muncie, Ind., which tested our samples.

Our own suspicions about the water came from an unlikely quarter: Zach Bjornson-Hooper, a home-schooled 13-year-old from Alamo, Calif., who became curious about airline tap water when he saw a flight attendant pouring it for passengers. “My parents own a sailboat,” he says, “and I know we don’t drink the tank water on that.” So as part of a science project, he took samples during a trip to Australia and New Zealand — and watched later as colonies grew on his petri dishes. “I got fairly grossed out,” he says.

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