Cathay Pacific have confirmed that drinking water on board 14 aircraft contained unsafe levels of coliform bacteria.

Hong Kong’s flag carrier verified the presence of up to 90 colony-forming units of coliform in every 100 millimetres of drinking water, following reports on Thursday that first disclosed the contamination of onboard potable water.

Coliform bacteria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The airline is currently cooperating with a Department of Health investigation into possible sources of contamination, the results of which are pending.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that “a high level of coliform count generally indicates unsanitary conditions.” However, he added that E. coli, a species of the coliform group that can produce powerful toxins, was not found in the samples.

Cathay Pacific cabin. Photo: Christian Junker – AHKGAP via Flickr.

The spokesman added that the incident was “detected by a routine water surveillance programme” carried out by the airline. Water samples are collected from aircraft every six months, and water tanks are disinfected once every three months. The contaminated samples were detected during tests carried out on 10-18 June.

Of the 14 aircraft affected, nine have already had on-board water tanks sterilised. Cleansing and disinfection for the remaining five aircraft will be finished by 27 June.

This year, Skytrax awarded Cathay Pacific fourth place among the Word’s Cleanest Aircraft Cabins and named it the third-best airline worldwide.

Results from the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 indicated that one in every ten American airplanes contained contaminated water. 

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Paul Benedict Lee

Paul Benedict Lee is an undergraduate law student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Paul has previously contributed to HK Magazine and Radio Television Hong Kong, covering issues ranging from local heritage conservation to arts features. He has also worked as a legal intern at local human rights firm Daly & Associates.