National News

New water quality rules for planes, trains

An Air Canada passenger jet takes off over the terminal at Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Halifax on Jan. 21, 2013. The Canadian government is laying out stricter rules to ensure clean water aboard planes, trains and passenger ships for drinking, hand washing, oral hygiene and food preparation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan -
An Air Canada passenger jet takes off over the terminal at Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Halifax on Jan. 21, 2013. The Canadian government is laying out stricter rules to ensure clean water aboard planes, trains and passenger ships for drinking, hand washing, oral hygiene and food preparation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
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By Benjamin Shingler, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL - The Canadian government is laying out stricter rules to ensure clean water aboard planes, trains and passenger ships for drinking, hand washing, oral hygiene and food preparation.

It's been sixty years since Ottawa first introduced regulations, and the Public Health Agency of Canada says it's time to bring them up to date.

The existing provisions "no longer reflect the latest industry or scientific standards," according to a notice posted recently in the Canada Gazette, which posts many government decisions.

Health Canada says the cost of the changes to operators are small enough that travellers won't see any effect on ticket prices.

Under the new rules operators would still have the option of either supplying prepackaged water bottles and ice or offering tap water that would be subject to testing.

The notice says if tap water is used, operators would need to "sample and analyse the water for E. coli on a routine basis."

"Disinfecting and flushing the potable water system would be required should the water or the potable water system be contaminated or suspected of contamination," said the notice.

The changes are aimed at reducing the number of illness among travellers in Canada, "which may contribute to reduced health care costs."

The new rules are now open to a general consultation period, and won't come into force until 2015 at the earliest.

They have been in the works for some time.

A 2005 government audit recommended revising the regulations to reflect the latest scientific research.

Most Canadian airlines have already been working with Health Canada to make some of those changes, the notice said.

Stakeholders in the ferry, cruise ship, train and bus industries have also been consulted.

Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for Air Canada, said in an email the airline is prepared to follow the new regulations, explaining that its policy is to "meet or exceed all government requirements and standards, particularly those related to health and safety."

The main costs associated with the changes will be related to additional water sampling and record keeping, the notice said.

The United States introduced tougher rules of its own in 2009.

The regulations include requirement of sampling, routine disinfection and self-inspection of the aircraft water system every five years.

A 2004 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that water on 15 per cent of 327 aircraft tested positive for total coliform, which is often used to indicate the sanitary quality of foods and water.

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