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3News Investigates: Filthy flying lands in CLE

Undercover investigation reveals signs of E. coli, bacteria at Hopkins Airport public areas.

CLEVELAND — Millions of travelers are taking flight this spring, but airline passengers may be taking more than a carry-on when they board their plane, a 3News Investigation has found.

Independent testing on areas inside Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland showed levels of E. coli and other bacteria on items in the concourse.

The findings came during an undercover investigation to determine if items travelers regularly touch are properly sanitized. This is more relevant in a post-pandemic era as Americans have grown more aware of viruses and bacteria.

3News Investigates retained a private laboratory and swabbed the surfaces of various airport items such as chairs, railings, kiosks and luggage carts.

Plastic bins used by passengers to store items like carry-on luggage and shoes as they are screened at the TSA security checkpoint were also tested.

Afterwards, the sealed and labeled kits were returned to the lab for testing for E. coli and general cleanliness.

In the first installment of a two-part series that aired Thursday, Investigator Marisa Saenz revealed that testing showed elevated levels of bacteria on the Hopkins lobby chair, an airline kiosk and a rental luggage cart.

Also, a small trace of E. coli was found on two kiosks and the luggage cart.

“I’m honestly shocked,” one traveler said.

E. coli commonly derives from feces and is transferred by humans. Hand-washing, therefore, is imperative to ward off the bacteria, which can cause myriad health issues.

Cleveland Clinic Dr. Baruch Fertel, who specializes in emergency medicine, said E. coli can be avoided.

“It really is a marker of poor hygiene,” he said. “Someone who is immune suppressed or somebody who is extreme of age, super young, super old, they can get severe dehydration.”

“It should be a warning, if we see that, to tell people ‘you probably should be washing your hands with soap and water’,” he said.

The kiosks and carts are privately owned and are not the responsibility of city of Cleveland maintenance crews that clean the public areas of the airport.

James Henderson, the crew’s supervisor, told 3News Investigates that keeping the concourse clean is a constant battle. Over 10 million people pass through the airport every year.

To keep up, the city employs 52 workers to cover three shifts.

“An airport can get dirty in seconds,” said Henderson. “That can be devastating, but it is our job at the airport to make sure that is not spreading."

"Anything that germs can get on, we touch."

One area Hopkins staff cannot touch is the TSA checkpoints. The results of those tests were revealed on Friday in part 2 of our report below.

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