Air circulating on planes can be toxic

By Stephen Matthews

Symptoms of "aerotoxic syndrome" are said to include fatigue, blurred or tunnel vision, loss of balance, seizures, memory impairment and headaches.
Symptoms of "aerotoxic syndrome" are said to include fatigue, blurred or tunnel vision, loss of balance, seizures, memory impairment and headaches.

It's not just a handful of obnoxious customers that flight attendants have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

They are also at risk of inhaling poisonous fumes inside the confined cabins - despite planes being full of filters.

Known as "aerotoxic-syndrome", it can lead to blurred vision, seizures, headaches, nausea, diarrhoea and even breathing difficulties, according to Daily Mail.

They were all referred to Georgia's Poison Center, in Atlanta, where doctors found it to be because of the toxic air.

In one instance, a ground supervisor at the airport became ill from the fumes after going to investigate a plane, according to Dr Gaylord Lopez.

He told Channel 2 that unsuspecting passengers could also be at risk "because of the way air circulates".

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, added: "We know that pilots and flight attendants are getting sick from toxic fumes.

"It's a real concern. Because if a crew member can become incapacitated, and there's a pilot flying the plane, that can be very dangerous to everyone on board."

Vanessa Woods, a former flight attendant, has permanent neurological issues as a result of her hydrocarbon exposure.

Doctors confirmed the diagnosis after she and three other cabin crew members of Alaska Airlines were taken to hospital.

Most of today's planes have systems in which the cabin contains a mix of recycled air and warm compressed air drawn from their engines, a process known as "bleed air".

There are seals designed to keep oil and bleed air apart, but they can leak or fail and organophosphates contained in heated engine oil can contaminate the unfiltered bleed air that is pumped into the aircraft cabin.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the only aircraft where this does not occur, as it uses electric compressors that take their air from the atmosphere.

Those who are campaigning for recognition of the syndrome say airlines should install bleed air filters on existing aircraft to protect crew and passengers.

Yet the campaigners have faced an uphill battle in convincing the public thanks to aviation industry and medical professionals who have produced conflicting studies or shrugged them off as conspiracy theorists.

Known by scientists as "fume events", sickness in passengers and aircrew have been recorded since the 1950s.

According to the UK's department of transport, they occur on roughly 0.05 per cent of all flights.

One such event was implicated in the death of British Airways co-pilot Richard Westgate, who died in 2012.

The 43-year-old had complained of persistent headaches, nausea and chronic fatigue and he claimed this was caused by fumes in the cockpit.

A study conducted following his death found that air in cockpits was being contaminated by contained organophosphates and other chemicals.

Senior coroner for Dorset, Sheriff Stanhope Payne, who presided over an inquiry into his death, previously said that airlines must take action to prevent passenger deaths from toxic fumes inside aircraft cabins.

In response, British Airways said the available evidence does not suggest that such chemicals are present in cabin air in sufficient quantities to pose a risk to health.

Its position was backed by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, which cited a number of studies.

Research conducted by Cranfield University in 2011 found that 95 per cent of aircraft cabin samples had no detectable levels of organophosphates.

A 2013 report published by Professor Michael Bagshaw, a specialist in aviation medicine at Kings College London, also noted: "The amounts of organophosphates to which aircraft crew members could be exposed, even over multiple, long-term exposures, are insufficient to produce neurotoxicity."

What is aerotoxic syndrome?

"Aerotoxic syndrome" is the term given to symptoms linked to the exposure to contaminated air in jet aircraft.

Many former pilots, co-pilots and cabin crew believe they have been subjected to long-term illnesses due to the amount of time they have spent exposed to cabin air and "toxic fumes".

Numerous scientific studies have been carried out since the late 1970s to try and determine whether contaminated cabin air is the cause of chronic health problems.

Symptoms of "aerotoxic syndrome" are said to include fatigue, blurred or tunnel vision, loss of balance, seizures, memory impairment, headaches, tinnitus, confusion, nausea, diarrhoea, breathing difficulties and irritation of the eyes, nose and upper airways.

- Daily Mail

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