“To this day, the only thing filtering this toxic soup out of the cabin are the lungs of the passengers and crew.” – Aviation Attorney Alisa Brodkowitz
By TLB Contributor: Anna Rodgers
Most airlines today are exceptionally efficient and proud of their safety records – they ensure their staff are highly trained with how to deal with emergencies, and their ground staff can spot a potential problem long before it happens. British Airways, for example, has an impeccable record – none of their planes have ever crashed or had a serious incident – but there’s a very important aspect to safety that is being completely ignored by airlines.
And that is regarding the air quality inside cabins.
Have a think about when you fly. Do you ever smell anything strange when you are on the plane, like a weird petrol type of smell? Do you ever feel really awful after you fly? Do you get a headache on board, feel dehydrated, or quickly develop a cold or flu a few days after a flight, and just intuitively know that flying isn’t particularly good for your health?
Well consider then what it might be like for the health of the cabin crew, or other frequent flyers. They may feel this way all the time. But something very serious is happening to cabin crew that is far more concerning than just suffering from regular colds and flus.
It has been reported that airline crew members are being made extremely ill and even dying from toxic fumes that are coming inside aircraft cabins during some flights.
Please watch this short video below:
Cancers, depression and other chronic diseases are being reported in record numbers amongst crew, with many affecting young people. As well as having one of the most unhealthy careers, flight crew also happen to have the most time off work compared to other industries.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said that the air is “safe and passengers have nothing to worry about,” but how can something that is affecting crew not also affect passengers, if we all breathe in the very same air?
What Is Aerotoxic Syndrome?
In 1999, three scientists investigating the ill health many aircrew suffered from came up with the name “Aerotoxic Syndrome” to describe the different symptoms being experienced after some flights. It was discovered that not only were there toxic chemicals present in modern synthetic jet engine oils, but that those toxins were passing unfiltered into the aircraft cabins, affecting the air that crew and passengers breathe in.
UK Pilot Richard Westgate died in December of 2012. He had fallen ill many years before and felt that it was due to toxic fumes entering the cabin.
According to online news source news.com.au:
Mr Westgate, who had flown for 15 years, had noted that on start-up, the engines would create puffs of smoke inside the plane followed by an oily smell.
After three years of flying his symptoms started, and progressively worsened to the point where he had severe chest pain, problems walking, and would fall off his bicycle for no reason. He underwent numerous tests and took a range of medications, and was even admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
Overall, he saw 15 specialists. But it was only shortly before he was found dead in his hotel room that he was diagnosed with having symptoms related to exposure to plane fumes.
Organophosphates Can Leak Into Cabins During Flights
One of the chemicals giving rise to the most concern is tricresyl phosphate – TCP for short – which is a member of the organophosphate family of chemicals, originally designed as nerve agents for warfare. This is added to the engine oil as an anti-wear agent, necessary because of the extreme temperatures at which the engines operate.
This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that, back in 1962, a decision was made to change the way air is supplied to the passenger cabins.
How Does The Cabin Air Become Toxic?
Since warm air is needed for engine propulsion and for passengers to breathe, it was decided to combine the two and bring the air through the engine to heat it, then ‘bleed’ it off and pass it unfiltered into the cabin. It is this ‘bleed air’ that has been the cause of so much controversy. Every modern jet airliner, apart from the new Boeing 787, uses the bleed air system. There are seals in the engine intended to keep oil out but unfortunately they require air pressure to keep the seal tight, and at times they allow contaminated air to pass into the cabin. Sometimes if the seal is worn or faulty or if the oil is leaking, large amounts can pass into the air supply and these are known in the industry as ‘fume events.’
Facts About Bleed Air You Need To Know
- Cabin breathing air on all aircraft apart from the Boeing 787 is taken directly from the engines and provided unfiltered to the aircraft. This is known as ‘bleed air.’
- Bleed air is known to become contaminated with engine oils and/or hydraulic fluids.
- Contaminated bleed air events have been recognised as occurring since the 1950s.
- No aircraft currently flying has any form of detection system fitted to warn when these events occur.
- Flight safety is being compromised by contaminated air events.
- Crew and passengers have been reporting short and long term health effects as a consequence of exposure to contaminated air.
- Contaminated air events are not rare and known to be under reported.* source
How Will You Know If Your Flight Has Contaminated Air?
Chances are you won’t know, because even when the crew know and report the fume event, no one is ever directed to tell the passengers. Signs to look out for include lots of people coughing (who weren’t coughing before take-off) and others fainting or becoming unwell. Sometimes a ‘mist’ can be seen in the cabin. Although some fume events are odourless, you should look out for the smell of engine oil, which is often described as a musty smell similar to sweaty socks or an old wet dog.
If you become aware that the air on your flight may be contaminated you should turn off the gasper fan above your head immediately, if there is one, tell a member of the cabin crew, and ask them to report it to the captain. See what British Airways says about contaminated flights here:
The Most Frequent Symptoms Reported Are:
- sore throats
- sore nose
- nose bleeds
- migraine headache
- flu-like feeling
- muscle aches
- fatigue and breathing difficulties.
Neurological Symptoms Can Also Develop, Such As:
- mental confusion
- panic attacks
Because these chemicals are neurotoxic they can interfere with electrical conduction in the body, resulting in cardiac problems. Some susceptible individuals may also experience a sudden rise in blood pressure, which can then lead to brain haemorrhaging. Chemical pneumonia can develop days or even weeks later as well, since the toxins are inhaled.
Most Doctors Unaware And Many Deny Aerotoxic Syndrome
According to Aerotoxic.org:
Many general medical practitioners are unaware of Aerotoxic Syndrome and may diagnose sufferers with illnesses such as psychological or psychosomatic disorders (i.e., they’ll tell you “it’s all in your mind”), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), “mysterious” viral infections, sleep disorders, depression, stress or anxiety – or simply “jet lag,” which is caused by crossing time zones.
Although some of these disorders may form part of Aerotoxic Syndrome, such part-diagnoses on their own miss the root cause of the problem, which is exposure to toxic oil components in a confined space. Furthermore, any misdiagnosis is likely to lead to inappropriate treatments, which may make the condition even worse.
Aviation medicine specialists are aware of the problem but Aerotoxic Syndrome does not seem to have gained official acceptance among the majority of them. Hence, despite (or because of) their expert knowledge they are likely to seek other explanations – and there are plenty of neurological symptoms associated with aviation that have nothing to do with inhaling oil.
How To Protect Yourself From Cabin Contamination
If you are concerned about this problem, purchase a face mask with a carbon-activated filter before your flight and wear it for the duration. According to health expert Raymond Francis, the best way to avoid getting ill is to take 1 gram of vitamin C every hour you are in the air.
If you think you were on a flight where there was leakage, you should write to the airline you travelled with and the CAA and report what you experienced. Accordingly, it’s always a good idea to ask for the aircraft registration and make a note of it.
The short-term symptoms of exposure to contaminated air vary widely depending on which chemicals and the amount you were exposed to, along with your current state of health.
Crew Members And Frequent Flyers Most At Risk Of Aerotoxic Syndrome
Crew members and frequent flyers are most at risk, but any flight can suffer a fume event and there may be individuals on board with a genetic inability to detoxify certain chemicals (unbeknownst to them), so it is strongly advisable that everyone carry a face mask with them when they fly.
Also At Risk: Pregnant Women, Babies, Young Children And The Elderly
Those most at risk are pregnant women, babies and young children, the elderly, those recovering from serious illness, those who’ve undergone chemotherapy, asthmatics, and anyone with an underlying health condition (that they may not even be aware of).
After spending a long time discussing the dangers of flying with a top scientist – Dr Michael Kucera – who treats the Russian Astronauts, I personally do not recommend taking infants under the age of 12 months on long flights. There are several studies pointing to concerns about cancers being more prevalent in flight attendants. In particular, flight attendants and pilots are twice as likely to suffer from melanomas than the general population.
In addition to the potential toxins coming into the cabin, flying also exposes you to higher levels of radiation. The smaller the child, the more likely the radiation can harm their developing and delicate immune system.
The BBC reported this regarding cabin crew’s exposure to radiation from flying:
In the US, pilots and flight attendants have been officially classed as “radiation workers” by the Federal Aviation Administration since 1994. Staff regularly working on high-latitude flights are exposed to more radiation than workers in nuclear power plants. Despite this, the airlines don’t measure the radiation exposure of their staff, or set safe limits on the doses they can safely receive.
I would like to hope that someone is currently doing a study on how safe it is for infants to fly.
If you are ill after a flight make sure you take information with you on Aerotoxic Syndrome, as many doctors are still not at all aware of its existence and may think you are suffering from a ‘mystery virus.’ There is still no definitive test available to prove you have been affected by aircraft chemicals and diagnosis is usually made after ruling everything else out.
Aerotoxic Syndrome Treatment
Unfortunately, there is very little in the way of treatment at this stage as more studies need to be done, but a sensible approach is to try to help your body detoxify as quickly as possible:
- Regular fresh air (or the use of a home oxygen machine),
- Avoiding other chemical exposures
- Increasing antioxidant intake (through diet and/or supplements)
- Take daily doses of Vitamin C (1000mg)
- Take regular doses of pure body zeolite (a supplement that is known to chelate toxins),
- Eating only organic food
- Sitting in saunas
- You might also like to look into taking mitochondrial supplements which help the cells and detox pathways to work more efficiently.
No Statistics On How Often This Occurs
I’m sorry to say it, but no one knows exactly how often these fume events are occurring. However, in its 2007 report the UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) said that fume events occur on 1 flight in 100. However, on some aircraft types crews report that they experience fumes to some degree on every flight, and as the definition of ‘fume event’ is not agreed upon, it makes it impossible to give a true figure. (source)
Dr Susan Michaelis of the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE) says many are going unreported because experiencing toxic fumes is seen as ‘normal’ in the industry.
Dee Passon, a retired British Airways Cabin Service Director who left due to ill health related to her flying, agrees.
Cabin crew contact me frequently to say that they had fumes on their flight that were not reported. Even so, the CAA has between 25 and 50 fume events reported to it every month which is approximately 10,000 passengers being exposed to damaging chemicals every month on flights to and from the UK.
To say the air is ‘safe’ when they know it is getting contaminated this frequently is misleading to say the least.
The industry says that when tests of cabin air were carried out on behalf of the Government by Cranfield University levels of chemicals found were below current health & safety guidelines but when the Countess of Mar asked in the House of Lords last year what exposure standards existed for the mix of chemicals present in a fume event Lord Davies of Oldham replied “none.”
”We have 23 serving staff and 42 retired staff who had passed away in 2014. Angel Fleet will be 1 year old on 22nd March and we’ve since found out about nearly 500 deaths.”
Dee Passon, Founder of Angel Fleet and ex BA crew.
What Is Being Done To Protect Staff?
Good question. Crews have long called for chemical detectors and filters to be fitted to commercial aircraft and up until now the industry and UK Government have said that action is not needed, but on February 20th a significant development occurred that changed everything and gave much more weight to the crews’ argument.
A statement by the Senior Coroner of Dorset, Sheriff Stanhope Payne, was made public on that date. In it he states that after a 2 year investigation into the death of British Airways pilot Richard Westgate, 43, it is his opinion that urgent action should be taken by both the CAA and British Airways to prevent future deaths.
Why Aren’t The Airlines Doing Anything – Is This A Coverup?
It seems logical to assume that planes should just be made differently so that the engine oil does not leak into the cabins. But as it would be an incredibly expensive process – and not to mention it could open up a huge class action lawsuit – then it’s not surprising that nothing has been done.
The industry has told its staff that the dangers of this problem are dramatically exaggerated and very rare. The reason the industry and its government backers can keep the lid on this issue is that the burden of proof about the damage these fumes can cause rests with the victims. The industry answers charges about health damage by denial and dissembling, which the system lets them do because of the rules about where the burden of proof lies.
The industry’s lawyers are masters of technical points of law that enable them to claim that the victims have no legal proof of the connection between a fume event and the symptoms that the victims suffer as a result. The lawyers can argue that the cause might lie elsewhere in the victim’s life, or in their metabolism, and this ‘negative’ allegation is very difficult to disprove.
There is a precise parallel here between the legal war fought for years between the tobacco industry and damaged smokers and the medical world who were looking for the proof of a connection between tobacco smoking and lung cancer.
Everybody knew that there was a connection, but the burden of proof was with the victims, and until a precise biomarker could establish that the cancer was initiated by the effects of tobacco-based chemicals in specific individuals who smoked, the industry could go on denying.
A thorough investigation into this subject has been published in a must read book by John Hoyte of the Aerotoxic Association entitled Aerotoxic Syndrome: Aviation’s Darkest Secret.
Tell Your Friends & Family Who Fly Regularly About This Issue
If you have any friends or loved ones that have a career in the aviation industry or are frequent flyers, please alert them to this article or direct them to the Aerotoxic Association. they need to know they are at risk of this syndrome and that they can take measures to protect themselves.
Flying doesn’t harm everyone (although it’s important to note, no long-term studies have been done to disprove this either) and it all depends on the current state of your health – or if the actual flight you are on is leaking jet oil into the cabin – but it does seem that this is a very urgent problem that must be dealt with properly by the aviation industry, before more lives are affected.
For the safety of everyone involved, including passengers, we need our pilots and flight staff to be healthy and to not suffer from dangerous neurological problems. I don’t know about you, but I find it very concerning that our pilots may be suffering from a syndrome that could affect the way they respond to serious and life threatening situations.
For those that are concerned about people being seriously harmed from their career in aviation, Angel Fleet is a Facebook group that posts information about cabin crew that have lost their lives, which many family members feel is connected to their aviation career and Aerotoxic Syndrome.
The Death of Matt Bass
Matt Bass was only 34 when he died. He had been a flight attendant for approximately 15 years. The forensic pathologist found that there was evidence of chronic exposure to organophosphates, the results were then examined in the US by one of, if not the, world’s leading authority on organophosphate poisoning and the results were confirmed. Visit Why Matt Bass died and you might also like to check out his family’s campaign.
Was The Germanwings Crash Due To Aerotoxic Syndrome?
Whilst we currently have little facts about what happened to the Germanwings Airbus A320 that crashed on Tuesday, some concerning information has already raised suspicions that it could have been caused by Aerotoxic Syndrome. The Daily Mail reported today:
However, the lack of a response by the crew member at the controls might also indicate he had passed out or had become incapacitated in some way.
Another piece of strange information is that the black box memory card appears to be ‘missing’. The NY Times reported:
The official said that workers on the scene had found the casing of the second black box, the flight data recorder, which investigators had hoped would provide significant information about the flight, including its speed, altitude and direction. But he said that the crash had severely damaged the box, and that the vital memory chip inside it had been dislodged.
After the crash happened, other Germanwings staff refused to get on their scheduled flights. The Guardian wrote:
Some Germanwings crews asked not to fly after the crash “for personal reasons”, and some flights yesterday were cancelled.
Collective Evolution has received anonymous information that staff have known about flume events happening which weren’t being reported properly and therefore immediately became suspicious of this crash.
More information will be released in the following days about this flight, but it must be said that this could be a victim of Aerotoxic Syndrome and a cover up may entail.
Has Aerotoxic Syndrome Affected You?
If you are concerned that you have been made ill by exposure to organophosphates while flying, please take this document to show your doctor: gcaqe.org/documents/FAAmedicalprotocol.pdf. If your doctor does not respond in the way that you would like, I would highly suggest you find a doctor who specialises in Environmental Medicine – these are specialists that are educated in the field of toxic chemicals causing disease, and they will know how to test for organophosphates and can help you detoxify safely.
Please call this number if you are BA crew, and have experienced a flight with possible contaminated air: Bassa fume helpline is 0333 014 6569
A newly released film about this issue, made by former British Airways Captain, Tristan Loraine, currently showing in UK cinemas: A Dark Reflection www.adarkreflection.com