Monday, May 5, 2014

Toxic fumes on air planes worries experts

Toxic air can affect air plane staff and passengers.
A senior engineer at aircraft giant Boeing warned bosses they would be “looking for a tombstone” unless they tackled the potentially deadly issue of toxic fumes on board passenger planes, a bombshell email reveals.

The Sunday Express obtained a memo written by a long serving employee at the US company in which he complains he and other engineers have been given the “run around” over their fears.

The engineer was so worried about the risk to passengers on board Boeing’s planes he told bosses he was amazed air safety regulators were not taking stronger action.

He said in the email Boeing was fully aware of the issue and some of the events that had been witnessed, including blue clouds of chemical compounds circulating above passengers’ heads, were “significant”.

The email was sent in 2007 and campaigners say it shows how much the aviation industry was concerned despite public statements even today that the air is safe.

The issue of toxic air, which regularly forces pilots to don oxygen masks, is one of the most serious facing the aviation industry, yet passengers are generally unaware it even exists.

According to official Civil Aviation Authority records, the entire crew of a British registered Airbus was taken to hospital for toxicology tests following a “fume event” on an unidentified flight to Geneva last month.

Yet just days later, Transport Minister Baroness Kramer told Parliament passengers had no automatic right to know whether they too might have suffered.

She flatly rejected a call by the Countess of Mar in the House of Lords to force airlines to inform passengers whenever a fume event occurs.

She also said there was little point in installing air quality monitors on board because “it is not clear what a monitoring system would be seeking to detect”.

Experts, such as the highly respected aviation analyst David Learmount, say this potentially endangers the long term health of those who fly.

Unfiltered air inside aircraft

The issue concerns the way breathing air enters the cockpit and passenger cabin.

On almost every aircraft, the air passengers breathe is sucked unfiltered into the cabin from the compression section of jet engines and is known as “bleed air".

Any oil leak at high temperatures in the engine seals, which can occur when pilots change the thrust of the plane, can release a complex mixture of potentially toxic fumes containing organophosphates.

Crew and passengers would only be aware of a possible leak by a strange, pungent, often likened to “smelly socks”.

A build up of these organophosphates has the ability to attack the body’s nervous system, causing serious illnesses.

However, because the term “aerotoxic syndrome” is not widely recognised by the medical profession, doctors will rarely ascribe its symptoms, such as nausea and loss of cognitive ability, to hours of flying.

It is argued the aviation industry deliberately plays down the significance of the issue for fear of the multibillion pound consequences.

Whenever questioned on the issue, airlines and aircraft manufacturers repeatedly state cabin air is safe and point to a much criticised Government-backed study by Cranfield University in 2011 which found no evidence of any harm to long term health.

Source: Daily Express This article has been edited for length.

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