Campaigners demand international public inquiry into effects of ‘toxic air’ on aircraft on passengers and crew

  • The Aerotoxic Association says it has been contacted by 2,500 potential victims
  • It claims toxic fumes on planes can cause a range of serious health problems 
  • The association wants the International Criminal Court to investigate the issue
  • But there have been conflicting studies on whether the problem actually exists 

Campaigners are demanding an international public inquiry into the effects of toxic air on aircraft.

Research has suggested that the ‘tainted air’ on planes can cause serious health problems that range from headaches and dizziness to breathing and vision problems.

The Aerotoxic Association claims it has been contacted by 2,500 potential victims, who say their health is suffering as a result of inhaling toxic air while flying.

Research has suggested that the ‘tainted air’ on planes can cause serious health problems that range from headaches and dizziness to breathing and vision problems

And now it is demanding an independent public inquiry at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to assess whether safety solutions should be put in place to protect those who fly from fumes.

John Hoyte, founder of the British-based Aerotoxic Association, said: ‘The problem of passengers and aircrew being exposed to toxic air has been known about since the 1950s, and there has been mounting evidence to support the causal link between exposure on aircraft and both acute and chronic ill health.

‘Despite this, the industry, the UK Government and regulatory bodies have yet to take any action to prevent this and to protect the public.

‘In most areas of life we work on the precautionary principle to protect health and wellbeing, yet despite the huge amount of scientific evidence to show the effects of this preventable issue, the industry, UK Government and regulators have buried their heads in the sand.

‘It is time for an independent public inquiry to finally resolve this and to determine the necessary actions to protect the public.’

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. 

Most of today’s planes have systems where the cabin contains a mix of recycled air and warm compressed air drawn from their engines, 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.

The Aerotoxic Association was set up in 2007 to raise this issue of toxic air exposure in aircraft and to support those suffering from aerotoxic syndrome.

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.

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.’

In 2013 a government committee considered the issue of toxic fumes on planes, saying there were several areas requiring further investigation.

Most of today’s planes have systems where the cabin contains a mix of recycled air and warm compressed air drawn from their engines, known as ‘bleed air’

But the Aerotoxic Association says it needs reviewing yet again.

Mr Hoyte added: ‘At last we are beginning to see some action to tackle this in France and the USA, with two airlines now looking to protect their passengers and crew with air filters reminiscent of the tobacco industry filtering cigarettes in the 1950’s.

‘EasyJet has changed engine oil to a safer formulation and will fit “bleed air” filters and nerve agent detectors to all of their aircraft, because of an ongoing French criminal court case.

‘In addition, the modern Boeing 787 Dreamliner uses separate air intakes, rather than bleed air from the engines, which completely avoids the poisoning.

‘Yet despite decades of evidence and scientific research, air passengers are still put at risk every day from this preventable danger.’ 

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