Airlines demandedo more to from toxic cabin fumes

Health task force demands airlines do more to protect passengers and crew from toxic cabin fumes

  • Symptoms of fumes inhalation include dizziness and poor short-term memory

Airlines have been urged to do more to protect passengers and crew from toxic cabin fumes.

Holidaymakers are being exposed to air being contaminated by engine oils or hydraulic fluids, the International Fume Events Task Force has warned.

Symptoms include dizziness, impaired short-term memory, fatigue and a headache in the short-term, and breathing difficulties and an uncontrollable cough in the long-term.

The task force has produced a ‘protocol’ for responding to suspected incidents to help determine whether medical care is required and to collect data.

Fume events occur when the ventilation air supplied to the cabin and flight deck is extracted directly from the engine compressors – something which happens on the majority of passenger aircraft.

Holidaymakers are being exposed to air being contaminated by engine oils or hydraulic fluids, according to the International Fume Events Task Force

This engine ‘bleed air’ is then ventilated, unfiltered, to the aircraft occupants.

‘Fume events’ occur when there is a sufficient amount of engine oil or hydraulic fluid decomposition products for crews or passengers to recognise it.

READ MORE: Passenger who OPENED emergency exit door mid-flight says he felt ‘suffocated’ after terrifying footage showed every passenger’s worst nightmare unfolding 

The Asiana Airlines plane – with its door still open – at Daegu International Airport on Friday 

Crews and passengers often describe a ‘dirty sock’ type of smell, this being the smell of one of the chemical constituents in the base stock of the oils.

Former pilot and aviation health researcher Dr Susan Michaelis, who leads the task force, said: ‘This has been happening for the last 70 years, and reports of air crew becoming unwell continue to rise.

‘Currently, when aircrew or passengers become unwell, whether they are still on the plane, suffer symptoms in the days or weeks to come, or report illness in the years that follow, there’s nothing in the medical books, there’s no guidance material for the aviation industry or medical professionals and very often they get turned away or are given minimal testing.

‘This new medical protocol has been written by internationally recognised experts and presents a consensus approach to the recognition, investigation and management of people suffering from the toxic effects of inhaling thermally degraded engine oil and other fluids contaminating the air conditioning systems in aircraft, and includes actions and investigations for in-flight, immediately post-flight and late subsequent follow up.

‘All of the data and evidence collected strongly suggests a causal connection between the contaminants from the oils and hydraulic fluids and people becoming unwell.

‘This is the first comprehensive and systematic approach for documenting and gathering further epidemiological data in what is a discreet and emerging occupational health syndrome.’

The protocol and review of academic research was published in the journal Environmental Health.

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