Aerotoxic Syndrome, also known as Toxic Cabin Air Syndrome, could be poised to become as the airline industry’s version of the dreaded “Gulf War Syndrome?
By: Ringo Bones
As of March 28, 2019, five of the UK’s largest airlines are facing legal action which claims pilots and cabin crew are regularly exposed to toxic fumes during flight. The Unite Union said legal notice has been served in 51 cases, the majority of which are against British Airways. Easyjet, Thomas Cook, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic are also subject to the legal action over “aerotoxic syndrome”. The Unite Union, which represents airline staff, claims pilots and crew are exposed to frequent “fume events” when air drawn into the aircraft becomes contaminated by toxic compounds. The Unite Union says the fumes – which originate from the oil used to lubricate the jet engines – contain organophosphates and trichlorophenol and long-term exposure can lead to chronic ill effects and life threatening conditions. Pardon me but two of the chemicals mentioned here reminded me of nerve gas / cholinesterase inhibitor chemical agent precursors suspected of causing the dreaded “Gulf War Syndrome” that affected a large number of troops who served during Operation Desert Storm back in 1991.
Sadly the science behind aerotoxic syndrome is still under dispute by the world’s leading occupational health authorities. Aerotoxic Syndrome is a phrase coined by Chris Winder and Jean-Christophe Balouet in 2000 to describe their claims of short-term and long-term ill-health effects caused by breathing airline cabin air which was alleged to have been contaminated to toxic levels that exceed established parts per million safe levels with atomized engine oils or other chemicals. An assessment by the UK’s House of Lords Science and Technology Committee found that claims of health effects were unsubstantiated. An update in 2008 found no significant new evidence. As of 2013, aerotoxic syndrome is still not recognized in medicine. Could aerotoxic syndrome / toxic cabin air syndrome just become the global airline industry’s Gulf War Syndrome?
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