Tuesday, September 18, 2018 by Ralph Flores
By now, most people know better than to smoke inside a plane – not just because the law explicitly prohibits it, but because science has proven that being exposed to the toxic chemicals from tobacco smoke is nothing short of dangerous.
Oddly enough, the same couldn’t be said for jet engine oil fumes – a gas people are regularly exposed to every time they board a plane to travel.
According to the aerospace industry, people shouldn’t be concerned, as the the oil reportedly does not cause chronic health problems; however, it’s known that it contains nerve agents – that are then released in a confined space. Unfortunately, it isn’t a new or even an isolated problem: Since the early 1960s, people have been exposed to “bleed air” – a term for piping unfiltered pressurized air coming from jet engines into the cabin – after airline companies stopped using pressurized outside air in planes.
The problem with bleed air was first identified by military pilots as early as the 1950s, with papers published on the dangers of contaminated cabin air. In 1999, a doctor from the U.S. Air Force and scientists from France and Australia named the condition resulting from both the acute and chronic illness as aerotoxic syndrome – of which jet engine oil is a likely suspect. In particular, bleed air uses high pressure air from the core of the engines and pressurizes it into breathable cabin air. However, a potentially dangerous situation may occur if the pressurized air is contaminated with oil vapor, which happens when the seals leak.
Jet engine oil, in particular, contains a chemical known as tricresyl phosphate (TCP) – a toxic substance originally designed as a nerve again but was later used as an anti-wear additive, which is great for extending the lifespan of jet engines. Of course, the same can’t be said for humans. (Related: Airplane cabin air found contaminated with toxic chemicals that really can damage your health.)
While studies that discuss aerotoxic syndrome and its link to commercial aviation have been published, both the authorities and the airline industry still insist that exposure to low levels of TCP does not cause chronic disease. This, despite a growing body of evidence, not just from studies, but also from people who have experienced it first-hand – and lived to tell about it.
Of course, surviving aerotoxic syndrome and making the industry accountable are two different things. In 1992, Joanne Turner became chronically ill after she was exposed to oil fumes during a flight in Australia. She won her case against the carrier, East West Airlines – but it took her at least 18 years to finally win in the High Court of Australia. For most people, it’s an uphill battle against a powerful enemy with both time and resources on their side.
Most cases don’t even see the light of day, with “out of court” settlements designed not only to silence the victims but also keep the public in the dark about the dangers of bleed air.
There’s a silver lining in all of this. Recently, carriers such as Spirit Airlines and Easyjet are having talks about installing both filters and nerve agent detectors in their fleet. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has also released its eponymous 787 model, which guarantees a no-bleed architecture to the cabin air.
However, these are still small victories in the battle to make aerotoxic syndrome known – and that is likely all we will get as long as the authorities collude and cooperate with the airline industry to downplay the dangers of contaminated cabin air.
Learn more about the hidden dangers of you may encounter when you travel at Toxins.news.