|Aircraft air quality|
Counterpoint to the most prevalent myths regarding exposure to oil fumes in the aircraft air supply system: Article published in the Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry, 14: 122–132 (2014). You can access the abstracts of other articles in that issue, all addressing some aspect of onboard exposure to oil fumes, or access the full text of the entire fumes issue in pdf format.
German researchers publish findings that may help to explain the cognitive deficits reported by crews exposed to engine oil fumes: All aviation engine oils contain a blend of tricresyl phosphates (TCPs) which help to maintain the thermal stability of oil and reduce wear on the engine. But when those oils contaminate the air supplied to the cabin/flight deck, crews and passengers are exposed to fumes that contain TCPs which are neurotoxic. One type of TCP is TOCP. TOCP exposure at high concentrations is known to cause paralysis, and aviation and oil industry representatives consistently claim that crews and passengers aren’t exposed to enough TOCP on aircraft to make them sick. German researchers have now identified signs of “functional neurotoxicity” in the brain cells of mice (in vitro) at very low TOCP concentrations, and propose that this mechanism may help to explain the cognitive difficulties reported by some crews and passengers exposed to oil fumes on aircraft.
Airbus Chief Operating Officer dismisses concerns over exposure to oil-contaminated bleed air on its aircraft as “absurd”: At the Farnborough International Air Show, Airbus Chief Executive Officer was asked if any of their aircraft will include non-bleed systems like the Boeing 787. The short answer is “no.” Watch the press conference clip here. In contrast, Thomson Airways Communications Director acknowledges that the cabin air onboard the B787 is “much cleaner”: The B787 is the only commercial “bleed-free” aircraft flying today; specifically, it is uniquely equipped with an electrically-driven compressor, such that there should be no risk of the cabin and flight deck ventilation air being contaminated with toxic engine oil smoke and fumes. The B787 is also designed to provide a lower cabin altitude than other commercial aircraft of its size, which means a higher oxygen content in the cabin air during flight. (July 2014)
60 Minutes Australia airs story on oil-contaminated ventilation air on aircraft, including extra interview footage (Dec. 1, 2013)
Aviation Herald reports details of 2011 oil fume incident during flight from FRA to SFO: Article describes acute and chronic health impact documented by cabin crewmember (Dec. 4, 2013)
Investigative thriller A Dark Reflection: This Erin Brockovich-style investigative thriller is in production now. It tells the nail-biting story of a UK journalist who is trying to unravel what the airline industry knows about exposure to oil fumes inflight. You can watch the trailer, as well as some short video clips introduced by the Director.
Engine oil fumes sometimes contaminate the aircraft air supply system on commercial and military aircraft (with the exception of the B787), exposing passengers and crewmembers to toxic compounds. Many of the oil fume events reported to AFA-CWA are detectable upon boarding or taxi out, but crewmembers are not trained to either recognize or respond to odors or fumes that may contain toxic engine oil. Help to protect yourself by reading and remembering THESE TIPS to better recognize and respond to onboard smoke/fumes.
Summary of documents and investigative reports (July 2014): Summary of published documents that describe potential for comprised flight safety caused by either confirmed or suspected crewmember exposure to engine oil-contaminated air onboard aircraft.
Answers to frequently asked questions (June 2014): Practical information regarding onboard exposure to oil/hydraulic smoke/fumes, prepared by AFA-CWA Air Safety, Health & Security Department.
IFALPA publishes Cabin Air Quality position statement (June 27, 2013): The International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations again emphasizes the potential flight safety hazards posed by inflight exposure to smoke/fire/fumes, and recommends that flight crews are provided with equipment and training to ensure that smoke/fire/fumes are detected and mitigated.
Investigative news story (Dutch news: Zembla): Aired May 9, 2013, investigates reports of compromised flight safety/ill health reported by crews and largely denied by airlines.
Published review of fume events at one major US airline: Review includes description of impact of exposure to smoke/fumes on crew health and flight safety.
Videos that describe how aircraft engine “bleed air” can be contaminated with oil smoke/fumes - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4: Educational tool created by Austin Byrd at the Tennessee Technology Center of Memphis (aviation maintenance school).
IFALPA publishes Cabin Air Quality Safety Bulletin (Feb.19, 2013): The International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations acknowledges that inhaling oil fumes inflight can cause crew impairment/incapacitation which can impair safety of flight, that fumes (odor) need not be accompanied by smoke/mist to be problematic, and that crews risk olfactory fatigue, and that pilots should don oxygen immediately if they suspect exposure.
International Transport Workers’ Federation educational film: The ITF is a global organization with 690 member unions representing over 4.5 million transport workers in 153 countries, including AFA-CWA. “Contaminated Air: What You Need to Know” was released on July 28, 2012 to help educate airline workers about the potential for exposure to oil fumes on aircraft, including practical steps to take if fumes exposure is either suspected or confirmed
THINK YOU HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO OIL FUMES/SMOKE/MIST ON AN AIRCRAFT?
(Note: Prof. Clem Furlong at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle can no longer accept blood samples from crews/passengers exposed to engine oil fumes because of time/storage/funding limitations, but the research team he leads is still working to develop a suitable blood test to determine exposure to aviation engine oil additives.)
Prof. Mohamed Abou-Donia at Duke University is developing a blood test intended to provide objective evidence of brain damage. The test is not specific to toxic exposures, but still may be helpful. More information here.
SICK FROM EXPOSURE TO OIL FUMES? Print this two-page summary version health care providers’ guide and take it to any related medical appointments, along with the MSDS of the oil or hydraulic fluid you were exposed to (ask your MEC or contact AFA-International). The guide is intended to provide doctors with information on how oil can contaminate the aircraft air supply, the associated health effects, recommended medical work ups, and possible treatments. This publication was funded by the Federal Aviation Administration. The lead author is an occupational physician member of the OHRCA research team, and the information is well-referenced. Bring the comprehensive version of the health care providers’ guide to medical specialist appointments, as necessary, and refer to the AFA-CWA bulletin describing what your doctor should know.
GCAQE The primary purpose of the GCAQE is to effect the changes in the aviation industry that are necessary to prevent crewmembers and passengers from being exposed to oil and hydraulic fluid in the ventilation air supplied to the cabin and flight deck. AFA-CWA is a member. Find out why your union should join. Next annual meeting in London, England scheduled for Feb. 24-25, 2015. Contact email@example.com for more details.
DOCUMENTARY FILMS Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines (2007) and Angel Without Wings (2011). Purchase DVDs online at an AFA-negotiated discount of 50% off. Order here and enter code: 2024341300 at checkout. Available reference and reading material includes Aviation Contaminated Air Reference Manual and Toxic Airlines.
DOES YOUR AIRLINE USE BP2380 ENGINE OIL? All aviation engine oils applied on the US fleet contain 1-5% neurotoxic tricresylphosphates (TCPs), however this article published in 1989 reported that when Exxon 2380 engine oil (now marketed as BP2380) was heated to temperatures above 350ºC, high levels of an especially potent neurotoxin, TMPP (trimethylolpropane phosphate) were generated. So much so that the research team recommended that Exxon 2380 be banned from the US Naval fleet. (TMPP exposure has been associated with neurological symptoms, including seizures.) But this same oil is still used on US commercial aircraft! Another article reported TMPP formation at even lower temperatures (250ºC), well within the temperatures of an operating aircraft engine. AFA acknowledges GCAQE Lead Researcher, S. Michaelis for this information. As of this writing (June 2010), we are told that Mesaba and Mesa use BP2380. Less toxic oils are under development. Encourage your airline to investigate them.
More practical advice on what to do if exposed to contaminated aircraft air:
As you can read about on this page, the air you breathe in the aircraft cabin is supplied from the engines or APU and sometimes it gets contaminated with engine oils or hydraulic fluids that get heated to very high temperatures, often appearing as a smelly haze or smoke (but sometimes you won’t smell or see anything). This haze/smoke is a toxic soup and can contain carbon monoxide gas as well as chemicals that can damage your nervous system called tricresylphosphates (TCPs). Exposure to TCPs can initially cause stomach ache and muscle weakness, followed by delayed memory loss, tremors, confusion, and many other symptoms.
Print this information packet for practical advice on what to do if your symptoms may be caused by breathing contaminated aircraft air. Use the checklist for steps to take to protect yourself, report events to the pilot and your airline, ask AFA what product(s) are used on that aircraft type and get a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet for your doctor to read, and give your doctor the necessary background information found in the AFA information packet. Safety data sheets for widely-used products are listed here. Keep in mind that it is in the interest of the manufacturers to downplay any hazards on these data sheets (see Aug 2004, below). Also, make sure your doctor understands the potential for acute and chronic symptoms, even with low-level exposures.
In addition, bring the Health Care Providers’ guide (posted above under “Sick From Exposure..”) to any doctor’s appointment. This document is intended to educate your doctor on the potential for exposure to oil/hydraulic fluid fumes on aircraft, and literature regarding symptoms associated with exposure to such fumes.
For incidents on US-registered aircraft, search the FAA Service Difficulty website to find out if an airline reported a smoke/fumes incident to the FAA. You will need the incident date and either the operator designator code or the aircraft number.
If you are an AFA member, notify your LEC/MEC AFA safety representative about air quality problems on a flight, and send your union representative a copy of the documentation.
Oct 2011: Boeing suit settlement stirs jetliner air safety debate, Boeing concerned about contaminated air as early as 1953 – msnbc.com stories
Mar 2011: UK Department for Transport releases report into flight deck air quality measurements onboard 100 UK flights, conducted by researchers at Cranfield University (Part I, Part II). Report concludes no problem with aircraft air supply contamination. Read counterpoint here.
March 2009: ASHRAE President sent this letter to the heads of FAA and its European counterpart, EASA, urging the two agencies to investigate and determine the requirements for bleed air monitoring and solutions to prevent bleed air contamination with engine oil. This action was unanimously approved by members of the ASHRAE Aircraft Air Quality committee (SSPC-161P) in attendance at the Jan. 2009 meeting
Sept 2008: Australian aviation regulator, CASA, has convened an independent Expert Panel on Aircraft Air Quality (EPAAQ). The EPAAQ has a broad mandate, covering both safety and occupational health and safety matters. The panel will review the evidence and prepare a report with recommendations. The report is expected to be delivered by the first quarter of 2010. The CASA website states that “Individuals and groups representing aircrew members have raised concerns about the possibility of low level chronic exposure to contaminants in aircraft cabin air leading to potential long term health effects. Some flight crew have reported a variety of symptoms that they have associated with cabin air quality. The evidence based relationship between cabin air exposures (either in normal operations or following incidents) and ill health in aircraft crews has been difficult to ascertain. The expert panel will: review existing literature on cabin air quality; seek submissions from interested parties who wish to provide evidence for consideration by the panel; and review the evidence and submissions and prepare a report with recommendations.“
Dec. 2007: At long last, the ASHRAE Aircraft Air Quality Standard 161-2007 has been published. It is a voluntary standard, but represents the best consensus between industry and crewmember unions, and it includes provisions to prevent hot cabin conditions, limit exposure to oil fumes and pesticides, require gaspers in crew work areas, and more. Read about the highlights. Email AFA with any questions.
Jan 2007: Australian Transportation Safety Board releases report on pilot incapacitation, citing exposure to toxic fumes as the second-leading cause.
April 2007: UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch issues incident report regarding oil fumes in flight deck and a necessary diversion. Report recommends that EASA and the FAA require a flight deck detection and warning system for oil smoke/mist.
March 2006: Swiss Transportation Safety Board incident report concludes that exposure to oil fumes compromised ability of the copilot during approach and landing, that the captain had not donned his oxygen mask, and that the aircraft had a history of odors/fumes that had not been addressed.
Aug 2005: OSHA succumbs to pressure to settle case with ExxonMobil (see Aug 2004). Crewmembers and their doctors need to understand that the current "warnings" that ExxonMobil has published ignore the health risks associated with inhalation of engine oils and ignore the toxicity of meta and para isomers of the neurotoxic tricresylphosphates. Bottom line: if you are a hen, drink large volumes of engine oil, and are only worried about short-term effects to your peripheral nervous system, then the current warnings on the ExxonMobil labels and data sheets are okay.
Aug 2004: OSHA cites engine oil manufacturer Crewmembers and passengers can suffer neurological damage after exposure to aerosolized oil mists in the cabin and cockpit of commercial aircraft. In Feb 2004, AFA filed a complaint with OSHA, stating that ExxonMobil had, without basis, watered down the warnings about nervous system damage on the labels and Material Safety Data Sheets of its jet engine oils. ExxonMobil was relying on research that was incomplete and irrelevant to the exposure conditions and symptoms experienced by crewmembers and passengers.
June 2004: FAA acknowledges that exposure to pyrolyzed engine oil can cause impairment of the operational skills and abilities of the flightcrew, which could result in reduced controllability of the airplane.” Policy applies to BAe146 aircraft, but all commercial aircraft have bleed air system and all use chemically similar oils
2003: Aviation Organophosphate Information Site (AOPIS) releases documentary video on aircraft air supply contamination and the serious health effects it can cause among flight attendants, pilots, and passengers
July 2003: AFA review of FAA response to 2002 National Research Council committee recommendations on aircraft air quality In January 2002, the NRC Committee on Air Quality in Passenger Cabins of Commercial Aircraft released a report that detailed its year-long assessment of air quality on commercial aircraft, including ten recommendations. So far, the FAA has failed to take any meaningful action.
June 2003: Aircraft air quality: What's wrong with it and what needs to be done AFA submission to the Aviation Subcommittee of The Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, US House of Representatives. Association of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO. Also see passenger submission to Aviation Subcommittee hearing
June 2003: Timeline of events related to the introduction of ozone exposure standards on commercial aircraft, 1976-1983 Association of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO
Feb 2003: Position paper of the International Task Group on Aircraft Air Quality Labor group under the International Transport Workers' Federation concerned about aircraft air quality; members represent cabin crew in the US, Australia, Canada, Europe, Mexico, and South America.
Jan 2003: FAA issues a recommendation (not a regulation) that aircraft passengers not be left without ventilation for more than 30 minutes. We are unaware of action by the airlines to implement this recommendation as policy.
Dec 2002: Answers to frequently asked questions about air supply contamination incidents: chemicals and symptoms Association of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO
Aug 2002: UK regulator issues recommendations to airlines in light of increased number of reports of pilot incapacitation Oil leaking from the engines or APU into the air supply systems cited as "the most probable source" of the reports, and state that reducing occurrences of oil contamination will also reduce the risk of flight crew incapacitation.
Jan 2002: One page synopsis of NRC report on aircraft air quality Association of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO
Nov 2001: Swedish aviation authority (SHK) investigation into air quality incident onboard a commercial flight Nov 1999 during which the captain was incapacitated inflight when exposed to oil fumes. The first officer and the flight attendants also reported symptoms.
Oct 2000: Air Safety and Cabin Air Quality In the BaE146 Aircraft Official report outlining two-year bipartisan Australian Senate inquiry into complaints of ill health and compromised aviation safety on the BAe146 aircraft
Some FAA regulations and recommendations
Search 14 CFR Parts 25 and 121 for the following current and historical regulations:
14 CFR 25.831 – Design standard for ventilation, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide
14 CFR 25.832 – Design standard for ozone
14 CFR 25.841 – Design standard for cabin altitude and depressurization limits
14 CFR 121.578 – Operating standard for ozone (not enforced with measurements)
14 CFR 121.219 – Requirement that cabin be "suitably ventilated," plus an operating limit for carbon monoxide (not enforced with measurements)
Airworthiness Directive 2000-15-17 (required): Only applicable to certain aircraft, intended to prevent leaks in particular hydraulic fluid lines that can result in smoke and odors in the passenger cabin or cockpit (Effective Sept 12, 2000)
Advisory Circular 121-35: Recommend that passengers not be left without ventilation for more than 30 minutes (Jan 16, 2003)
Advisory Circular 121-36: Information on possible allergic reactions (peanuts, etc) in-flight (Dec 31, 2002)
Advisory Circular 120-38: Guidance for airlines to comply with ozone regulations (Oct 10, 1980)
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