Have you ever flown on an airplane and later become mysteriously ill? Perhaps you developed a headache, had trouble breathing or experienced severe brain fog. These symptoms (and many others) might be the result of breathing toxic fumes that regularly circulate throughout many commercial airline cabins.
Aerotoxic Syndrome, the unofficial name now being used to identify the laundry list of both acute and chronic symptoms caused by breathing contaminated jet cabin air, includes chronic fatigue, respiratory difficulties, vision problems and cognitive disorder.
For some, the symptoms may be short-lived, but for others, persistent neurological damage may occur as a result of exposure, and many don’t even realize it’s happening until it’s too late. Airplanes fly at many thousands of metres above sea level, where the air is cold and thin. If this air were to be pumped in directly from the outside, it would not be breathable for passengers. In order to make it suitable for breathing, it must be pressurized, heated, and then circulated to the passengers.
Originally, planes were designed with mechanical compressors that produced clean, suitable cabin air. But since the 1950s, most commercial planes have been redesigned to create cabin air by drawing in a compressed supply of it from plane engines (a less expensive way to produce it). Typically, this “bleed air” is mixed with existing cabin air and recirculated throughout the flight.
However, the area of the engine from which this air is drawn is often contaminated with toxic fumes from the friction that occurs between various moving parts and the oil that lubricates them.
These compartments are designed with seals intended to block fumes from getting into the cabin, but they are not 100 percent effective. And they break down over time, letting more and more oil mix with hot compressed air.
Sometimes so much oil mixes with air being drawn into the cabin that passengers will literally be able to see fumes and smoke filling the cabin. This is commonly referred to as a “fume event”.
The type of oil used to lubricate plane engines is a complex, synthetic variety that has been specially formulated to endure extreme conditions. So, it contains toxic components, including Tricresyl phosphate (TCP), a known neurotoxin that is used in pesticides and nerve agents.
Heavy metal particles such as nickel, cadmium and beryllium also make their way into the mix as the “bleed air” is drawn through engine channels. And because these different toxins are exposed to extremely hot engine air, new contaminants are formed by the time air enters the cabin.
According to The Aerotoxic Association, these toxins cause damage to the central nervous system. Some people may experience immediate symptoms, while others may notice a pattern of illness that becomes progressively worse over time.
Not surprisingly, government and regulatory authorities have not even admitted that Aerotoxic Syndrome exists. According to them, there is not enough evidence that toxic fumes circulating in airplane cabins are responsible for any sort of illness.
This claim ignores the accounts of pilots, air filtration experts, flight attendants and passengers who have been harmed by toxic cabin air.
According to The Aerotoxic Association, virtually all jet aircraft and turboprops use an air circulating system that is susceptible to toxic fumes. The only type of plane that uses non-bleed technology is the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
This commercial jet is the first one in over forty years to be created using safe technology, despite evidence since at least the early 1990s that bleed technology creates toxic cabin air.
While the creation of the 787 is a step in the right direction, neither Boeing nor any other jet manufacturer is willing to take responsibility for the thousands of other jets now in service that continue to poison passengers and flight crews.