Cabin Air Safety and Aerotoxic syndrome

G.MorrisI would like to thank my Trade Union, Unite, for their excellent and detailed briefing on this important issue.

It is also important to recognise the invaluable work they are doing to protect passengers and cabin crew from toxic fume events in view of the malaise we see from airlines, regulator and governments in tackling the issue of cabin air contamination.

It would be remiss of me not to highlight Unite’s fume event register and helpline which are available on their website.

We need evidence from the public and cabin crew who have been affected by fume events.

We need your evidence, because if we are not successful in convincing the government to take action and fully investigate this issue, the only option will be a legal redress.
Instead of having to fight airlines, regulators and governments through the courts, I would prefer these organisations to recognise the duty of care they owe to passengers and cabin crew and ensure the safety and risk averse reputation the aviation industry holds dear can be maintained.

All commercial flights suffer the same flaws in which bleed air from the engines can be contaminated with dangerous neurotoxins from heated engine oils and hydraulic fluids.

This unfiltered bleed air is then channelled into cabin to be inhaled by passengers and crew.

The bleed air system is used on all commercial airlines except for the new Boeing 787 Dreamline, which uses a bleed free system.

Bleed free systems are not an industry standard, neither does Boeing’s decision seem to mark the beginning of a transition to the safer system.

These fume events do not occur on every flight.

The much criticised UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Protects and the Environment (COT) estimates that smoke and fume events are reported by pilots on one in every 100 flights.

These figures are a very conservative estimate, as there is an issue of under-reporting, with many fume events not being investigated.

However, using these very conservative estimates of 1 in 100, this would translate into 289 fume events on the US fleet daily. Unfortunately, I do not have the UK fleet figures but would be happy to take an invention if an Hon Member has these to hand.

Taken over a year a supposedly rare event happens far too often, and once you look beyond the US fleet, fume events are placing too many passengers and cabin crew at dangerous risks.
Exposure to contaminated bleed air can have a serious impact on health, particularly for cabin crew who are at greater risk of exposure.

Aircrew reporting an extensive history of exposure are experiencing a range of symptoms, all of which are encompassed by the term aerotoxic syndrome.

However, this is a catch all term, and there are a range of symptoms, which may be acute, short term or chronic and can range from irritation, coughing and fatigue at one end of the spectrum all the way through to cognitive problems, memory impairment, loss of consciousness and many more symptoms in between.

However, I do not believe I am the only one who would be concerned if a pilot in control of an aircraft was experiencing such difficulties when flying and operating the aircraft.
I understand many of the short term health effects of exposure are accepted by many within the airline industry, however, all long term health effects as a result of exposure to contaminated air are being denied.

Clearly, there is a reluctance to acknowledge or investigate contaminated air events as acknowledging the long term health impact will inevitably leave airlines liable for injury and death, and I can only imagine the cost of having to refit and replace the worst offending aircrafts.

However, what value is placed on a life, and airlines should consider their staff and passenger to be more than expendable items.

We need action now, as cabin crew are dying.

A Senior Coroner investigating the death of Pilot Richard Westgate, has issued a ‘Regulation 28 Report’ to prevent further deaths, with the report detailing the following concerns.

1) That organophosphate compounds are present in aircraft cabin air.
2) That the occupants of aircraft cabins are exposed to organophosphates compounds with consequential damage to their health.
3) That impairment to the health of those controlling aircrafts may lead to the death of occupants.
4) There is no real time monitoring to detect such compounds in cabin air.
5) That no account is taken of genetic variation in the human species which would render individuals tolerant or intolerant of the exposure.

In their response to the coroner the Civil Aviation Authority said “there is no positive evidence of a link between exposure to contaminants in cabin air and possible acute and long-term health effects” although it concedes “such a link cannot be excluded”.

I will concede there is a knowledge gap, but the industry, including regulators are relying on a system of denial, rather than fitting the detection systems required to collect the evidence on the true number and concentration of fume events.

I do not believe the industry or the government for that matter would deny the existence of fume events.

The Minister can correct me, but I believe they would also accept that fume events are detrimental to health, while possibly disagreeing on the extent it impacts health.

In view of which I would ask the Minister to support calls for an Independent Inquiry in to the risks and hazards associated with contaminated air.

This will require the introduction of monitoring and use of detection systems for cabin air, so we can all ascertain the true extent of the problem.

We also need a better system to diagnose, treat and compensate workers whose health and wellbeing has been compromised and damaged due to fume events.

Finally, all future aircrafts should be designed ‘bleed free’ to remove the risk of contaminated air from engine oils and hydraulic fluids once and for all.

Ultimately, we need airlines to step up and accept their responsibilities, their duty of care to employees and passengers.

If not them, then regulators need to demand the changes and detection systems required to seek further evidence on fume events and protect cabin crew and passengers.

And, if not them, and in view of their disinterest to date, I ask Ministers to take charge of this issue and ensure this is properly investigated.

Until such time, I do not believe any of us can say with any confidence that air travel is risk free, and that fume events are not a risk to public health.

I ask airlines, regulators and the government, to restore confidence in our aviation industry, carry out the investigation necessary to safeguard passengers and staff to ensure we are not
gambling with their health and wellbeing every time they step on a flight.

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