Below are a list of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQs). If these answers aren’t enough for you and you’re an Aerotoxic Association member, head over to our ‘Ask the Expert’ page.
Q. What is the contaminated air problem?
A. The breathing air on aircraft is provided unfiltered from the compression section of the engines in a process known as ‘bleed air’. This bleed air gets contaminated with heated engine oil fumes that contain hazardous chemicals, which crews and passengers breathe in and may also absorb it through the skin (dermal exposure).
Q. Aren’t the concentrations of the oil-based chemicals too low to cause harm?
A. Exposures are to a complex mixture of chemicals, which can have a synergistic effect. No inhalation toxicity testing has ever been published. Also, most chemicals do not have a recognised safe exposure level.
Q. Aren’t all the chemicals below exposure standards?
A. There are no standards for the mixture of chemicals you are exposed to. Furthermore exposure standards do not apply at altitude, they only apply to single chemicals. They do not apply to complex chemical mixtures and do not apply to the travelling public – especially not to the unborn, children and the elderly.
Q. Are fume events rare?
A. Aircraft are not equipped with detection systems to warn when the air is contaminated. Many chemicals are odourless and under reporting is widespread throughout the industry. Consequently, it cannot be stated that these events are rare. It can only be stated that the exact frequency of events remains unknown. See our Fume Events page.
Q. Is it not true that too few people are effected for this to be a health concern?
A. Exposure to contaminated air will most likely impact individuals in different ways in both the short and long term, based on a number of variable factors: levels and types of chemicals present during an event, previous exposure history to contaminated air, genetic make-up, age, medical condition and potentially any medication you may be taking.
Q. Isn’t it true there is no evidence of exposure?
A. Oils used in engines leak into the air supply by design. Their chemical signature has been repeatedly found in aircraft cabins and cockpits. Extensive evidence confirms that exposures are occurring and health and flight safety is being compromised.
Q. How can contaminated air events possibly compromise flight safety?
A. Regulations state that crews are not allowed to fly if they are fatigued or have consumed alcohol or taken certain medications in a pre-determined time period
before they fly. This is to ensure crews are alert and able to deal with any complex emergencies they may face. Inhaling contaminated air will and has impacted crews’ cognitive ability to fly – this is a flight safety issue.
Q. What are the symptoms of Aerotoxic Syndrome?
A. As the toxic chemicals attack the central nervous system (CNS) which controls all of the major organs in the body – symptoms are neurological and are many and varied. It is easy to be misdiagnosed and mistreated. Many aircrew victims speak of being like ‘zombies’, ‘vegetative state’ or ‘permanently intoxicated’.
Q. I am a passenger – can I get Aerotoxic Syndrome?
A. Yes, we have many testimonies from passengers affected by just one fume event whilst in flight.
Q. How many people are affected?
A. Millions of people have been exposed since bleed air was first used in 1963.
Q. What other medical issue can Aerotoxic Syndrome be compared to?
A. Passive tobacco smoke is comparable, the eventual outcome led to an international ban on smoking in public places, when it was finally accepted as a risk to public health.
Q. Why have most doctors never heard of Aerotoxic Syndrome?
A. Because Aerotoxic Syndrome is not officially registered and classified as such by the World Health Organisation, or the regulators.
Q. What are airlines doing about Aerotoxic Syndrome?
A. Keeping silent and pointing at industry led research to prove there is only a small problem.
Q. Are the oxygen masks available for smoke / fumes protection for passengers?
A. No. The drop-down oxygen masks are only for cabin decompression, so pilots are not allowed to drop the oxygen masks for smoke / fumes in the cabin.
Q. How can I protect myself on a flight from fumes?
A. Many people have used foldable half face respirator masks with ‘activated carbon’ successfully to avoid the worst of the fumes. For more information about masks click here
Q. I have heard that only a few jet aircraft are susceptible to fume events – is this true?
A. No. All jet aircraft which use bleed air are affected – including turbo propellers – however some aircraft models appear to be worse than others.
Q. Are there solutions to stop fume events?
A. Yes, bleed air filtration – but it would cost money – most passengers say they would be content to pay extra for clean air.
Q. When will the issue be fixed?
A. By passengers complaining to the airlines and demanding clean air. Sign our petition demanding that Toxic Air Detectors (TADs) be fitted to all passenger jets.
Q. How can passengers complain?
A. By writing to the airline and aviation regulators and by encouraging other passengers to do the same.
Q. Does the aviation industry know about the issue?
A. Yes. Boeing has a new jet design, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which can not have a fume event as it does not rely on air that has been bled off of the engines to supply the cabin with breathing air.