I just listened to the recent BBC podcast episode Aerotoxicity: the hidden dangers of flying and there were interesting claims there:

  1. Cabin air in modern passenger aircrafts comes directly from engines (it's called bleed air).
  2. This air is unfiltered and during so called fume events it may contain toxins from engine oil and other fluids. These toxins are called Tricresyl phosphate and persons exposed to them for a long time may suffer diseases of nervous systems, from psychological problems like depressions to neurological symptoms, like unexplained pains, severe headaches, etc.

As they said in the podcast, there are allegations that these

...fume events have not only made many ill, but they are being blamed for premature deaths

and that there are

...hundreds of legal cases going through the court.

I have never heard about this danger before and I consider the BBC to be very reliable source of information, so it surprised me. Are you aware of any study which would prove this danger?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Might be better suited to Skeptics as this is not really about Aviation, more about debunking a notable claim (Reliable or not, BBC is a notable source) $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Jan 2 at 13:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You forgot claim #3 about chemtrails.. $\endgroup$ – DeepSpace Jan 2 at 13:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Fume exposure usually comes from Auxiliary Power Units because oil gets into the APU's bleed discharge more readily and stinks things up. Anyway, it's all become blah blah blah blah... blame this blame that, yet life expectancy gets longer and longer. It's an industry unto itself. $\endgroup$ – John K Jan 2 at 13:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Jamiec. Not about aviation? Better suited to skeptics? It’s a fact the cabin air comes from the engine, it’s a fact that fume events occur. See here: avherald.com/…. These events are about aviation, and are real, nothing skeptical at all. Just because something is infrequent, doesn’t mean it’s not real. Fume events are as common as engine shut downs, which are also not a conspiracy theory. Cheers. $\endgroup$ – Penguin Jan 3 at 0:01

It seems this is a fairly new issue cropping up and I have been able to find some credible research on the topic (i.e. from official aviation authorities and not news outlets or lawyers websites...) but all of it is pretty recent. The CAA seems to be aware of the issue and has some information on it here. The two studies they link were published in 2017 so the topic seems to be recent, you can find the full text here and here.

The Australian authorities via CASA conducted a pretty hefty study on the topic in 2007 and came up with a list of 37 recommendations which includes the development of an anonymous online reporting system.

  1. That the Australian Government, through CASA and the ATSB, sponsor and fund the development of a single, central, internet-based, confidential reporting system on cabin air contamination incidents to be co-ordinated and operated jointly by CASA and the ATSB. To improve the reporting and monitoring of cabin air contamination incidents, this system should have web-based forms to facilitate the collection and collation of data from all authorities and companies responsible for cabin air contamination incidents that would enable the data to be tabulated into a de-identified and unalterable uniform document that could be accessed and utilized by all stakeholders.

They also are setting some resources aside for studying long and short term effects of an event

  1. That CASA in association with the Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA), the Institute of Health and Welfare or the NHMRC sponsor a project to define possible criteria for case definitions for short term and longer term health outcomes following episodes of cabin air contamination.

Clearly the CASA sees this as a real issue.

The FAA published a safety advisory on the topic in March 2018 and is clearly acknowledging the issue.

Its worth noting that most of these studies and claims refer to an "event" in other words a notable time when there was a fume event implying that this is not a constant occurrence. On the flip side, cabin air is actually pretty clean, as discussed here and researched here. Interestingly this CDC study seems to point to the slightly lower oxygen levels and more importantly tight quarters with a lot of other people to be factors in health issues on aircraft. They did this by comparing flight attendants with teachers who also work in lower circulation, high person density environments.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As an additional note, the 787 Dreamliner is the first aircraft to obtain cabin air from a seperate compressor specifically designed for that reason, rather than rely on compressed air from the engine. $\endgroup$ – Penguin Jan 3 at 0:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.