Toxic cabin air breathed by passengers, pilots and cabin crew is linked to cancer, chronic fatigue and neurological problems, according to new research in a World Health Organisation (WHO) journal.
The Public Health Panorama report into so-called aerotoxic syndrome – the name given to the health effects of exposure to bleed air, used to pressurise aircraft cabins, that has been contaminated with chemicals such as engine oil – found a clear link between both short- and long-term symptoms and illnesses and toxic fume events.
It said that in 2015 more than 3.5 billion passengers and 500,000 pilots and cabin crew were exposed to low levels of engine oils in the air.
“Aircraft air supplies contaminated by pyrolysed engine oil and other aircraft fluids can reasonably be linked to acute and chronic symptoms, findings and diagnoses, thus establishing causation,” read the report, authored by Susan Michaelis from the University of Stirling, in association with Vyvyan Howard from the University of Ulster and Jonathan Burdon, a consultant respiratory physician from Melbourne.
“Both acute and chronic exposures to neurotoxic and a wide range of thermally degraded substances were confirmed, along with a clear pattern of acute and chronic adverse effects.”
The study looked at more than 200 airline workers who had been exposed to toxic cabin air and found a variety of health effects, including eye, nose and throat irritations, skin reactions, recurrent respiratory tract infections and fatigue, nausea and cramps.
Other diagnoses included “cardiovascular, neurobehavioural, neurological and respiratory symptoms, chronic fatigue, multiple chemical sensitivity, aerotoxic syndrome, cancer, soft tissue damage and chemical exposure”.