from GreenMedInfo Website
The truth, however, is that it has harbored a dark secret since its inception:
In flight, every crew member and passenger relies on an air supply.
The assumption, of course, is that this air is filtered if not fresh. Perhaps you have sensed (and promptly dismissed) that there may be quality control issues around cabin air.
The problem goes further
than that, however, and astoundingly, this is not by accident but
Nor has the root cause of the problem - unsafe aircraft design and the deprioritization of human safety - been effectively addressed.
In order to do so, all planes used by commercial airlines since 1963 inject the cabin with air directly from the compressors of their jet engines in what is known as 'bleed air.'
In the 50's, engineers designed airplanes which pulled fresh air into the cabin, but this "modification" was deemed too costly by decision-makers at the time.
As a result of poor design, every breath that the crew and passengers take today, consists of a 50/50 mix of recirculated cabin air and bleed air, the latter of which can contains a wide range of synthetic chemicals, such as tricresyl phosphate (TCP or TOCP), an organophosphate which is highly neurotoxic to humans.
In fact, the World Health Organization stated in 1990 that,
And so, with the exception of single aircraft - the new Boeing 787, where cabin air is taken directly from the atmosphere with electrically powered compressors - all flights today involve a high risk of exposure to these neurotoxic chemicals.
When you consider there are about 100,000 flights a day (only 5% of which occur on "safe" Boeing 787's, with at least 1 in 100 flights experiencing a major 'fume event,' this amounts to the health endangerment of millions of daily passengers.
Entire advocacy organizations exist which are dedicated to exposing the truth about the dangers of toxic airplane air, and pressuring the industry to initiate reform.
One such group Aerotoxic Association, discusses the bleed air problem in greater detail on its website:
Watch the teaser for the new documentary Unflitered Breathed In - The Truth about Aerotoxic Syndrome:
A complex toxicological assault
Since at least 1977, with the first documented case of a C-130 Hercules navigator becoming incapacitated after breathing contaminated cabin air, the aviation industry's secret has remained hidden...
One thing that has worked in their favor is the common belief that the fatigue, malaise, and similar complaints experienced after a flight are caused by "jet lag"; presumably solely a byproduct of 'disrupted circadian rhythms,' (medically referred to as desynchronosis) and not the 800lb gorilla of neurotoxic organophosphate exposures sitting next to every passenger on each flight.
This is not to say alterations in bodily rhythms and other 'natural' factors like cosmic radiation, dehydration, and the fact that the cabin is pressurized at between 6,000-8,000 feet (which keeps oxygen levels dangerously low), do not play a significant role. They certainly do.
But the problem is that the chemical exposures are rarely if ever identified as a problem.
When you also figure in the routine use of pesticides in planes, and the subsequent "toxic soup" of hydrocarbons and synthetic chemicals created, the toxicological synergy amplifies the exposure problem far beyond what would be expected if one focuses only on one chemical.
One can only imagine the cumulative role these exposures have had on the notoriously poor health of airline crew, as well.
Clearly, there are highly practical justifications for the industry "cover-up," as the legal liability for the damage already done to the health and well-being of aircrew alone would be astronomical.
What are the symptoms of aerotoxicosis?
In October 2000, the truth started to emerge with the publication of a seminal study titled, "Aerotoxic Syndrome - Adverse health effects following exposure to jet oil mist during commercial flights," authored by,
In the study, the researchers introduce aerotoxic syndrome as a newly identified occupational health condition.
They focused on 10 case reports of airline crew who experienced a so-called "fume event," and subsequent health problems.
The following basic symptoms were identified following single or short term exposures:
Symptoms from long term low level exposure or residual symptoms from short term exposures include:
Clearly, if these symptoms are indeed caused by exposure to "bleed air," or exaggerated 'fume events,' these chemicals have the ability to cause profound damage to the human body, particularly the nervous and immune systems.
A 40-Year Long Cover Up Now Exposed
Considering aircraft pilots are continually exposed to jet engine chemicals that can even be found in their blood, the industry lacks any reasonable justification for continuing to ignore the problem.
Compromising the neurological fitness of pilots should be taken as seriously as a mechanical defect in the plane. Pilots, after all, are essential to keeping the plane safely in the air.
And significant exposures are not a rare occurrence.
A 2007 report by the UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), accepts that fume events occur on 1 flight in 100.
The Aerotoxic Association offers a qualification of this statistic, indicating the problem is likely even worse:
Under-reporting is epidemic, due to the fact that modern jet aircraft have no chemical sensors installed, and only visible smoke is officially reported in the flight log.
Technically, the noses of aircrew are the only detectors being used, and background levels of contamination may not be detectable by smell at all. Likely the most toxic of the hundreds of chemicals present in the bleed air, the organophosphate TCOP, in fact, is odorless.
It's a sad fact, but a U.S. Attorney Alisa Brodkowitz and aerotoxic syndrome expert once correctly opined:
60-minutes obtained an internal memo from the Boeing aircraft company dated 2007 (watch minute 13:00 of the '60 minutes' episode below). It's all about toxic air.
Excerpts from the report written by a frustrated senior Boeing inspector reveal a well recognized problem within the company:
'60 minutes' describes the most startling passage, which,
That tombstone, unfortunately, already exists.
Richard Westgate, British Airlines pilot, died at 43 after constantly being exposed to fume events. Doubtlessly, many other aircrew and passengers have suffered a similar fate.
Want Things To Change? It's Up To You and Me
As we mentioned above, the only exception is Boeing's new 787, a long haul aircraft serving non-stop, inter-continental travel, with few exceptions (see list of routes - another website that keeps track of routes).
Not surprisingly, Boeing does not feature the "clean air" design of these planes in its marketing copy.
Bringing attention to this feature would also bring attention to the widespread problem, which all of its other aircraft participate in. Despite this, advocacy organizations have publicly congratulated Boeing on its decision to create a non-toxic alternative.
For instance, in 2014, the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE) which represents more than 800,000 airline staff and consumers, put out a press release titled, "Only the Boeing 787 Provides Passengers and Crews with Clean Breathing Air."
The development and existence of the Boeing 787 represents a tacit acknowledgment of the industry wide problem discussed in this article, and is a wonderful step towards a permanent solution.
But the vast majority of planes are still in the technological dark ages, with awareness of the extent of the problem and danger only starting to trickle into consciousness.
It will be consumers and non-governmental advocacy organizations that will force the industry and its regulators to make this issue a priority.
If only one airline in this country made the step of addressing the problem, it would see huge support by an increasingly educated consumer base (that's you and who you share this article with!)
Short of redesigning existing aircraft, the following solutions, offered by the Aerotoxic Association, could also be implemented:
As discussed in the conclusion of the seminal paper on aerotoxic syndrome referenced above, the aviation industry is reluctant to acknowledge the problem and reform:
The good news is the internet, social media, and consumer-driven platforms like ours have demonstrated how we can all engage the system to change the world.
Join our online movement by subscribing to our newsletter if you haven't already.
(Note: we have not yet the opportunity to extensively evaluate the different masks on the market, but will be following up with a research report once we get further information. This will also include strategies to mitigate toxicity).