Reports of ill health after exposure to radiation, fluoridation, contaminated blood, dental mercury, pesticide poisoning and a range of other conditions the protective cry goes up, backed by interested scientists, that there is ‘no causal link’.
For many years social and mainstream media have covered allegations that the health of aircrews has been adversely affected after leaks of smoke or fumes into cabins.
According to the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive group ‘contaminated bleed air events’ have been acknowledged since the 1950s. Established in 2006, GCAQE, which organisations from 17 countries have joined, argues that such events are significantly under-reported – see their video, first shot opposite. It names one ingredient in the engine oil, organophosphate, references to which have often appeared on this site, and calls for a less toxic alternative.
A UK independent committee on toxicity, including university experts, estimates that there is roughly one fume event for every 2,000 flights. European Aviation Safety Agency data shows that during the past 10 years more than 80 flights were diverted or forced to return to their departure point because of smoke or fume related incidents.
In 2009 two top BA pilots died within days of each other after complaining about being exposed to toxic oil fumes on passenger planes. Richard Westgate, 43 (left), died after instructing his lawyers to sue BA for health and safety breaches days before fellow pilot Karen Lysakowska, 43, passed away.
In the news: 2015
In February ITV News revealed that the Senior Coroner for the County of Dorset had written to the Civil Aviation Authority and British Airways to express concern about the quality of cabin air and warned of the “risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken”. For the last two years he had been investigating the death of Richard Westgate.
Air crew prepare to take legal action against British airlines
In April 2015, Mandatory Occurrence Reports – safety reports – submitted by British-registered airlines to the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority were seen by ITV News, They showed that between December 2014 and March of this year, smoke or fumes were reported in the cabin on 167 flights, “Some of the cases were serious”.
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reports show that between April 2014 and May 2015 there were 251 separate incidents of fumes or smoke at one British airline. The BBC says an illness was reported in 104 of the 251 cases, and on at least 28 of the flights oxygen was administered.
In June 2015 the Financial Times reported that the EU’s safety regulator, the European Aviation Safety Agency, is investigating the quality of cabin air as 17 UK crew prepare to take legal action against British airlines over alleged injuries due to toxic fumes. The ‘aerotoxic syndrome’ cases are backed by the union Unite, which represents 20,000 flight staff. Safety reports obtained by the BBC suggest that the problem could be widespread.
Earlier this month the redoubtable Countess of Mar, Deputy Speaker (Lords), once again returned to this issue. In Written Answers — Department for Transport: Aircraft: Air Conditioning (16 Dec 2015) she asked government what assessment they have made of the 2010 PhD study by Susan Michaelis, Health and flight safety implications from exposure to contaminated air in aircraft.
The study showed that 63% of studied pilots experienced short-term effects from cabin air contamination, and 13% were no longer able to maintain their pilot medical certification because of chronic ill health which bore a close temporal relationship to cabin air contamination; and assessing what support is offered to pilots, crew and passengers who are affected by fume events.
2007: harrowing accounts: SUMMARIES OF INDIVIDUAL SUBMISSIONS http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/ldsctech/7/713.htm
2010: Political Concern censured government for permitting toxic chemicals in the home, in aeroplanes, in agriculture and in warfare.
2012: Contaminated air events: recommendations were made in the Lords Science and Technology First Report 2007. Chemical Concern, prompted by Peter Evans, asked if the Lords 2007 recommendations had been implemented – obviously not.
There is now pressure from unions, the EU investigation, legal action and politicians like MP Andy Burnham and the Countess of Mar. In addition, there is civic action – the lobbying of affected individuals including Captain John Hoyte, sheep farmer Brenda Sutcliffe (above centre), Richard Bruce and Georgina Downs – and their supporters, who include former councillor, Peter Evans (above right) and farmers Tom Rigby (second left) and Robin Casson.
Will this combined pressure eventually outlaw these toxic substances?