Frequently Asked Questions
Some frequently asked questions about the Aerotoxic Syndrome and the precautions that you can take (sources: Aerotoxic Association, GCAQE)
What is the contaminated air problem?
- The air in the aircraft cabin is provided unfiltered by the compression section of the engines, the so-called 'bleed air'. This bleed air gets contaminated with heated engine oil fumes that contain hazardous chemicals. Passengers and crew will then breathe in this contaminated air, and the toxic substances will also be absorbed via the skin (dermal exposure).
Aren't the concentrations of the oil-based chemicals too low to cause any harm?
- Exposures are to a complex mixture of chemicals, which can have a synergistic effect. During a study by EASA in 2017, up to 127 different compounds were determined in pyrolised oil. No inhalation toxicity testing has ever been published on such complex mixtures. Also, most chemicals don't have a recognised safe exposure level.
Aren't there too few people affected for this to be a health concern?
- Exposure to contaminated air will most likely impact individuals in different ways, both for the short and long term. This will depend on a number of factors: levels and types of chemicals present during an event (can vary per event), previous exposure history to contaminated air, genetic make-up, age, medical condition and potentially any medication you may be taking. This explains why one passenger can fall very ill during an event, while others remain (seemingly) unaffected. Symptoms can however also develop at a later stage (sometimes even weeks after the flight). As a result, many of the affected cases are never linked to the flight which caused the symptoms. The registered cases are therefore only the tip of the iceberg.
How can contaminated air events possibly compromise flight safety?
- It is a legal requirement for crew to be alert and able to deal with any emergency situation they might encounter at all times. This is why regulations strictly prohibit crews to fly when they are fatigued or under the influence of alcohol or certain medications. Inhaling contaminated air however, will also impact crews' cognitive ability to fly (and this has occurred) - so obviously contaminated air is a safety issue for every flight!
I am a passenger - can I get Aerotoxic Syndrome?
- Yes, we have many documented cases of passengers affected (sometimes by just one fume event whilst in flight). Obviously your risk will rise as you fly more frequently.
How many people are affected?
- Millions of people have been exposed since bleed air was first used in 1963. It is impossible to determine how many of them developed symptoms as a result of that, but it can safely be assumed to be large numbers...
What other medical issue can Aerotoxic Syndrome be compared to?
- Symptoms of Aerotoxic Syndrome can mimic e.g. Parkinson's or Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Burnout or a chronic bad flu (numerous cases of misdiagnosis have been reported). It can furthermore cause chemical sensitivity, severe allergies, cardiac and lung problems.
Aren't all the chemicals below exposure standards?
- Contrary to what the industry would like you to believe, there are no standards for the mixture of chemicals that you are exposed to. Established exposure standards do not apply at altitude, and they only apply to single chemicals. They do not apply to complex mixtures, they do not apply to the lowered air pressure conditions in an aircraft cabin, and they certainly do not apply to the unborn, children and the elderly.
Are fume events rare?
- Aircraft are not equipped with detection systems to warn when the air is contaminated. , while many chemicals are odourless and can easily go unnoticed. On top of that, under reporting is wide spread throughout the industry. Consequently, it cannot be stated that, based on the number of reports, these events are rare. It can only be stated that the exact frequency of these events remains unknown.
Isn't it true that there is no evidence of exposure?
- Oils used in engines always leaks into the air supply by design. Their chemical signature has repeatedly been found in aircraft cabins and cockpits. Extensive evidence confirms that exposures are occurring and health and flight safety are being compromised.
Why have most doctors never heard of Aerotoxic Syndrome?
- Because Aerotoxic Syndrome is not officially registered and classified by the World Health Organisation, or the regulators. In 2017, study by theWorld Health Organisation WHO was published, which could mean a step in the right direction.
What are airlines doing about the problem of Aerotoxic Syndrome?
- Keeping silent and pointing at industry led (and manipulated) research to prove that there is only a minor problem. All that is aimed at preventing huge claims.
Are the oxygen masks available for smoke/fume protection for passengers?
- No, the drop-down oxygen masks are only usable for a cabin decompression, pilots are not allowed to drop the oxygen masks for smoke/fumes in the cabin. That would also be of little use, since these masks only mix some extra oxygen into the cabin air.
How can I protect myself on a flight from fumes?
- Many people have used foldable half face respirator masks with 'activated carbon' successfully to avoid the worst of fumes. For more information about masks click here.
I've heard that only a few jet aircraft are susceptible to fume events - is that true?
- No, all jet aircraft which use bleed air are affected - including turbo propellors - however some aircraft models appear to be worse than others. At present, only the B787 Dreamliner is not affected, as it doesn't use bleed air for its cabin pressurisation.
Are there solutions to stop fume events?
- Yes, bleed air filters have been developed in the meantime. These can be built into the existing aircraft, together with a system with sensors to monitor both engine condition and the health condition of the filter. It provides a timely warning when the filter needs to be replaced. This system can bring a significant improvement of the air quality on board. That will obviously cost extra money, but most passengers would probably be willing to pay a little extra extra for clean air on board!
- The ultimate solution is to stop the use of bleed air for pressurisation and ventilation of the cabin. The B787 Dreamliner is the first passenger aircraft to use electrical compressors instead of bleed air, so it can no longer cause fume events. Hopefully more models will follow this good example in the near future!
When will the issue be fixed?
- By sufficient numbers of passengers complaining to the airlines and demanding clean air. Sign the petition for clean air on board of all passenger aircraft!
How can passengers complain?
- By writing to the airline and aviation regulators, and by encouraging other passengers to do the same.
- Should you have any other questions, or wish to receive more information, please don't hesitate to contact us!