By: Impact Lab
Poisons in the air pumped into plane cabins and cockpits have been linked to . Cabin crew and pilots have long blamed exposure to jet engine fumes for , tremors, lethargy and other symptoms of so-called aerotoxic syndrome.
Now, scientists have for the first time directly linked chemicals present in the contaminated air to being experienced by pilots.
Peter Julu, a consultant neurophysiologist at the Breakspear Clinic in Hertfordshire, says his tests on pilots with memory loss leave no doubt were poisoned by fumes used to pressurise cabins.
Half the air we breathe on-board is recycled but the other half is drawn from deep within the engines and cooled down before being pumped into the cabin.
Faulty seals can lead to this ‘bleed air’ being contaminated with fumes from the – and passengers and crew breathing the chemicals in.
Official figures suggest that the cabin air in one in 2,000 flights is polluted.
But unions say it happens much more frequently and have highlighted the widely-used Boeing 757 and BAe 146 aircraft as being of particular concern.
Dr Julu collaborated with scientists from around the world to test pilots suffering from aerotoxic syndrome.
Tests in the US found organophosphates – toxic chemicals found in jet oil – in the blood and fat of pilots.
Dr Julu ran tests on 26 British, American and Australian pilots suffering from memory loss and other symptoms of aerotoxic symptom.
He found damage to the part of the brain that controls dozens of vital bodily processes including breathing and heart rate matched that seen in farmers exposed to organophosphates from sheep dip.
He is adamant that the pattern of changes seen could only have been done by engine fumes.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The only connection I can derive from there is the organophosphate. Meaning that the pilots who have been tested have suffered neurological damage because of that they were exposed to while they were on the planes.’
He believes passengers do not fly enough to be put at risk.
‘It needs repetitive long-term exposure not just travelling on a plane once or twice,’ he told the Daily Mail.
But John Hoyte, a former pilot and founder of the Aerotoxic Association, has a different opinion.
Mr Hoyte, who gave up his licence because of ill-health, said: ‘Can you imagine a baby of 12 months breathing toxic fumes on a journey across the Atlantic?
‘Of course it is going to affect anybody on board.’
The Department of Transport commissioned a study into issue last year and the results are due this winter.
Professor Helen Muir, one of the researchers, said the link was not yet proven.
She said: ‘There will be organophosphates on the , but what matters is, are they in sufficient concentrations to potentially cause harm to people?’
BAE Systems said a new filtration system has been trialled and is being fitted onto aircraft.
A spokesman added: ‘BAE Systems regards the safety of its fleet of aircraft and those who operate them as of the utmost importance.
‘The air quality on the BAE 146 has been shown by independent studies to exceed all existing international standards.’
Boeing said the air quality on its aeroplanes was ‘healthy and safe’ and levels of contaminants were ‘generally low’.