Aviation sector urged to take action over cabin fumes

An international task force has created a ‘protocol’ for responding to suspected incidents.
An international task force has created a ‘protocol’ for responding to suspected incidents.

Health and science leaders are urging the aviation industry to take action to protect passengers and crew from cabin fumes.

The International Fume Events Task Force has documented reports of cabin air being contaminated – such as by engine oils and hydraulic fluids – over the past six years.

Symptoms include dizziness, impaired short-term memory, fatigue and a headache in the short-term, and breathing difficulties and an uncontrollable cough in the long-term.

The task force has produced a “protocol” for responding to suspected incidents to help determine whether medical care is required and to collect data.

The 17-person group, which includes doctors, occupational health specialists, toxicologists, epidemiologists and aviation experts, was led by former pilot and aviation health researcher Dr Susan Michaelis, an honorary senior research fellow at the University of Sterling.

Dr Michaelis said: “This has been happening for the last 70 years, and reports of air crew becoming unwell continue to rise.

“Currently, when aircrew or passengers become unwell, whether they are still on the plane, suffer symptoms in the days or weeks to come, or report illness in the years that follow, there’s nothing in the medical books, there’s no guidance material for the aviation industry or medical professionals and very often they get turned away or are given minimal testing.

“This new medical protocol has been written by internationally recognised experts and presents a consensus approach to the recognition, investigation and management of people suffering from the toxic effects of inhaling thermally degraded engine oil and other fluids contaminating the air conditioning systems in aircraft, and includes actions and investigations for in-flight, immediately post-flight and late subsequent follow up.

“All of the data and evidence collected strongly suggests a causal connection between the contaminants from the oils and hydraulic fluids and people becoming unwell.

“This is the first comprehensive and systematic approach for documenting and gathering further epidemiological data in what is a discreet and emerging occupational health syndrome.”

The protocol and review of academic research was published in the journal Environmental Health.