Friday, May 30, 2014

Something deadly in the air: Shocking video emerges of passenger exposed to toxic fumes on flight

Shocking video of a passenger who was exposed to toxic fumes on an American flight has shown the effect of breathing in fumes on an aircraft. 

Neurotoxins in tricresyl phosphate, or TCP, are known to affect the nervous system causing blurred vision, shaking, vomiting and memory loss.

In the video the elderly passenger said there was a blue mist and bad smell in the plane. The next day her body went into uncontrollable shakes, which kept coming back for six months.

Australian respiratory expert Dr Jonathan Burdon says: “There is one recorded case of a pilot saying to his co-pilot that he cannot remember how to land the plane after a fumes exposure.

“Recurrent exposure can lead to similar symptoms over a longer time frame,” he says.

Pilots and crew have been forced to stop working because of exposure.

But now studies overseas have also linked the fumes to carcinogens that have led to breast cancer in hosties and brain cancers in pilots.

Dr Burdon says he was frustrated by the aviation industry’s refusal to properly investigate the issue, which he likened to asbestos or smoking causing cancer.

“But then I remind myself that Galileo was right and nobody believed him at first,” he says.

Something deadly in the air

The Boeing 737 had taken off under full thrust from Melbourne and was levelling out when the flight attendant came into the cockpit to tell the pilots there was a bad smell at the back of the plane.

Immediately the first officer went onto oxygen but the pilot delayed, saying he didn’t think the smell was that bad.

The flight attendant returned to the back of the plane and started vomiting violently, so the pilot put on his oxygen mask and diverted the Cairns-bound Qantas flight to Canberra. The first officer was off work for weeks but the pilot could not return to flying for eight months.

They were the victims of what is known as aero-toxic syndrome — the giant secret none of the airlines want you, the passengers, to know about.

“Airlines have known about this for 50 years but nothing has been done about it,” says Dr Susan Michaelis, a former Australian pilot who is now head of research at the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive.

She collapsed from aerotoxic syndrome after repeated exposure to fumes in the cockpit of the BAe146 aircraft. She now believes exposure to those fumes also directly led to the breast cancer which forced her to have a double mastectomy last year.

The Air Transport Safety Bureau last week produced a report that said Australian aircrew and passengers had been exposed to fumes more than a 1000 times over the past five years. The exposures included everything from burnt toast to engine fumes and named the BAe146 as the dirtiest plane in the sky.

But independent expert analysis of the figures shows the aged Boeing 767, which is now being phased out by Qantas, had 123 fumes exposures from less than 20 planes between 2008 and 2013.

Qantas pilot Garry Wilson spent most of his career on the 767. He died two years ago at 47 from a brain tumor, leaving a wife and two teenage sons.

“We always thought it might have something to do with his job because there is no cancer in our family,” says his father Ron.

Qantas denies the 767 is a particularly dirty plane.

Qantas Director of Medical Services, Dr Ian Hosegood says that: “Fume incidences across the Qantas fleet are extremely rare, particularly those from engine oil.

“Extensive global research has been undertaken into cabin air quality and there is no evidence linking fume events with long-term health effects for passengers or crew.”

Virgin pilot Scott Wickland left a wife and two orphaned toddlers when he died of a brain tumor aged just 43.

“Scott breathed in fumes from the jets every time he did a walk-round check of the plane. I am sure that’s what killed him,” says his heartbroken brother Mark Wickland.

A Virgin spokesman says: “The safety of our team members is the number one priority for Virgin Australia.

“We continually review our practices and procedures to ensure they reflect the latest medical advice.”

But Dr Michaelis disagrees. She says the fumes that enter the cabin from superheated jet oil contain a toxic soup of chemicals that include neurotoxins. “Now research shows that these chemicals can cause cancer.”

The problem is in the design of modern aircraft. When Boeing produced its first 707 jet more than 50 years ago, it fed air into the cabin through a compressor on top of the engine. But then the boffins came up with a cheaper way.

It is called bleed air. Cold air from outside the plane is sucked into the engine, superheated and then cooled in the air-conditioning unit and pumped into the cabin. But if there is an oil leak then fumes from the superheated jet oil get pumped in with the air the passengers and crew are breathing.

Robert Flitney is a UK-based sealing technology expert. He says the seals in jet engines were designed to leak, particularly during pressure changes during takeoff and landing.

“When compared with other industries sealing of potentially hazardous fluids, the aviation industry does not appear to have paid any attention to containment,” he says.

And what’s worse, a secret aviation industry memo seen by The Saturday Daily Telegraph makes it clear no one really knows exactly what is being pumped into airline cabins all over the world.

Jet oil contains a mix of toxins with tricresyl phosphate, or TCP, topping the list of organophosphates that can attack the nervous system. Studies from Japan have now linked them to certain cancers including breast cancer.

Studies of aircrew worldwide have found aircrew are up to five times more likely to develop some form of cancer, but the sample sizes have been small.

Former British Airways hostess Dee Passon has compiled a survey of the health of 1020 aircrew from around the world, including Australia. “My survey findings were that the incidence of cancer in crew is more than 10 times higher than the general population,” she says.

Professor Bernard Stewart, Scientific Advisor at Cancer Council Australia, says: “In terms of an increased risk of breast cancer among female aircrew the evidence is far from clear. It is credible that there would be an increased risk of breast cancer among flight crew. We have a credible exposure which is ionizing radiation.”

And he called for the incidence of brain cancer among pilots to be closely monitored. “It is credible that there would be an increased risk of brain cancer among pilots,” he says.

Former British Airways pilot Tristan Loraine has just premiered an Erin Brockovich-style movie on the aviation industry cover-up at the Cannes Film Festival.

He says: “A thousand people helped make this film to expose a serious health and flight safety issue that impacts aviation today. Funding from crews, crew unions and the traveling public around the world supported them — people who all want the film to help make air travel safer for everyone including the unborn.” The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association was one of the investors.

He flew regularly with Captain Tim Lindsay and both were exposed to fumes in the cockpit. Capt Loraine was medically retired with toxins in his blood but Capt Lindsay stayed on — and died from a brain tumor two years later.

Dr Michaelis says: “We need a proper independent study to put all these pieces of the jigsaw together and find out what we are breathing in on our aircraft.”

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