How Healthy Would You Stay While Traveling High In The Sky?

How many of us have ever asked themselves whether traveling by plane is healthy or not. Maybe few. Or fewer. Because nobody had previously thought that the air polluted by engine fumes would eventually cause the aircraft crash.

Recently, trends in design and operation minimize the introduction of outside air into the cabin. This is principally because outside air must first be pressurized through the engines, and this reduces efficiency and increases fuel consumption. For this reason, a higher ratio of “captive” cabin air is being recirculated. The tradeoff for fuel cost savings is that people aboard the craft are subjected to more particulate pollutants as well as viruses and bacteria. Because of the confined atmosphere, low humidity conditions, reduced oxygen level, fatigued/jet lagged passengers and many other factors, potential ill-effects from airborne contaminants is far greater in this environment.

Air Cabin
Air Cabin
One captain on a Swedish aircraft once asserted that “It was during the descent that my first officer told me he was feeling really bad and very close to vomiting. He went on to oxygen. I felt confused and five seconds later I, too, was close to vomiting. I just managed to put on my mask, after which I could hardly move. We were sitting there flying at 600 miles an hour, late at night, both of us more or less incapacitated. I could not even raise my hand; I could not talk; it was like I was paralyzed.”

Although this is a commonly encountered issue among aircraft crews, it was very little dealt with.

The Department for Transport says that it is about to undertake “ground-breaking” research into incidents involving fumes. “The DfT commissioned the Committee on Toxicity (CoT) to examine this issue,” a spokeswoman said. “The CoT concluded there was a need to undertake research on cabin air quality involving a strategy designed to look for the largest number of chemicals. The results of this research would be informative for evaluating the potential adverse health effects associated with cabin air fumes.” 50 years before, passengers would breath in the air in the atmosphere using compressors, but this proved to be too expensive and this way, a new method was that draws the air from the engines, known as ‘bleed’ air, an air that is drawn out of the compression of the engine and cooled. This is a ‘recirculated air’ that once introduced in the cabin air, can cause great damage because of the toxic chemicals included.

There is also a modern technology that could filter out the toxins. Companies in this field hesitated in giving a hasty response to the world wide matter involving more and more planes, as solving this problem would cost them a great amount of money.

A British Airway A BA spokesman said: “We can confirm there were reported incidents of fumes on aircraft on February 7 and 11, which were thoroughly investigated. The health and safety of our staff and passengers is of utmost importance to us and we take all reported incidences of fumes seriously. We see no trends in sickness rates or causes that would indicate a link.”

Last year, a Qantas crew refused to fly the aircraft due to the fact of the presence of toxins in the air. However, the officials encharged with this do not admit the existence of a link between health and the polluted air.

travel by airplane
travel by airplane
CAA documents reveal that there have been 25 incidents involving fumes on the Boeing 757 alone since November last year. Passengers along with the crew mentioned experiencing health issues like headaches or nausea. A big disaster can be stopped only if drastic measures are taken, and this, as soon as possible. Research suggested that only four per cent of cases are reported, 265 reported incidents of in-flight smoke and fumes on British aircraft – yet a CAA report to the House of Lords claimed there were only 35. Furthermore, 106 BA Boeing 757 pilots she surveyed reported more than 1,660 incidents during their careers, mostly thought to be associated with oil-contaminated air. A similar survey of 250 current and retired British BAe 146 pilots found that 85 per cent believed they had breathed in contaminated air while flying. Over half reported symptoms of ill health relating to air contamination, and nearly one in 10 had to be retired on health grounds.

CAA does not want to admit dealing with this serious problem in spite of the fact that there are very many examples if contaminated air in aircrafts.

Judith Murawski, an industrial hygienist and co-chairman of the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive, is aware of even more alarming incidents. “On one A320, the airline’s maintenance records confirm that oil contaminated the air supply. The pilots were both on oxygen and managed to land safely. All three flight attendants have been off work since then with neurological problems – that was 18 months ago. I bet nobody contacted the passengers to check they were OK.”

Another document shows that a further A$1.2 million was paid by Allied Signal, the engine parts manufacturer, to both airlines. Both pay-offs contained clauses that prevented details being made public.

A BAe spokesman denied that any cover-up took place. “Both airlines were unhappy about cabin smells in the BAe 146 and had spent money to investigate the causes. There was no suggestion at the time that the smells had any potential health implications. This was a commercial agreement to compensate the airlines for these issues and the use of the confidentiality clause is standard in our contracts.”

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