Health risk air travel: Research shows toxic air in aircraft cabins

Health risk air travel: Research shows toxic air in aircraft cabins

Bad air in aircraft cabins: harmful fumes from the engines
In the face of numerous incidents and especially since the death of a pilot, a dispute about toxic fumes in airplane cabins is smoldering. In a new study, scientists have now found harmful mixtures of substances that are likely to come from the engines.

Toxic fumes in airplanes
People travel with the plane, often cause them fear of flying or the threat of thrombosis when traveling by air. There has been another fear in recent years: there have been reports of incidents in air traffic that could possibly be due to toxic fumes in aircraft cabins. We are talking about delicate landings, sick stewardesses and flight attendants as well as unforeseeable consequences for passengers. However, the medical relationships have so far been little researched. According to a message from the dpa news agency, scientists at the University of Göttingen have now investigated which substances can cause which disease symptoms.

Danger to the nerves and the cardiovascular system
For almost three years, the occupational physicians led by Astrid Hutelbeck examined samples of people who complained of complaints after flights. To this end, they examined over 140 patients - primarily flight personnel - and analyzed blood or urine samples immediately after flights. In addition to the already known organophosphates, which have a negative effect on enzymes in the body, they also regularly found so-called volatile organic compounds (VOC) or their degradation products. According to health experts, these substances attack nerves and the cardiovascular system and also irritate the respiratory tract.

Leaks in the engine
The researchers suspect that the substances in the turbines may be released from kerosene, oils or de-icing agents when the heat is high, and could leak into the bleed air via leaks in the engine. According to the information, the cabin air is drawn from the engines in almost all passenger aircraft. Technicians always find pools of oil or de-icing agents there. So-called “fume events” have been described since the 1950s. The Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU) registered no fewer than 663 cases for German airlines between 2006 and 2013.

Pilot and co-pilot with oxygen masks
One incident that caused a sensation was that of a Germanwings aircraft in 2010. When approaching Cologne, the pilot and co-pilot put on oxygen masks after they noticed a sharp smell of fire and felt sick. The Airbus landed safely at the time. Although there have been many incidents, there is as yet no scientific evidence that cabin air can really cause illness. According to their own statements, the Göttingen doctors have now come closer to this connection. In the coming weeks, they want to present their results at conferences and in specialist articles. The clinical picture of the controversial "aerotoxic syndrome" should be outlined in more detail. This term is used by experts to summarize health complaints that can be attributed to the inhalation of contaminated cabin air in airplanes.

Auxiliary turbines saved for cost reasons
As the news agency dpa reports, the pilot association Cockpit now sees aircraft manufacturers and the European registration authority EASA as their duty. The association calls for technical measures to avoid dangerous vapors in aircraft cabins. The association advocates additional auxiliary turbines for the cabin air, which were common for a long time at the beginning of the jet age, but were then saved due to cost and weight reasons. Boeing 787 is said to dispense with bleed air directly from the engine in modern wide-body jets. The cockpit and the flight attendants' union UFO require manufacturers and EASA to finally put an end to the health risks for passengers and crews. According to "", EASA commissioned the Hannover Medical School (MHH) and the Fraunhofer Institute to investigate the pollution of cabin air a long time ago. Accordingly, the cabin air should be examined in the normal state as well as in "Fume" Events ".
No guidelines for the air we breathe
According to Hutelbeck, for many of the substances found for the first time in the laboratory, there are no standard values ​​for the air we breathe. “These are all substances that are prohibited in consumer products. There are only values ​​for hazardous substance workplaces, but that's not the point here. ”The trade association responsible for such accidents at work in Hamburg is also criticized. According to the Göttingen doctors, services for medical procedures would often be discontinued after a few days and pending laboratory results would no longer be waited for unless there were technical reports on the incidents.

Medical competence center for those affected
However, the cooperative claims to take the problem very seriously. However, there are inconsistent symptoms and unclear diagnoses. It is said that the number of illnesses lasting more than six weeks per year is in the single digits. According to the information, there has never been any permanent damage to health. The Verdi union doesn't just take care of the flying staff. "The people on the ground are also at great risk," said her traffic expert Robert Hengster. Verdi is therefore committed to establishing a medical competence center for the diagnosis and treatment of those affected. (ad)

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