Study finds link be­tween plane air and health is­sues

● Crews thought to have been ex­posed to con­tam­i­nated en­gine oil

The Scotsman - - Around Scotland - By RUS­SELL JACKSON

Fly­ing a plane should come with a health warn­ing, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers.

A new study led by the Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling is said to be the first of its kind to look in-depth at the health of air­crew sus­pected to have been ex­posed to con­tam­i­nated air dur­ing their work.

It showed a “clear link” be­tween be­ing ex­posed to air sup­plies con­tam­i­nated by en­gine oil and other air­craft flu­ids, and a va­ri­ety of health prob­lems, re­searchers said.

The sci­en­tists ex­am­ined more than 200 air­crew and found many had been ex­posed to a num­ber of sub­stances through air­crafts’ con­tam­i­nated air. They un­cov­ered a clear pat­tern of acute and chronic symp­toms, rang­ing from headaches and dizzi­ness to breath­ing and vi­sion prob­lems.

One test looked at pi­lots’ health and showed 88 per cent of the 219 peo­ple ex­am­ined were aware of ex­po­sure to air­craft con­tam­i­nated air.

Al­most 65 per cent re­ported spe­cific health ef­fects while 13 per cent had died or ex­pe­ri­enced chronic ill-health.

Another test looked at 15 oil leak in­ci­dents. Some 80 per cent in­volved fumes only and all of the events took place when the air­craft was pre­par­ing for, or in, flight.

More than nine in ten (93 per cent) of the in­ci­dents in­volved

0 88 per cent of pi­lots were aware of ex­po­sure to air­craft-con­tam­i­nated air symp­toms rang­ing from in­flight im­pair­ment to in­ca­pac­i­ta­tion and al­most 75 per cent in­cluded ad­verse symp­toms in more than one crew mem­ber, with any­where be­tween ten and 23 dif­fer­ent symp­toms re­ported in re­la­tion to al­most half of the events.

Dr Su­san Michaelis, of the Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling’s oc­cu­pa­tional and en­vi­ron­men­tal health re­search group, said: “This re­search pro­vides very sig­nif­i­cant find­ings rel­e­vant to all air­craft work­ers and pas­sen­gers glob­ally.

“There is a clear cause-an­d­ef­fect re­la­tion­ship link­ing health ef­fects to a de­sign fea­ture that al­lows the air­craft air sup­ply to be­come con­tam­i­nated by en­gine oils and other flu­ids in nor­mal flight. This is a clear oc­cu­pa­tional and pub­lic health is­sue with di­rect flight­safety con­se­quences.”

Pro­fes­sor Vyvyan Howard, Pro­fes­sor of Pathol­ogy and Tox­i­col­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Ul­ster, who as­sisted with the re­search, said: “What we are see­ing here is air­craft crew be­ing re­peat­edly ex­posed to low lev­els of haz­ardous con­tam­i­nants from the en­gine oils in bleed air, and to a lesser ex­tent this also ap­plies to fre­quent fliers.

“We know from a large body of tox­i­co­log­i­cal sci­en­tific ev­i­dence that such an ex­po­sure pat­tern can cause harm and, in my opin­ion, ex­plains why air­crew are more sus­cep­ti­ble than av­er­age to as­so­ci­ated ill­ness.”

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