'Beware of toxic fumes' in aircraft cabin air

'Beware of toxic fumes' in aircraft cabin air

LONDON - Toxic fumes in cabin air pose a health risk to frequent fliers and air crew, a British coroner has said.

Passengers frequently exposed to fumes circulating in planes face "consequential damage to their health", said Mr Stanhope Payne, senior coroner for Dorset, in the report.

Mr Payne, who is investigating the death of British Airways (BA) pilot Richard Westgate, sent the report to the airline and to Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) so that they can take "urgent action to prevent future deaths", The Telegraph reported.

Mr Westgate, who was on medical leave when he died in 2012 at the age of 43, believed he had been poisoned by repeated exposure to contaminated cabin air.

Mr Payne, who has been investigating the death for the last two years, according to ITV news, wrote that examinations of Mr Westgate's body "disclosed symptoms consistent with exposure to organophosphate compounds in aircraft cabin air".

Organophosphate is a chemical used as pesticide.

The report also said air passengers are exposed to these compounds, with consequential damage to their health.

"Impairments to the health of those controlling the aircraft - i.e., the pilots - may lead to the death of the occupants," it said.

Commercial flights have a system which compresses air from the engines and uses it to pressurise the cabin, The Telegraph said.

But if the system malfunctions, excess oil particles enter the air supply, which can be harmful when recirculated in a confined space, the coroner said.

Most passengers, who fly only occasionally, will not be affected by the problem, but some frequent travellers who are genetically susceptible to the toxins could fall ill, The Telegraph, which obtained Mr Payne's report, said.

Airlines have said there is no cause for concern. A KLM study into air quality in aircraft cockpits in 2013, prompted by a court ruling in a case between a pilot and the airline, found that TCP - a neurotoxin - was present only "in minimal concentrations in aircraft cockpits", The Telegraph said.

Yet, Mr Payne's call for urgent action is likely to be welcomed by campaigners who have raised concerns about toxic fumes in cabin air for years.

Mr Frank Cannon, lawyer for Mr Westgate's case, said he was acting for about 50 other cabin crew allegedly affected by the syndrome, working for airlines including Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Thomas Cook and EasyJet. He is also representing two passengers, The Telegraph said.

BA and the CAA have until April 13 to reply to the report.

This article was first published on Feb 23, 2015.
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