Cabin Air Quality Studies by EASA
The FAA Might Want to Participate
EASA, an agency with a history of strong consumer protection, issued the following startling conclusion:
“A causal link between exposure to cabin/cockpit air contaminants and reported health symptoms is unlikely.”
A review of the US regulatory and Congressional controversy may help put the EASA statement in its proper context.
Cabin air quality has been a topic of confusion and concern in the aviation industry for years. Specifically, Congress, in 1984, directed research into cabin air quality, including investigation of health risks among individuals exposed to toxic fumes during flight. The results of the research were not clear.
In response to a later expression by the Hill, FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, a report was sent to all of the relevant Committee chairs in which the following conclusion was articulated:
“Common across the RFI [FAA solicited information about this subject] responses was a reference to the lack of contaminant standards for detection of cabin air contaminants. Common standards would facilitate further commercial development and implementation of advanced detection and cleaning technologies. As shown by the search summary, the occurrence of oil or hydraulic based contamination of bleed air is extremely low. In formulating the annual aviation safety research portfolio, the FAA evaluates the relative risk of aviation safety hazards and the potential for safety improvement. The FAA will continue to consider cabin safety risk and sponsor research in this area appropriate to the risk level.”
“While previous studies suggest minimal (if any) adverse health effects from cabin air exposure since the ban on smoking went into effect, we intend to continue to monitor the development of data on cabin air contamination to further ensure the health of the flying public.”
An FAA research report concluded in 2015:
“Quantification of the potential health risks associated with exposure to bleed-air contaminants in cabin air is not possible without broad identification and measurement of the representative hazardous constituents of bleed air during contaminated air events. Such broad identification and measurement does not exist.”
However, the AFA-CWA Air Safety, Health and Security Dept. maintains a website which chronicles reports of problems experienced by flight attendants attributed to “bleed air.” Similarly, CDC/ National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has an extensive briefing on Cabin Air Quality on its website. The headings and associated materials suggest that they do not agree with the FAA’s views:
- What are potential cabin air hazards?
- What is not known:
• We don’t know what causes most health problems that could be linked to cabin air. If you are exposed to a potential cabin air hazard and have health problems, it may not be possible to tell if it was caused by your work conditions or if it was caused by something else.
• We don’t know what levels of potential hazards in cabin air are safe for every person.
- What you can do to reduce exposure to hazards in cabin air?
That is a record with a fair number of parties convinced that Air Cabin Quality is a major problem. EASA has heard the same complaints and commissioned two studies:
- Study 1: Cabin air quality (CAQ) measurement campaign – study conducted by a consortium of the Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine and the Hannover Medical School.
Conclusion: “The results show that the cabin/cockpit air quality is similar or better than what is observed in normal indoor environments (offices, schools, kinder gardens or dwellings). No occupational exposure limits and guidelines were exceeded.”
- Study 2: Characterisation of the toxicity of aviation turbine engine oils after pyrolysis – study conducted by a consortium of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.
Conclusion: “It concluded that neuroactive products are present, but that their concentration in the presence of an intact lung barrier is too low to be a major concern for neuronal function. TCP was present in the analysed oils, however no ortho-isomers could be detected. Finally the analysis of the human sensitivity variability factor showed that the complete metabolic pathway and the contribution of inter individual variability in the metabolic enzymes is still largely unknown for the majority of industrial chemicals, including cabin air contaminants.”
Both reports can be found on the EASA website.
While the conclusions sound fairly definitive, there is some uncertainty as to the complete metabolic pathway and the contribution of inter individual variability in the metabolic enzymes. Consequently, EASA is helping sponsor further research of the findings and recommendations from this round of studies, and develop a comprehensive understanding of the cockpit and cabin air quality.
The FAA might want to participate in this study. While, the opinion of the Federal Air Surgeon minimizes the risks, the strong contrary viewpoints may merit further study. As noted before, OSHA would like to assert jurisdiction over an issue like this, a definitive, independent report might quash such an initiative based on science.
Dr. Michael A. Berry, M.D., M.S. was named the FAA’s Federal Air Surgeon in January 2017. Dr. Berry has been a Senior Aviation Medical Examiner for the FAA since 1979, and an Aviation Medical Examiner for Transport Canada. He is a Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Association, and the American College of Preventive Medicine. He is a Past President of the Aerospace Medical Association, past Vice-President of the Civil Aviation Medical Association, and Past President of the International Academy of Aviation and Space Medicine.
A NEW FEDERAL AIR SURGEON MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN REEXAMINING CABIN AIR QUALITY.