Cabin Air Quality Study
“Clear Link” Between Cabin Air & Health Issues
Susan Michaelis PhD, MSc, ATPL, IOSH, Principal Consultant at Michaelis Aviation Consulting and Visiting Researcher at University of Stirling’s occupational and environmental health research group, has published a report that found “a ‘clear link’ between being exposed to the air on planes and a variety of health issues.”
The research involved two independent surveys of 200 aircrew members to study the circumstances and symptoms of working in aircraft. The symptoms were then confirmed using medical diagnoses.
The researchers questioned the pilots about their health; 88% of the respondents indicated that they were “aware of exposure to aircraft-contaminated air…Almost 65% reported specific health effects, while 13% had died or experienced chronic ill health.”
Dr. Michaelis, who is a former Australian airline pilot and check pilot, made the following conclusions:
“This research provides very significant findings relevant to all aircraft workers and passengers globally.
There is a clear cause-and-effect 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 flight-safety consequences.”
These conclusions are based on the described episodic data with a high level of correlation between the cabin environment and reported “headaches and dizziness as well as breathing and vision problems.” The article does not mention exactly how the health problems were verified.
- 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.”
While the EASA 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. The Sterling study adds to the library of studies, but a definitive, independent report might answer the open questions. FAA? EASA? If not, it is quite likely that OSHA would sponsor a study and assert its accreted jurisdiction.