Congress mandating solutions for “aircraft fumes” before real analysis of science and long term solution-NOT GOOD

illustration of fume event
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LA Times “invetigation” catalyst for Cabin Air Safety Act of 2022

Article’s proof relies primarily on “episodic” events and not mention 15+ years of authoritative studies

Unclear whether legislation’s “fix” is naything more that a short term solution

A real investigation might define a permanent resolution of the fume conundrum

 

Few aviation safety issues have been  debated as long as nor have incurred such unresolved debates as FUMES on commercial aircraft. Bills have been introduced almost annually. Civil aviation authorities have invested in independent scientific investigations. Private litigation has abounded over separate incidents before disparate courts.

 

A brief summary of the airing of these risks shows the conundrum of aircraft air quality:fair or foul

 

If Air Is Foul, What Is Fair? Will OSHA Or The FAA Know?

Is S.1626’S Cabin Air Mandate Justified?

Another Cabin Air Quality Study Adds To The Discussion; More Definitive Study Needed

Cabin Air Quality Studies Sponsored By EASA; New FAA Federal Air Surgeon Might Be Interested

A Cabin Air Safety Act Introduced With Assumptions Needing Testing

Aircraft Air Safety & Toxic Air Lawsuits—The FAA May Need To Revisit Its Research?

Aviation Safety Needs To Determine Whether Cabin Air Is Fair Or Foul In The SOF Context

 Dr. Northrup There’s A New Tool Which May Help Clean The Air

 

Below is an  article about the recent proposing of Cabin Air Safety Act of 2022 co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). In the House, the bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives Brian K. Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Kaiali’I Kahele (D-HI), and Don Bacon (R-NE).

LA Times article

The bill was proposed in response to the 2020 Los Angeles Times “INVESTIGATION”. This  assertion was made in the 2022 article  by the author of the 2020 initial investigation.

All of the PR materials issued by Members of Congress and unions are couched in terms of urgency—that this threat to passengers’ health is severe and on-going. It’s curious that this two year old article is not being cited as the catalyst for the introduction of Cabin Air Safety Act of 2022. Two years later?

More to the substance of the earlier article, its theme is set in an early paragraph:

But a Times investigation found that vapors from oil and other fluids seep into planes with alarming frequency across all airlines, at times creating chaos and confusion: Flight attendants vomit and pass out. Passengers struggle to breathe. Children get rushed to hospitals. Pilots reach for oxygen masks or gasp for air from opened cockpit windows.

Such events are documented in airport paramedic records, NASA safety reports, federal aviation records and other filings reviewed by The Times.

After stating this premise, multiple episodes are described, some without attribution and some include ‘no comment” quotes from airlines and OEMs. Proof of harm is made by the writer’s citing efforts by manufacturers to improve air quality. The quotes do admit that the decisions not to go forward included liability concerns.

A superficial description of the process that outside air is converted into toxic fumes.

Then, the following  information was proffered to support the writer’s thesis:

“…’less than 33 [fume] events per million’ flights.

But a 2015 study by Kansas State University funded by the FAA concluded that the actual frequency is more than six times higher — about 1 out of every 5,000 flights. A top Boeing official said in a recent deposition that the study’s finding was accurate.”

This incidence number, if reliable, should be subject to a statistical risk analysis which the FAA will have to meet when this “sensor installation and training” requirement  is reviewed by OMB.

A good, authoritative point is made in this paragraph in the article:

Scientists have long warned of potential dangers from breathing heated jet engine oil, which contains tricresyl phosphate, a highly toxic chemical that can damage the nervous system. Heated oil can also produce carbon monoxide, an acutely incapacitating gas. A 2002 study mandated by Congress recommended requiring carbon monoxide sensors on all passenger airplanes. Today, most homes have them; airplanes do not.”

These are important points, but their probative value is diminished by failing to address multiple studies by both the FAA and EASA finding that the threat does not rise to the level of regulatory action:

2017 EASA fume analysis

FAA 20152017 EASA fume analysis

Sterling Fume Study

 

FAA fire and air research group

EASA logoFACTS – Toxicity of contaminated aircraft cabin air

FAA Cabin Air Quality CAMI

 

  • The FAA requires manufacturers to show that the airplane crew and passenger compartment air is free from harmful or hazardous concentrations of gases and vapors.
  • FAA regulations require airliners’ ventilation systems to supply clean air to both passengers and crew members. Airplanes must be designed to provide the equivalent of at least 0.55 pounds of fresh air per minute per occupant, a ventilation rate that is consistent with other public environments.
  • Most of today’s large transport category airplane ventilation systems provide a mix of fresh air/engine bleed and recirculated airflow. The mix is approximately 50 percent, but can vary depending upon the flight altitude and power settings.
  • Most U.S. commercial airplanes use High Efficiency Particulate (HEPA) filters, which remove 99.97 percent of particulate material.
  • While the FAA does not have a definition for a “fume event,” airlines are required to file Service Difficulty Reports (SDRs) when smoke, vapor or noxious odors enter the cockpit or passenger cabin. In 2018, US airlines conducted more than 12 million flights. The FAA’s SDR database shows 232 submissions from air carriers that referenced a fume event that year.
  • The FAA, manufacturers, and air carriers currently maintain cabin air quality by defining appropriate design standards, designing the environmental control systems to meet those standards, and conducting proper maintenance, respectively.

The point of this long list of studies, some of which indicate that these fumes do pose a risk, is that the issue needs more research-

  • assessment of the composition of these fumes,
  • scientific analysis of the toxicity,
  • accurate records of incidents- not just number of fume events, but people exposed, where in the aircraft, which aircraft, duration of the fume, etc.
  • the value of onboard sensors- warning with time to take remedial action, what steps should be employed after sensor warns
  • MANDATE that airlines must allow onboard testing
  • identification of permanent prevention—maybe maintenance emphasis could reduce risk to xero

This should be the compelling text of the Cabin Air Safety Act. Yes, many will complain that more delay is not right and that is a fair criticism. However, determining if there is a permanent, 100% fix, though perhaps months of even a year waiting, could eliminate this issue permanently. A sensor is superficially appealing, but a salubrious solution SOON  may avoid a short term fix that really does not end the problem.

sensor or seal


After Times Investigation, Congress is Moving to Curb Toxic Fumes on Airplanes

 

March 31, 2022

The airline industry would be forced to adopt new measures to protect passengers and crew members from toxic fumes on airplanes under a bill introduced in Congress this week.

By Kiera Feldman

Source Los Angeles Times (TNS)

TNSissue- flight attendant v. engineer

 

The investigation[1] found that dangerous vapors contaminate the air supply on planes with alarming frequency, sometimes sickening passengers and crew and incapacitating pilots during flights.

The airline industry would be forced to adopt new measures to protect passengers and crew members from toxic fumes on airplanes under a bill introduced in Congress this week.

The move comes after a Los Angeles Times investigation found that dangerous vapors contaminate the air supply on planes with alarming frequency, sometimes sickening passengers and crew and incapacitating pilots during flights. Over a two-year period, nearly 400 pilots, flight attendants and passengers reported receiving medical attention after these “fume events,”[2] and four dozen pilots were described as impaired to the point of being unable to perform their duties, The Times found.

{ 400 over a denominator of 1.1 billion on board in one year=4.00000000E-7}

Blumental and the bill“Cabin air can become dangerously contaminated with noxious substances, but the FAA and aircraft manufacturers are ignoring this health hazard even after concerning reports of flight crews becoming sick as a result,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement.

The legislation would create new mandates for crew training and for reporting and investigating fume events. Planes would be required to be equipped with sensors to detect air contamination.

The measure aims to address problems underlying a basic fact of flying: The air you breathe on planes comes directly from the jet engines. Under normal conditions this so-called bleed air is safe, but if there’s a mechanical issue, heated jet engine oil and other aviation fluids can leak into the air supply, potentially releasing toxic gases into the plane.

The bill would require a major overhaul of current practices. No government agency{sic: Cabin Smoke, Fire, Fumes, or Odor Incidents } tracks fume events or how oftenASRS fume report people become sick or impaired, and without sensors to measure air quality, planes rely on a low-tech method: the smell test. Internal documents from airlines and aircraft manufacturers provide detailed instructions for identifying oil and hydraulic fluid contamination in the air supply by smells like “dirty socks,” “musty” and “acrid,” The Times found.

The legislation would require airplanes to have sensors that would “alert the pilot and flight attendants to poor air quality that is dangerous to human health,” and it would mandate that airlines and manufacturers develop procedures on how to respond to alarms.

“All Americans have the right to expect safe, clean air when traveling or reporting to work,” Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, the bill’s sponsor in the House, said in a statement.

The bill is also co-sponsored by Sens. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Brian K. Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Kaiali’I Kahele, D-Hawaii, and Don Bacon, R-Neb.

Major unions across the industry representing pilots, flight attendants and mechanics are backing the legislation.

APFA logo

It’s not an over-the-top request that the flying public and cabin crew know whether the air they are breathing 30,000 feet above sea level is toxic or not,” Transportation Workers of America International President John Samuelsen said in a statement.

Scientists have long warned of potential dangers from breathing heated jet engine oil, which contains tricresyl phosphate, or TCP, a highly toxic chemical that can damage the nervous system. TCP can have immediate effects such as headaches and dizziness, as well as longer-term effects such as tremors and memory problems, experts say. Some pilots and flight attendants have experienced serious health problems, including brain damage, after fume events, The Times found.

The Assn. of Flight Attendants has called for the industry’s regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, to take action on fume events for more than 25 years.

“Crews and passengers are breathing toxins and it has to stop,” AFA International President Sara Nelson said in a statement supporting the bill.

The FAA declined to comment on pending legislation. “Studies have shown cabin air is as good as or better than the air found in offices and homes,” the agency previously told The Times.

The proposed Cabin Air Safety Act is not the first time lawmakers have tackled the issue. Congress has twice held hearings on airplane air quality — in 1994 and 2003. Similar pieces of legislation have repeatedly languished in committee.

LA Times picture of a fume event- not

[NOTE: the Los Angeles Times article described this picture as “. At right, the Hawaiian Airlines travelers cover their noses. (Nani Blake)”

But today, recognition of the dangers of fume events is rising, and backers of the new legislation hope that the attention on airplane air during the pandemic will help tip the balance.

The bill currently faces little known opposition. Aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus and Airlines for America, the air carriers’ lobbying arm, did not respond to questions about their positions on the legislation.

“Multiple studies over the years have consistently concluded that cabin air meets or exceeds health and safety standards,” Carter Yang, a spokesperson for Airlines for America, wrote in a statement.

Yet, studies on airplane air quality have only looked at normal flights in which no fume events were reported. No major research has ever measured the chemicals in fume events as they occur.

In 2003, Congress ordered the FAA to measure the toxic chemical levels in such events, but the airlines refused to let flight attendants carry air samplers aboard, according to an FAA-funded research report.

“The cabin air inside Boeing airplanes is safe,” a spokesperson for Boeing wrote in a statement to The Times on Wednesday. “Due to the high air exchange rate and HEPA recirculation filtration system, air quality on Boeing aircraft compares favorably to other indoor air environments like schools, office buildings, and homes, as numerous impartial, third-party studies have found.”

 

But HEPA filters are for particles — things like coronaviruses — not toxic gases.

Boeing’s statement noted that the company “continues to work with scientists to improve our understanding of cabin environmental factors and to study potential technologies such as sensors and advanced filtering.”

aircraft air system diagram

Boeing previously told The Times that scientific studies have not proved a link between fume events and health problems. The company previously said it has not equipped its planes with air sensors because suppliers have not “demonstrated the existence” of devices that could “reliably detect contaminated bleed air.”

The Times investigation found that Boeing managers had legal concerns that went beyond technological shortcomings. Senior Boeing engineers worried that data from sensors could prove damaging if used as evidence in lawsuits brought by sick passengers and crew members, according to internal emails and sworn depositions obtained by The Times.

An internal Boeing memo described it as a “risk” to give air sensors to even one airline, according to a deposition of a Boeing executive.

“Flight attendant, pilot unions, and congressional supporters could use this effort as evidence that sensors are needed and … to drive their agenda forward to have bleed air sensors required on all aircraft,” said the 2015 memo, which Boeing turned over in litigation[3].

plaintiff graphic

___

©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

 

 

[1] Scientific investigation is the heart of science. A scientific investigation is conducted through a set of procedures– firstly it starts with making an observation, then asking a question, then comes the stage when one has to form a hypothesis and then test it, finally draw a conclusion and communicate the results.

[2] Per US DoT BTS–U.S. airlines and foreign airlines serving the U.S. carried an all-time high of 1.1 billion systemwide (domestic and international) scheduled service passengers in 2019,

[3] Curiously the LA Times does not mention the outcome of any of these litigation  claims for damages—the cases were filed 7 years ago.



 

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