Last year I tackled the subject of aerotoxic syndrome - the contamination of air in the cabins of commercial aircraft by engine lubricant by-products - in Weekend Wings #7.
Now, an article in Flight Global reports that the danger may have been underestimated.
Aviation industry inquiries into neurotoxins in aircraft cabin air "will underestimate the real toxic potency" of the contaminant. This, says one of the world's primary experts in workplace contamination Prof Dietrich Henschler of Wuertzburg University, Germany, is because they assume that only one isomer of the poisonous tricresyl phosphate (TCP) is present, .
Henschler says the TCP vapour from heated engine oil that sometimes gets into engine bleed air used to pressurise aircraft cabins contains a mixture of mono-ortho-, di-ortho- and tri-ortho cresyl phosphate. The effect on the human brain and nervous system of this mixture is more toxic by a multiple of 10 or more than straight TCP, although that is serious, he adds.
Henschler says the toxicity and the neurological symptoms in humans are well established. He says: "They exert a toxic activity which we are well aware of." Henschler says the causal links to "these simple compounds" are easily traceable. He adds: "In view of the severity of the clinical symptoms and the ensuing fate of the patients involved, I would say it's a dangerous material."
Henschler, with other scientists and neurologists, will be speaking at the annual conference of the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive in London on 28-29 April.
During my recent trip to Alaska, I was particularly on the alert for any strange smells in cabin air, having been alerted to this problem by my research for Weekend Wings #7. I didn't find anything difficult about the Boeing 737-900 used by Continental Airlines from Houston to Anchorage, or on the return flight. However, on the Bombardier CRJ700 (operated by Continental Express) from Louisiana to Houston, I certainly smelt something that was very strongly reminiscent of burnt engine lubricants. I've not had any after-effects so far, but I'm watching carefully . . .
Readers who fly regularly might want to keep an eye on this topic. An Internet search on 'aerotoxic syndrome' will pull up a lot of information.