Flights can make aircrew sick, study suggests

June 19, 2017
Flights can make aircrew sick, study suggests
Credit: University of Stirling

Flying a plane should come with a health warning, according to research led by the University of Stirling.

A new study, published in the World Health Organisation journal Public Health Panorama, is the first of its kind to look in-depth at the health of aircrew who are suspected to have been exposed to contaminated air during their careers.

Health impacts

It shows a clear link between being exposed to air supplies contaminated by engine oil and other fluids, and a variety of health problems.

Adverse effects in flight are shown to degrade flight safety, with the impact on health ranging from short to long-term.

The scientists confirmed a cohort of more than 200 aircrew had been exposed to a number of substances through aircrafts' contaminated air and reveal a clear pattern of acute and chronic symptoms, ranging from headaches and dizziness to breathing and vision problems.

Dr Susan Michaelis, of the University of Stirling's Occupational and Environmental Health Research group, said: "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."

The experts conducted two independent surveys to review the circumstances and symptoms of aircrew working in the pressurised air environment of aircraft. The symptoms were confirmed using medical diagnoses.

One test looked at pilots' health and showed 88 percent were aware of exposure to aircraft contaminated air. Almost 65 percent reported specific health effects, while 13 percent had died or experienced chronic ill .

Repeated exposure

The other test looked at specific oil leak incidents: 80 percent involved fumes only and all of the events took place when the aircraft was preparing for, or in, flight.

Two-thirds of the incidents involved further reports of fumes both before and after the incident. 93 percent of the incidents involved symptoms ranging from in-flight impairment to incapacitation and almost 75 percent included adverse symptoms in more than one crew member, with anywhere between 10 and 23 different symptoms reported in relation to 47 percent of events.

Eighty-seven percent of the incidents confirmed oil leakage from the engines during subsequent maintenance investigations.

Professor Vyvyan Howard, Professor of Pathology and Toxicology at the University of Ulster, added: "What we are seeing here is aircraft crew being repeatedly exposed to low levels of hazardous contaminants from the engine oils in bleed air, and to a lesser extent this also applies to frequent fliers.

"We know from a large body of toxicological scientific evidence that such an exposure pattern can cause harm and, in my opinion, explains why aircrew are more susceptible than average to associated illness. However, exposure to this complex mixture should be avoided also for passengers, susceptible individuals and the unborn."

More than 3.5 billion passengers and 500,000 aircrew were exposed to low levels of engine oils in 2015. Unfiltered breathing air is supplied to aeroplane cabins via the compressor.

Explore further: Long term exposure to aircraft noise linked to high blood pressure

More information: Aerotoxic Syndrome: A New Occupational Disease? www.euro.who.int/__data/assets … Syndrom_ENG.pdf?ua=1

Related Stories

Long term exposure to aircraft noise linked to high blood pressure

June 13, 2017
Long term exposure to aircraft noise, particularly during the night, is linked to an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and possibly heart flutter and stroke as well, suggests research published online in Occupational ...

Robotic co-pilot is shown to land simulated Boeing 737

May 19, 2017
(Tech Xplore)—Would you want to take your next flight out knowing the pilot is a robot? The question will not be a problem for you to resolve any time soon. Instead, consider a robot behaving as co-pilot and that is not ...

Air Force aircraft returned from Vietnam identified as postwar source of Agent Orange contamination

February 21, 2014
From 1971-1982 Air Force reservists, who flew in about 34 dioxin-contaminated aircraft used to spray Agent Orange and returned to the US following discontinuation of the herbicide spraying operations in the Vietnam War, were ...

Report cites 241 near collisions between pilots, drones

December 11, 2015
There has yet to be a confirmed U.S. collision between a drone and a manned aircraft, but there's a growing number of close calls as drones fly where they least belong—near airports.

Stomach bug triggers mass vomiting on Qantas flight

August 1, 2013
Dozens of people were rushed off a Qantas flight for medical treatment in Sydney on Thursday after a stomach bug struck mid-journey, triggering a mass vomiting episode.

Recommended for you

Amber-tinted glasses may provide relief for insomnia

December 15, 2017
How do you unwind before bedtime? If your answer involves Facebook and Netflix, you are actively reducing your chance of a good night's sleep. And you are not alone: 90 percent of Americans use light-emitting electronic devices, ...

Warning labels can help reduce soda consumption and obesity, new study suggests

December 15, 2017
Labels that warn people about the risks of drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can lower obesity and overweight prevalence, suggests a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study.

Office work can be a pain in the neck

December 15, 2017
Neck pain is a common condition among office workers, but regular workplace exercises can prevent and reduce it, a University of Queensland study has found.

Regular takeaways linked to kids' heart disease and diabetes risk factors

December 14, 2017
Kids who regularly eat take-away meals may be boosting their risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, suggests research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Simulation model finds Cure Violence program and targeted policing curb urban violence

December 14, 2017
When communities and police work together to deter urban violence, they can achieve better outcomes with fewer resources than when each works in isolation, a simulation model created by researchers at the UC Davis Violence ...

One in five patients report discrimination in health care

December 14, 2017
Almost one in five older patients with a chronic disease reported experiencing health care discrimination of one type or another in a large national survey that asked about their daily experiences of discrimination between ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.