Aerotoxic syndrome has been a growing health problem as more and more people are flying. The new Boeing 787, or Dreamliner, now entering service may represent a major step in the right direction as the first commercial airliner not to vent air from the engines into the cabin.
Pilots, flight attendants and passengers have all been experiencing neurological symptoms attributed to toxic cabin air. Most worrying, in some instances flight crew have blacked-out or otherwise become incapacitated. Many have developed chronic illnesses which are now widely referred to as aerotoxic syndrome.
The source of the problem lies with the way air is introduced into the cabins of all jet airliners currently transporting millions of people around the world daily. Airliners currently in service use a system which involves bleed air - air which passes through the aircrafts' jet engines before being "bled off" and recirculated around the cabin via the air conditioning system.
From an engineering point of view this might make sense but with the health of the aircraft's occupants in mind it is clearly far from ideal. Air passing through the engines may mix with synthetic engine oils and other contaminants, picking up the residue of tricresyl phosphate and other organophosphates that are related to banned toxic pesticides and nerve agents used in chemical warfare.
Bleed air enters the cabin without filtering of any kind, leaving passengers and crew to inhale the toxic cocktail of fumes for hours on end. While aircraft manufacturers, airlines and even governments have sought to brush the issue under the carpet we only have to use the reasoning of Occam’s Razor - the simplest explanation is probably the correct one - put a neurotoxin in aircraft; people on board start getting neurotoxic illness. The case for cause and effect is very strong.
Concerned pilots and cabin crew who experienced the effects of toxic cabin air founded The Aerotoxic Association. This international organization has been dedicated to raising awareness of the health risks associated with current airliner ventilation system design and it seems that Boeing has been paying attention.
Their new Dreamliner, an innovative wide-body, twin engined jetliner capable of carrying up to 290 passengers, is the first to do away with the bleed air cabin ventilation system. Instead, the Dreamliner uses a dedicated source of purified air in its system.
The Dreamliner entered service earlier this year with a total of 11 having been delivered thus far, with seven being used by All Nippon Airways (ANA), and four by Japan Airways. Boeing had a total of almost 850 orders for the aircraft by May 2012 with the Dreamliner set to join the fleets of major airlines around the world over the coming years.
With Boeing taking the lead on this issue, it is almost certain that Airbus and other major manufacturers will follow suit with their new models and gradually aircraft cabins filled with toxic bleed air will become a thing of the past.
Of course this is just one step in the right direction. Construction materials and flame retardants are just a couple of other sources of chemicals that can lead to toxic cabin air.