Lawsuit Claims Toxic Airplane Air Led to Stroke

American Airlines faces a lawsuit filed by a woman who claims to have been sickened by <"">toxic airplane air on a flight from Chicago to San Juan, Puerto Rico. According to the complaint, the fumes allegedly caused the plaintiff to suffer a near-fatal stroke.

The issue of toxic airplane air is a controversy that has dogged the airline industry for years. Last year, a joint investigation by German and Swiss TV networks claimed to have found high levels of a dangerous toxin on board several planes. The chemicals found in the samples included high levels of tricresyl phosphate (TCP), an organophosphate contained in modern jet oil as an antiwear additive, which can lead to drowsiness, headaches, respiratory problems or neurological illnesses.

Critics of the airline industry claim that the system used to re-circulate air in airplanes does not remove fumes or vapors from the engine. The process involves combining re-circulated existing cabin air with air bled off the engines. The air pulled into the engines is cooled and compressed before it is pumped into the cabin. If this system malfunctions, chemical contaminants can end up circulating through the airplane, creating a so-called fume event.

The United Kingdom’s Committee on Toxicity said in 2007 that pilots reported such fume events in 1 percent of flights. The group also said that maintenance inspected and confirmed incidents in 0.05 percent of flights. According to the National Research Council, such fume events could occur on four out of every 1,000 flights.

Vida Chenier’s lawsuit against American Airlines claims that during her flight on March 26, 2008, toxic bleed entered the passenger cabin through the aircraft’s ventilation system. At that time, Chenier began experiencing hypoxia, also known as oxygen deprivation, as well as difficulty breathing and began to cough violently and develop a severe headache. Two days after she arrived in San Juan, the lawsuit alleges Chenier’s symptoms worsened, and on March 29, she began to cough up blood. Her near fatal stroke occurred on April 4, 2008, according to the complaint.

The complaint states that American Airlines failed to, among other things, install bleed air sensor equipment on the aircraft. It alleges that the airline “received actual and constructive notice” of contaminated bleed air and toxic fumes entering the cabin of the aircraft through the ventilation system.

Chenier’s lawsuit is seeking damages in excess of fifty-thousand dollars.

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