Toxic Airplane Air Blamed for Illnesses

A flight attendant who believes that she is the victim of <"">“toxic airplane air” has filed a product liability suit against Boeing and McDonnell Douglas over her illness. According to a report on CNN, Terry Williams believes that a design flaw in an MD-82 aircraft left her unprotected from toxic air.

The issue of toxic airplane air is a controversy that has dogged the airline industry for years. Earlier this 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.

According to CNN, Williams’ ordeal allegedly began in April 2007, when she was working as a flight attendant on an American Airline flight. At one point during her shift, Williams noticed a “misty haze type of smoke” in the cabin. By the time the flight was over, Williams was suffering from symptoms she thought were the sign of an impending cold, including a sore throat, headache and cough. But her symptoms quickly grew worse, and according to CNN, came to include a nasal discharge that was a neon green color. After a few weeks, a neurologist diagnosed Williams as a victim of toxic exposure. Williams continues to suffer from migraine headaches, tremors, and blind spots in her field of vision, CNN said.

In April, two sisters who had been traveling on a Southwest Airlines flight filed suit over ailments they claim to have suffered after their flight developed mechanical problems and made an emergency landing in Albuquerque, N.M., on Jan 27. Victoria Vaughn Holsted and Valerie Vaughn claim that during the flight, many of those aboard suffered breathing difficulties. The woman also said “super-heated” air came out of the vents, and that they saw a mist in the cabin. The sisters have allegedly suffered from feelings of lethargy, feelings of paralysis, tremors, unbearable headaches, numbness, rashes, ears ringing, vision problems.

Other people have also reported similar problems following fume events on airplanes. According to CNN, the University of Washington is currently analyzing blood and blood plasma samples from 92 people – mostly pilots and flight attendants – who suffered from tremors, memory loss, severe migraine headaches and other ailments following airplane fume events. Results from those tests are expected to be available within the coming months.

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