Cabin air on commercial flights can be filled with a vast array of toxic chemicals that cause seizures and nausea

Cabin air that circulates in commercial flights contain toxic chemicals that are detrimental to the public health, according to a report published in The potentially poisonous fumes may result in a condition called aerotoxic syndrome, which may result in blurred vision, seizures, and headaches as well as nausea, diarrhea, and even breathing difficulties.

Symptoms of aerotoxic syndrome were accounted for various reported cases of emergency medical services in the previous years. In fact, three airline personnel at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport received emergency care for such symptoms just last year. All the crew members were referred to Georgia’s Poison Center in Atlanta. The doctors confirmed that the symptoms were due in part to toxic fumes. In another instance, crew members of Alaska Airlines were previously found to have developed permanent neurological conditions largely due to exposure to hydrocarbons during flight.

According to the report, most of today’s airplanes feature systems where the cabins contain a mix of recycled air and warm compressed air drawn from their engines. This process is also known as “bleed air.” The airplanes have seals designed to keep oil and bleed  air apart. However, these seals were known to leak. As a result, organophosphates in heated engine oil can contaminate the unfiltered bleed air that is being used in aircraft cabin.

People who move to recognize aerotoxic syndrome noted that airlines should install bleed air filters to prevent fume events and protect cabin crew and passengers. The U.K.’s Department of Transport reported that these fume events occur on roughly 0.05 percent of all flights. In fact, a fume event was implicated in the death of British Airways co-pilot Richard Westgate in 2012. According to the report, the late co-pilot complained of headaches, nausea, and chronic fatigue due to fumes. A subsequent study following his death confirmed that airplane cabins contained organophosphates and other chemicals.

Toxic chemicals in cabin air may spur adverse health conditions

Various studies have shown that toxic chemicals found in cabin air may result in unwanted health conditions. Organophosphate exposure, for instance, was associated with worldwide mortality rates of three to 25 percent. Complications linked to organophosphates include severe bronchorrhea, seizures, weakness, and neuropathy. Respiratory failure appeared to be the most common cause of death in those exposed to the commonly-used pesticide.

A study published in PLOS ONE also revealed that organophosphate exposure may raise the odds of cardiovascular events in patients. As part of the study, the research team pooled data from the National Health Insurance Research Database with a total cohort population of more than 7,500 patients. According to the research team, patients who experienced organophosphate poisoning had higher incidence rates of arrhythmia, coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure compared with those in the control group.

An analysis published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine also showed that occupational exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon was associated with an increased likelihood of developing lung cancer. The review also confirmed that hydrocarbon exposure may raise the odds of suffering other respiratory cancers and larynx malignancies. In addition, exposure to the toxic chemical was tied to increased risk of larynx cancer mortality.

Hydrocarbon exposure was also associated with an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease in another meta-analysis. As part of research, the experts examined 3,020 PD cases against 6494 controls. Results of the analysis revealed that occupational hydrocarbon exposure significantly raised the odds of developing PD. The research team also found that patients exposed to hydrocarbons for more than 10 years had high Parkinson’s disease risk compared with their non-exposed counterparts. “This systematic review supports a positive association between hydrocarbon exposure and PD. Data from prospective studies are required to reinforce the relationship between hydrocarbon exposure and PD,” the researchers wrote.

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