Fresh concerns about whether passengers could be inhaling contaminated air on aircraft have resurfaced, after undercover investigators claimed to have found high levels of a dangerous toxin on board several planes.
As part of an investigation by a German television network, ARD, and Schweizer Fernsehen (Swiss television), 31 swab samples were taken secretly last month from the aircraft cabins of popular airlines.
These were analysed in laboratories at the University of British Columbia, under the supervision of Prof Christian van Netten, a leading toxicologist.
Twenty-eight were found to contain 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.
Scientists refer to the condition as Aerotoxic Syndrome. Dr Mackenzie Ross, a clinical neuropsychologist at University College London, says the illness may be affecting up to 200,000 passengers each year.
A Telegraph Travel investigation last February revealed that hundreds of incidents of contaminated air had been reported by British pilots.
Scientists and pressure groups claim that the toxins enter the cabin as a result of the “bleed air” system that is used on modern aircraft.
Air is drawn out of the compression section of the engine and cooled. It then enters the cabin, where it mixes with recirculated air that has passed through filters designed to remove bacteria and viruses.
However, these “recirculated air” filters do not remove fumes or vapours from the engine. So if engine oil or hydraulic fuel leaks, toxic chemicals can contaminate the air supply.
The Boeing Dreamliner 787, due to be launched next year, will be the first passenger jet since the mid-1950s to use air supplied from another source. It has previously been deemed to be too expensive to do this.
Scientists, former pilots and aviation pressure groups have accused the industry of knowing about the problem for decades and doing little to tackle it. …
See www.aerotoxic.org for more details.