Monday, May 27, 2013

Aerotoxic Syndrome

It's vacation season, which for some people means air travel. Hopping on a plane can certainly save travel time, but is not without its challenges. Some of the challenges (like weather delays and security-related issues) are well-known, but others, which are potentially much more problematic, are rarely discussed.

A potentially serious problem related to airplane travel is something unofficially called aerotoxic syndrome. Aerotoxic syndrome results when people experience negative health effects from breathing toxins that often circulate in commercial airline cabins. An article in Natural News explains that airplanes were originally supplied with mechanical compressors that produced breathable cabin air for passengers. Currently, however, most planes, for cost-cutting reasons, provide cabin air that has been drawn from from the engines. Unfortunately, this air, called "bleed air,"  is often contaminated with problematic compounds. These include chemicals from engine oil and particles of heavy metals such as  nickel, beryllium and cadmium.

An article entitled Toxic Hazard Threatens Airline Passengers notes that one of the compounds often found in bleed air is an organophosphate known as tricresyl phosphate, or TCP. Organophosphates are nerve agents, often used in pesticides, which have been banned by many countries. The article notes that a group of journalists tested 31 commercial aircraft cabins and found TCP in 28 of them.

The air inside most airline cabins is noted to contain about 60 percent bleed air. Unfortunately for pilots, the air they breathe is generally 100% bleed air. Earlier this year, a British publication reported on the deaths of two British Airways pilots who died within a week of each other. Both believed they had been made ill by toxic airplane air. Lawyers quoted in the article note that aerotoxic syndrome may one day be seen as "the new asbestos."

Other than choosing not to fly, there are no easy answers for passengers who wish to protect themselves from toxins in airplane air. It's not as if opening a window is an option. There are, however, a few things that may be of help:

  • Wear a mask. Masks have their problems (as noted in a previous post), but they can provide a degree of protection.

  • Keep your total body load of chemicals as low as possible. If you use nontoxic personal care and cleaning products, you may be better able to handle the exposures you can't control.

  • Consider taking protective supplements. Many people find that taking antioxidants like Vitamin C helps their body process toxins more efficiently.

  • Consider flying with one of the airlines that are primary users of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has been designed to avoid the problem of bleed air. Currently, the primary users of the plane are Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, United Airlines, and Air India.

If you're headed out for vacation soon, I wish you an enjoyable trip and lots of clean, fresh air.

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