Commentary

“Asbestos of the Sky” – The Aviation Industry’s Darkest Coverup

“Asbestos of the Sky” – The Aviation Industry’s Darkest Coverup

The aviation industry hangs its hat on air travel being “the safest way to travel.” The truth, however, is that it has harbored a dark secret since its inception: it’s poisoning its passengers and crew due to deeply flawed aircraft design, de-prioritizing safety in favor of profit. 

In flight, every crew member and passenger relies on an air supply. The assumption, of course, is that this air is filtered if not fresh. Perhaps you have sensed (and promptly dismissed) that there may be quality control issues around cabin air. The problem goes further than that, however, and astoundingly, this is not by accident but by design.

What’s more concerning is the fact that the industry has known about this completely preventable health hazard for at least 40 years, but no attempts have been made to filter this cocktail of hundreds of chemicals (including organophosphates in the same category as toxic nerve agents like Sarin) out of the cabin air before travelers are forced to breath them in. Nor has the root cause of the problem — unsafe aircraft design and the deprioritization of human safety — been effectively addressed.

A history of cabin air supply

Essentially, the problem comes from the need to supply the jet airliners with warm compressed air while flying at high altitudes.  In order to do so, all planes used by commercial airlines since 1963 inject the cabin with air directly from the compressors of their jet engines in what is known as ‘bleed air.’ In the 50’s, engineers designed airplanes which pulled fresh air into the cabin, but this “modification” was deemed too costly by decision-makers at the time. As a result of poor design, every breath that the crew and passengers take today, consists of a 50/50 mix of recirculated cabin air and bleed air, the latter of which can contains a wide range of synthetic chemicals, such as tricresyl phosphate (TCP or TOCP), an organophosphate which is highly neurotoxic to humans. In fact, the World Health Organisation stated in 1990 that “Because of considerable variation among individuals in sensitivity to TOCP, it is not possible to establish a safe level of exposure” and “TOCP are therefore considered major hazards to human health.”1

And so, with the exception of single aircraft — the new Boeing 787, where cabin air is taken directly from the atmosphere with electrically powered compressors — all flights today involve a high risk of exposure to these neurotoxic chemicals. When you consider there are about 100,000 flights a day (only 5% of which occur on “safe” Boeing 787’s, with at least 1 in 100 flights experiencing a major ‘fume event,’ this amounts to the health endangerment of millions of daily passengers. Entire advocacy organizations exist which are dedicated to exposing the truth about the dangers of toxic airplane air, and pressuring the industry to initiate reform.

One such group Aerotoxic Association, discusses the bleed air problem in greater detail on its website:

“Bleed air comes from the compressor section of the jet engine, which has to be lubricated. Jet engines mostly have “wet seals” to keep the oil and air apart, which cannot be 100% effective. Furthermore these seals, like any mechanical component, slowly wear out and their effectiveness gradually declines. This wear can occur more rapidly when the engine is working hard, such as climbing under full throttle. They may also fail suddenly and will then let a significant amount of oil into the very hot compressed bleed air, resulting in fumes and/or smoke entering the cabin. This is known as a “fume event”.

There are no filters in the bleed air supply to stop this happening.

Note that the oil used to lubricate jet engines is not based on petroleum hydrocarbons, as are lubricants for internal combustion engines used in motor cars, outboard motors, tractors etc. Jet engines operate at much higher temperatures and, therefore, use special synthetic chemicals as oil. They also contain organophosphate additives as antiwear agents and other aromatic hydrocarbons as antioxidants. Some of the oil gets partially decomposed, i.e. chemically altered (‘pyrolysed’) due to the high temperatures in the engine.”

Watch the teaser for the new documentary Unflitered Breathed In – The Truth about Aerotoxic Syndrome:

A complex toxicological assault

Since at least 1977, with the first documented case of a C-130 Hercules navigator becoming incapacitated after breathing contaminated cabin air, the aviation industry’s secret has remained hidden…

One thing that has worked in their favor is the common belief that the fatigue, malaise, and similar complaints experienced after a flight are caused by  “jet lag”; presumably solely a byproduct of ‘disrupted circadian rhythms,’ (medically referred to as desynchronosis) and not the 800lb gorilla of neurotoxic organophosphate exposures sitting next to every passenger on each flight.

This is not to say alterations in bodily rhythms and other ‘natural’ factors like cosmic radiation, dehydration, and the fact that the cabin is pressurized at between 6,000-8,000 feet (which keeps oxygen levels dangerously low), do not play a significant role. They certainly do. But the problem is that the chemical exposures are rarely if ever identified as a problem. When you also figure in the routine use of pesticides in planes, and the subsequent “toxic soup” of hydrocarbons and synthetic chemicals created, the toxicological synergy amplifies the exposure problem far beyond what would be expected if one focuses only on one chemical.

One can only imagine the cumulative role these exposures have had on the notoriously poor health of airline crew, as well. Clearly, there are highly practical justifications for the industry “cover-up,” as the legal liability for the damage already done to the health and well-being of aircrew alone would be astronomical.

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