Wednesday 29 July 2015

Are We Leaving on a Toxic Jet Plane?

Richard Westgate, Karen Lysakowska, Karl Barolia and Mathew Bass are just not names. In short, they may be indirectly responsible for modification of Air Safety Guidelines and Airplane designs in future.

Unfortunately, they all had to die for it.

Richard and Karen were talented British Airways Pilots, and Matt and Kal worked as Flight Attendants. It is interesting that they were not part of the same Flight Crew and might not even have known each other. Other than the fact they all worked in the Aviation Industry in Britain, the point of concern is all of them died courtesy prolonged exposure to TCP or Tricresyl Phosphate. TCP is a Neurotoxin and is found in Engine Oil of modern-day Jet Planes.

TCP is used as an additive in Turbine Engine Oil to act as a Hydraulic Fluid and Heat Exchanging Medium. It is to be noted that TCP is also used as a Nerve Agent in production of banned Sarin Gas which is classified as a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Question now arises how come such deadly Toxic Chemicals were found in the bodies of various Pilots and Flight Crews? The Jet Engines are outside the plane, how come they got poisoned staying inside the plane?

This happens courtesy a basic design flaw of modern-day Airplanes. Designs have been evolved for cost cutting, and as a result Air Intake for Pressurized Cabin Air which was supposed to be a separate mechanism, has now been merged with the mechanism for pressurized Jet Engine air. Pressurized air in the Jet Engines is required for combustion and moving the Jet Engine propellers. Effectively, what happens is that the air that we breathe inside Airplanes comes from the Intakes of the Jet Engines and is called Bleed Air. This is the air that enters the engines and gets channeled to the Ventilation and Air Conditioning System that supplies air to the Cockpit and the Passenger Cabins. So effectively if anything goes wrong in the Engine or the Auxiliary Power Unit (Bleed Air also comes via APU,) toxic fumes from Chemicals and Engine Oils might enter Cockpit and Passenger Cabins. Mind you, these gases are dangerous gases and are considered hazardous. Inhaling these gases leads to nausea and headache and nervous breakdowns, among other things. It is chemical poisoning that happens to people who come in contact with those toxic fumes arising from Synthetic Oils like Mobil Jet ll and others. And these toxic fume incidents are known as Fume Events by the Aviation Industry. This is how contaminated air enters Passenger Cabins and Cockpits in airplanes. What is to be noted here, there is no Filtration Device present in the airflow schematic to filter out the toxic fumes before it enters the air circulation system.

This is how aircraft air gets contaminated, watch the video.

Now the question arises, were those four unfortunate souls, victims of rare and isolated contamination incidents? Even though how much we try to believe that, unfortunately it is not true. From British Airways again, John Hoyete, Bearnairdi Beaumont, Dee Passon and scores of others have been exposed to TCP Poisoning via Bleed Air over the decades. It has affected their efficiency and health and they have retired from flight duties. What is more, these Fume Events are not isolated from Britain only. These Fume Events as they are known, which are chemical exposures, are a worldwide phenomenon. It's just that the Aviation Industry hid this fact for over 70 years from the public eyes. But this information has finally come out in the public domain over the last few years, courtesy various efforts by the Pilots and Flight Crews in Britain and Australia and from the US.

A question arises here, then how many Fume Events are we looking at worldwide and how frequent are these incidents?

A figure comes from the Australian Aviation Industry... Around 1 per 130 flights. In Britain alone, close to 700 Fume Events are reported every year as per the British Pilot's Union BALPA. So, let's do a little maths here. Popular industry assumption is, there are 100,000 flights happening every day. So, by Australian estimates around 769 Fume Events are happening each day worldwide. So, each day, flight crew and passengers of 769 planes get gassed with toxic chemicals in other words if you put it very bluntly. British Aviation Industry's estimates are way off the Australian one, and they claim around 1 incident per two thousand flights (as per aviation officials). Going by that woobly goobly number, then still 50 incidents of Fume Events happen each day worldwide.

Let's assume going by the British woobly goobly numbers, if one hundred passengers and crew are travelling in each flight that means five thousand people are getting exposed to toxic fumes every day. Exposure level might vary from plane to plane. By Australian numbers 76,900 people are being exposed to toxic fumes everyday courtesy a design flaw. The flaw, which has not been rectified by the Aircraft Manufacturers and various Airlines for over 70 years now since the problem first surfaced. Who will do the math of people exposed to toxic gases in the last 70 years?

Why so? Cost of rectifying the design vs cost of life. Life was decided to be expendable but not money by these aviation companies.

Difference Between Fume Event Contamination and Basic Contamination and Short Term and Long-Term Exposure to Toxic Gases:

Before we divulge into all contamination details let me point out a couple of facts.

* There is no Filter present to filter contaminated Bleed Air before it passes into the Passenger Cabins and Cockpit.

* There is no Alarm or Toxic Fume Detector on board. So effectively, unless a Pilot smells the gas there is no way to know contamination is happening.

* There is no effective way to switch to a Backup Air Compressor in case of contamination, as there is no backup. Air can only come through via the Bleed system of the twin Engines and APU and GPU (only exception being Boeing 787.)

You will get a detailed overview of the Bleed Air System in this Video

You will get detailed overview of an Aircraft Airconditioning System in this Video

You might think let's trash Passenger Airlines and fly in smaller planes... Unfortunately, contamination risk is higher in smaller planes but at least they keep Carbon Monoxide Detectors! So, you will at least know beforehand if something is wrong.

Coming back to the exposure part of it, many News Crews and Flight Crews have taken swab samples off planes during normal times to check for contamination both in Australia and Britain. Each time the results have come back Positive. But despite that, the Airlines always maintained that contamination is well below Safety Standards. What they are bypassing is that samples were not taken during a Fume Event but taken under normal situations and then too results came back Positive. What will happen if samples are taken during actual Fume Events? I think most Airlines do not keep Exposure Metres and Toxic Gas Level Monitors on planes as the cat will come out of the bag if they do keep one voluntarily, and regulations don't ask them to do it. And so, they can get away with it.

The whole concept of well below Safety Standards is arguable though, as the World Health Organization 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."

So there goes the silly defense put up by the Airlines and Aircraft Manufacturers regarding presence of Toxic Elements inside planes under Normal Flight Conditions also.

Let's now look into Short Term Exposure to elevated levels of Toxic Fumes during a Fume Event, experienced by both Crew and Passengers. And Long Term Exposure to Low Level of Contamination, experienced by mostly Flight Crews and Frequent Flyers (Loyal Customers). Both have short- and long-term effects. And long-term exposures can even lead to death as we saw at the start of this article.

Immediate and Short-Term Effect of a Single Fume Event includes:

Seizures, Graying Out, Unconsciousness, Disorientation, Problems with Coordination, Nausea and Vomiting.

Long Term Effects of a Single Fume Incident includes:

Cognitive Problems, Chronic Fatigue, Acquired Chemical Sensitivity among others.

The detailed problems have been described in an independent report on Aero Toxic Syndrome by Chris Winder, School of Safety Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia and Jean-Chirstophe Balouet of Environment International, Nogent sur Marne, France. You can access the report in this link

You can get a brief overview of Short- and Long-Term Effects from this image I have captured from the Report.

It is to be noted, the groups of people mostly at risk are... Pilots, Cabin Crew, Old People, Pregnant Women, Unborn Babies, Babies, Frequent Fliers.

As the report suggests, the fumes can induce Unconsciousness, Seizures, Nausea, Disorientation, Problem with Coordination. Imagine being in the Pilot's seat when such an event happens. Plane crash is a big possibility and even if the Pilot somehow manages to land the plane, the Flight Crew might be disoriented and will not be able to evacuate the plane as per drill. And you can't blame either the Pilot or Flight Crew for this, you just must blame the Airlines for flying planes which can make the crew sick while performing their duty. And not only sick... Some may eventually die like the four I have mentioned at the start of this article.

Day after day Pilots are getting forced to fly Planes which can have a Fume Event, and that might lead to loss of control of the aircraft. And that will result in loss of lives both inside planes and on the ground, but Airlines don't care about that! May be most crashes are not Pilot Errors, Pilots must be physically fit to act as per training! They are just killing the crew slowly by ignoring the problems and denying that there is a link between the sickness and the Toxic Fumes!

These Fume Incidents keep happening every day, check this video taken live by a passenger inside one plane when one Fume Event happened.

Unfortunately, very few Fume Events get reported officially and hardly any report makes it to the media. In most cases Pilots and Flight Crew are pressurized to withdraw complaints and might even face sacking if they complain about it too much. So instead of solving the problems the Airline companies are keener to kill the messenger. The Pilots and Flight Crews keep quiet to feed their families and make a living.

The hushing up of Fume Events does not stop here. Instead of prolonged official treatment by Company Doctors on Chemical Exposure oriented sickness, the affected Crew gets prescribed Anti-Depressant and other medications by Airline Docs. This is done to make it look like the Flight Crew are at fault regarding the sickness and not the Airlines. And as for the Passengers the Airlines totally ignore them, as if they are disease affected sheep and no longer the Airline's responsibility as they stepped out of the plane.

What I suggest is, if you have been exposed to chemical poisoning like this don't stay silent. Approach your Flight Union and do report it. Also visit www.AeroToxic.Org which is an initiative by Capt. John Hoyete who is fighting this against the Airlines. Capt. Hoyete himself had to retire on medical grounds post long term chemical exposure. If you are a Passenger, then too you can take the Airlines to Court for compromising your health and safety. Watch a few hard-hitting documentaries I am embedding after this post to know how to deal with it.

What is unfortunate, it is not a problem that has been discovered today. This problem has been in existence since the 1950s when Bleed Air concept was first introduced. So over 70 years, the Airlines Industry has ignored the problem and Aircraft Manufacturers keep on making planes with Bleed Air systems. Read this report which explains the problem and suggests solutions in 1955. Still nothing has been done to rectify it and Airlines keep hushing things up, they have been doing it for over sixty years now.

Aircraft Manufacturers keep denying the existence of the problem meanwhile.

What needs to be done to tackle the problem is, Regulatory Bills have to be passed by Governments, where it makes the following things mandatory:

* Installation of Filters to filter contaminated Bleed Air is a MUST

* Installation of Toxic Fumes Detectors a MUST

* Support Infrastructure for Affected Crews and Public including Legal Help

* A regulation to Phase Out Bleed Air Systems from Aircrafts with a specified time limit of 5 to 10 years

* Statutory warning should be printed in tickets; Flying can be Injurious to Health in case of Fume Events. (Public must be informed of risk)

On an ending note, though all planes can be affected by a Fume Event, three models, BAE 146, A320 and Boeing 757 are very prone to it. Boeing 757 is widely flown in Americas, Europe, Australia by various Airlines. A320 is flown globally including India.

In India we mostly fly Boeing 737 Next Generation from Boeing and A320 from Airbus Industries. I could not find any reported Fume Event here in India which is very odd. And that can happen courtesy two reasons

* Airlines hush it up and force crew members not to go public.

* Airline Companies are flying comparatively newer Aircrafts which are not overused like their Western Counterparts. So effectively it will happen in coming years unless steps are taken now to prevent it.

Unfortunately, worldwide Fume Events have been reported in Boeing 737s and A320s also.

Though many deny it officially, some Airline Regulators do have on paper Fume Event related Procedure Manuals which itself is a proof that it happens.

If you go through the hard-hitting documentaries on the same subject produced by various News Channels worldwide, you will realize how severe the problem is.

My concluding suggestion in this regard, if Airline companies don't change the Bleed Air System or if they don't put Air Filters in the Airplanes it's high time we stop flying in these jets. We have to hurt them where it hurts most and only then might things change for the better.

And if the Airline Bosses insist that contamination is under Safety Level, why not all board a plane together and create a Fume Event with those chemicals involved and inhale it for some time and prove to us that flying is safe. Will they ever do that? But they make their employees and passengers go through it every day. And there rests the case.

Inspiration for researching this topic and writing this article came from watching the movie A Dark Reflection which is based on true events. Do watch it when you have the time along with the Documentaries I shared. It's based on the guys I talked of here.


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