Toxic Airplane Cabin Air

Our office is investigating incidents of bleed air harming passengers. Call us Toll Free 866-373-1800.

Our lawyers believe that exposure to oil mists and vapors in a commercial aircraft constitutes a serious hazard to aircrew and passengers and is capable of producing long-term health problems. It’s time for aircraft manufacturers, operators and maintenance companies to stop pretending that aviation air quality is not important. Passengers and crews deserve better.

Air quality is an important aviation problem. Problems arise from a number of factors, and if you have become ill while on a plane, call or email us right away to discuss your legal options.

How does the problem strike? Contamination of air: Chemical exposures in an aircraft are not unheard of.  As far back as the early 1950’s  the US Aeromedical Association first expressed their concerns about the toxicity risks of cabin air contamination by hydraulics and lubricants. The oils and hydraulics used in aircraft engines can be toxic, and specific ingredients of oils can be irritating, sensitising (such as phenyl-alpha-naphthylamine) or neurotoxic (for example, ortho-containing triaryl phosphates such as tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate). If oil or hydraulic fluid leaks occur, this contamination may be in the form of unchanged material, degraded material from long use, combusted or pyrolised materials. These materials can contaminate aircraft cabin air in the form of gases, vapours, mists and aerosols.

Jet oil used extensively in aviation contains ingredients that are known to cause irritation, and neurotoxicity. The symptoms have occurred on a number of aircraft (the MD-80, the BAe 146, and the B757). The chemicals involved (known ingredients of jet oils) were the neurotoxic tri-cresyl phosphate, the sensitiser phenyl-alpha-naphthylamine, and the environmentally toxic dioctyldiphenylamine, as well as a wide selection of volatile organic compounds and thermal degradation chemicals that are present in the air during exposure events.

Contamination happens in many ways. These include the € uptake of exhaust from other aircraft or on ground contamination sources,  application of de-icing fluids, € hydraulic fluid leaks from landing gear and other hydraulic systems, € excessive use of lubricants and preservative compounds in the cargo hold, € and preservatives on the inside of aircraft skin. In addition, € large accumulations of dirt and brake dust may build up on inlet ducts where auxillary power units extract air from near the aircraft belly; € ingestion of oil and hydraulic fluid at sealing interfaces, around oil cooling fan gaskets and in worn transitions; € oil contamination from synthetic turbine oil; € engine combustion products (for example, defective fuel manifolds, seal failures, engine leaks).

International aviation legislation such as the US Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) and airworthiness standards for aircraft air quality state “crew and passenger compartment air must be free from harmful and hazardous concentrations of gases or vapors.”Where contamination of air in the flight deck and passenger cabin occurs that is sufficient to cause symptoms of discomfort, fatigue, irritation or toxicity, this contravenes such standards and legislation.

The harm:  Sometimes the physical harm is not immediate. The injuries and related symptoms  may take days or longer to manifest,  and can be: permanent or temporary brain injury or damage, neurological damage, vision problems, short term memory loss, uncontrollable intermittent shaking of a hand or body part, numbness in extremities, aching of muscles, and what has been described as Lupus-like or Menier’s like symptoms.  It is now claimed that many conditions previously diagnosed as Menier’s or Lupus may actually have been the effects of exposure to toxic cabin air.

There was a 2012 study published relating to pilots:


Cognitive function following reported exposure to contaminated air on commercial aircraft: methodological considerations for future researchers

Here is the synopsis:

Cabin air on commercial aircraft is sometimes contaminated with jet engine oils containing organophosphates (OP). Aircrew have complained of chronic ill health and cognitive impairment following exposure to contaminated air, but a debate is ongoing about causation, diagnosis and treatment of long-term effects. The incidence of contaminated air events is difficult to quantify, as commercial aircraft do not have air quality monitoring systems on board. According to statistical records, certain types of aircraft suffer more fume events than others (e.g. the BAe 146 and Boeing 757) and it has been suggested that airframe may serve as a proxy measure of exposure. The current study sought to investigate this claim, and to determine whether an association exists between exposure to contaminated air and neuropsychological impairment. Twenty-nine pilots were recruited and split into two exposure groups according to aircraft type flown, but few differences were noted between groups in terms of exposure history or cognitive function. Pilots’ profile of cognitive performance deviates from that seen in the normal population, but mirrors that seen in other OP-exposed cohorts. In particular they show decrements in performance on tests of attention, psychomotor speed and visual sequencing. Given the safety implications of these findings, further research is warranted.


Our firms believes that many 1000s of flights are safe, without incident, and with great care given to crew and passengers. In some instances, however, lack of proper plane maintenance, of failure to follow proper procedures harms an innocent flyer. If you believe that you have been harmed, talk to us confidentially and without charge.

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