Following the world's first court verdict establishing the previously missing legal acceptance that there is a connection between contaminated cabin air and crew/passenger health, it's a good time to examine the law and politics behind the courtroom arguments.
We'll start with a comparable set of legal circumstances in another industry: tobacco.
This comparison is useful only as a study of the way society processes the discovery of health risks.
The tobacco industry has been through the whole process which, in the case of toxic fumes in aircraft cabins, the air transport industry is just beginning to face up to. The process of facing up to the risk is likely to follow a remarkably similar path.
The tobacco industry did not set out to provide people with carcinogens, and aircraft/engine manufacturers did not set out to allow neurotoxins into aircraft cabins, but in both cases, as a secondary effect of providing their primary products, a risk exists.
In 1954 the American Cancer Society said this: "The evidence to date justifies suspicion that cigarette smoking does, to a degree as yet undetermined, increase the likelihood of developing cancer of the lung."
Societal attitudes forty or so years ago are illustrated by the fact that, in 1965, as an officer cadet in the UK Royal Navy, I was provided at incredibly low cost with a ration of 200 cigarettes a month. I was not compelled to accept the ration, but I smoked them anyway.
It was about that time that court cases alleging tobacco companies' responsibility for causing lung cancer were becoming big news. But the rearguard legal defence action by companies like American Tobacco lasted years, the chief weapon being the argument that lung cancer can have many different causes, and that the connection between smoking and lung cancer could not be proven.
Eventually it was proven. Today many people still choose to smoke, but the major difference is that everyone who does so is made aware of the risk.
I'd better make it clear at this stage that, although there are process parallels between dealing with the tobacco smoke/lung cancer issue, and the potential for passenger and crew harm through organophosphate fumes in cabin air, there are differences too. Most flights are fume-free, whereas every cigarette smoked exposes the smoker's lungs to carcinogens.
The comparative downside is that many crew and almost all passengers have no knowledge of the fact that they could, during any flight in an aircraft with cabin air supplied from engine or auxiliary power unit compressor bleeds, be exposed to neurotoxic organophosphates.
But what if they are? Symptoms are obviously affected by the dose, but in an intense fume event some people could be badly affected for the rest of their lives, and others get away with it entirely. Individual susceptibilities vary. The trouble is, you won't know whether you are susceptible or not until you are exposed to it. If you want to know more, visit the Aerotoxic Association's website.
The effect on the human nervous system of certain organophosphates has been known for many years. So, for non-lawyers, making a connection between the presence of toxic fumes in an aircraft cabin and potential harm to the health of those in the aeroplane does not take much intellectual effort. It's obvious. But lawyers are paid not to see it that way.
If the air transport industry wants to buy itself time before it has to do something about aerotoxic syndrome - and it does want to buy time - its lawyers are given the job of making it as difficult as possible to prove a connection between a fume event and a case of illness in a passenger or crewmember. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff. There is no requirement for the airline or the manufacturer to prove anything, so all they do is work to discredit the evidence provided by the plaintiff. If that doesn't work, they employ legal technicalities. The process is nothing to do with justice.
Meanwhile, more difficult to understand is the attitude of the authorities. In the case of the UK, for example, that would be the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority. You would have thought that their job would include protecting the health and safety of passengers and crew. Apparently they don't think it is. They, like the lawyers, are waiting for proof on their terms. The amount of evidence that they have decided not even to consider is massive.
Government organisations like the Committee on Toxicity will not accept evidence gathered by organisations like the Aerotoxic Association or the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive on the grounds that they are interest groups. Implicit in that decision is the COT's judgement that the industry itself is not an interest group!
Then there is the absolutely unbelievable case of pilot unions like the US ALPA, the UK BALPA, and organisations the European Cockpit Association and IFALPA. They are happy to go along with this dissembling rather than fighting to protect the health of their members. Strange.
But the tobacco industry eventually had to accept reality, and whatever you may think of it, it is prospering despite accepting reality. The aviation industry could do the same. There is hope yet, especially following the 1 April New South Wales Court of Appeal decision.