Cabin air chemicals far more toxic than previously believed, says toxicologist

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Aviation industry inquiries into neurotoxins in aircraft cabin air "will underestimate the real toxic potency" of the contaminant because they assume that only one isomer of the poisonous tricresyl phosphate (TCP) is present, according to one of the world's primary experts in workplace contamination Prof Dietrich Henschler of Wuertzburg University, Germany.

The TCP vapour from heated engine oil that sometimes gets into engine bleed air used to pressurise aircraft cabins, says Henschler, contains a mixture of mono-ortho-, di-ortho- and tri-ortho cresyl phosphate, and the effect on the human brain and nervous system of this mixture is more toxic by a multiple of ten or more than straight TOCP, although that is already serious. Henschler says the toxicity and the neurological symptoms in humans are well-established, explaining: "They exert a toxic activity which we are well aware of." Henschler says the causal links to "these simple compounds" are easily traceable. He adds: "In view of the severity of the clinical symptoms and the ensuing fate of the patients involved, I would say it's a dangerous material."

Henschler, with other scientists and neurologists, will be speaking at the annual conference of the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive in London on 28-29 April.

There is a transcript of the full interview conducted by aviation journalist Tim van Beveren with Prof Henschler at the Learmount blog.