US researcher nears cabin contamination blood marker breakthrough

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A US medical researcher is "just months away" from identifying blood markers in the blood of air crew and passengers that would link neurological degeneration to exposure to cabin air that has been contaminated by neurotoxic organophosphates from engine oil.

Delegates to the 28-29 April meeting in London of the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive (GCAQE) concluded that the commercial air transport industry would have to take radical action to deal with the health effects of bleed air contamination incidents. They had heard University of Washington professor Clement Furlong explain that "biomarkers" he is studying in the blood of crew and passengers who have suffered neurological degeneration after flying will scientifically link cabin fume events to his patients' medical condition.

The industry has not contested the fact that organophosphates can cause neurological damage, but it has successfully argued, so far, that the cabin air events cannot be linked to the symptoms of the crew and passengers.

Also at the GCAQE meeting, the National Institute of Occupational Health in Norway reported it has issued 10 portable testers to crews so that if they suspect a contamination event they can activate the devices, which run for 30min to collect evidence.

In addition, Professor Mohamed Abou-Donia, a specialist in neurotoxicity from Duke University in North Carolina, said people suffering from toxic cabin air are sometimes misdiagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. Professor of medicinal chemistry at the UK's Sunderland University, Dr Malcolm Hooper, said "multiple chemical sensitivity" effects on human neurology, such as the now-recognised Gulf War Syndrome, are much more complex than the sum of the effects of the individual chemicals.

Finally the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which has assembled an "expert panel on aircraft air quality" expects to provide scientific conclusions early in 2010.