At present the commercial air transport industry - including the manufacturers - are where the tobacco industry was in the 1970s and 1980s when it was officially denying that its products were a major cause of lung cancer while it was - simultaneously - frantically planning its own damage-limitation strategies.

We're not talking anything remotely on the same scale here, but the problem itself - a serious health issue - and the stage that research into it has reached, makes a close parallel with the tobacco industry's predicament at that time. What is vastly different is that if you want to go on flying healthily, you could be completely protected from this threat, but only once the industry admits it exists. Whereas if you wanted to go on smoking, there would be nothing anyone could do to reduce your personal risk of resultant lung cancer.

Periodic cabin and cockpit air contamination by cocktails of complex chemicals, including organophosphates, is a catalogued fact, and the industry does not attempt to deny it. Neither does it deny the short-term effects on people on board: a UK flight was landed by pilots who were virtual zombies, according to an Air Accidents Investigation Branch report, and there are many official reports of similar incidents.

The argument is whether these chemicals, especially following cumulative exposure by crew, had long-term health effects, because many people believe they do. These include a spectrum of people, from neurologists who know the potential effect of these toxins, to pilots and cabin crew whose health - they are personally certain - has been permanently destroyed by this phenomenon.

Gulf War syndrome was once denied by the UK establishment. Now it is fully recognised. Those studying "aerotoxic syndrome" may be on the verge of outing those whose defence - like the tobacco industry's - is that the connection between the contamination events and the human symptoms cannot be proven. Meanwhile, reduced or not, the risk remains.

Source: Flight International