Frightened by the aircraft industry’s silence

British investigative committee concealing toxic fume evidence. Doctors and politicians react.

•Please contact me if you have knowledge of any kind about toxic fumes in aircraft, e-mail [email protected].

(Dagbladet.no:) The British authorities’ Committee on Toxicity (COT) investigates the hazards connected with toxic gasses in aero engines, which have been shown to contaminate the air supply in aircraft passenger cabins and flight decks.

The investigative committee is now being accused of protecting the aircraft manufacturers by concealing research results which show that toxic fumes in aircraft represent a danger to health and safety.

Public misled

The special interest group AOPIS represents around 1500 flight personnel and has members in more than 30 countries. In a letter to the State Secretary of Health, AOPIS points out that the investigative committee, apparently intentionally, has failed to consider important research results made available to the committee by leading technical experts.

Among other things, AOPIS points out that the committee has written that the organophosphate TCP, which can cause permanent damage to the human nervous system, has never been detected in aircraft, despite the fact that the pilots’ organisation BALPA has presented material to the committee which shows that TCP has been found in aircraft air filters, on the walls of passenger cabins, on flight crews’ clothing and in the bloodstream of pilots.

Dagbladet.no wrote earlier this year about the findings of Professor Chris van Netten of the University of British Columbia in Canada. Van Netten analysed a number of roof filters from the flight decks of British-registered Boeing 757 aircraft to determine whether they contain traces of the neurotoxin tricresylphosphate (TCP).

The professor also analysed samples taken from the cabin walls of the same aircraft. The samples were sent to him by the British Air Line Pilots’ Association, BALPA

Van Netten raised the alarm after finding unmistakeable traces of TCP in all seven aircraft from which he received samples.

“It would appear that the COT Secretariat has systematically concealed factual information and thereby misled both members of the COT itself and the public,” states AOPIS.

Lack of understanding
On 11 July, the COT held an open hearing about the investigative work at Aviation House in London. Dagbladet.no was present. Prior to this meeting the committee published a report as a basis for discussion which caused a sensation in both medical and political circles.

Professor Chris Winder of the University of New South Wales in Australia has studied organophosphate poisoning in flight personnel for several years. He is one of many toxicologists and occupational physicians who are now critical of the COT. In a letter to the leader of the committee he has pointed out that the investigative committee displays a lack of insight into and understanding of how toxic gasses affect flight crew.

“Since this is first and foremost an issue concerning work-related health and safety hazards, a committee which primarily studies chemicals in foodstuffs, consumer goods and the environment ought to invite technical experts with a background in chemical health hazards in the workplace to assist it,” Winder points out.

Occupational physician Andrew C. Harper has also written to the committee.

“The COT assumes a position which is by no means compatible with the degree of seriousness of this medical problem,” states Harper. He recommends that steps be taken now, based on the research results which are already available.

“The situation demands immediate action, but the COT is not capable of expressing this,” Dr. Harper points out.

Balanced presentation
The COT Secretariat opened the meeting on 11 July by responding to the accusations of misinformation and concealment of facts.

“The presentation is thorough and balanced. No attempt has been made to mislead or misinform members of the committee,” the leader of the COT Secretariat maintained.

“I do not believe that the committee is basically protective of the industry, but it is very cautious. We are dealing with enormous commercial operations. The committee is afraid to go all the way,” says Paul Tyler of the British House of Lords to Dagbladet.no.

Tyler has been actively pressing Parliament to focus on the aircraft gas issue. On 10 January this year he forced the revelation of the truth about the toxic fume incident aboard a Boeing 757 which made Captain Dave Hopkinson seriously ill. It turned out that the airline never reported the serious incident to the British aviation authorities.

“I wish I could say that I have confidence in the ongoing investigation. Unfortunately that is not the case,” says Lord Tyler.