Three hours on a plane made Robin ill for life

Toxic fumes in the cabin turned life upside down for Robin Montmayeur.

Hei, denne artikkelen er over ett år gammel og kan innholde utdatert informasjon

•Please contact me if you have knowledge of any kind about toxic fumes in aircraft, e-mail ash@dagbladet.no.

(Dagbladet.no:) December 13, 2000 American Robin Montmayeur was flying from Washington to San Diego with United Airlines. She did not know that the three-hour flight was to ruin her health and render her unable to work.

“Just after take-off the cabin was filled with an intense, nauseating smell. The day after the flight I woke up and felt so ill that I rang United Airlines. They asked me to write a letter. Two months later I got a reply saying that I had been exposed to toxic fumes from an oil leak in the plane’s engine,” says Robin Montmayeur in a DVD documentary produced by the lobbying group AOPIS.

Injured for life

The young woman tells her story and lets the world know that toxic fumes in aircraft cabins and cockpits are not just a problem for the crew.

“I now suffer from chronic fatigue, sleeplessness, memory loss and cognitive deficiency. I am likely to suffer for the rest of my life. The toxic fume on the flight has made it impossible for me to work like I used to,” says Robin.

The lack of information from the airline company and the authorities has made it difficult for her to claim her rights as regards social security and the public health service.

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“I have written letters to 31 members of congress. Not one of them has replied to my request,” says Robin.

“I was exposed to the toxic fume for three hours and my life was turned upside down for ever,” she adds.

Dagbladet.no has been in contact with several Norwegians who think they have been exposed to toxic fume incidents on flights and is investigating this issue.

Experts appeal to the industry and the authorities

On April 20 and 21, 2005 the British Pilot’s organisation BALPA held a conference entitled “The International Aero Industry Conference on Contaminated Air Protection Air Safety & Cabin Air Quality” in London. Dagbladet.no has been given access to the material presented at the conference, on risk to health and safety associated with toxic fumes on planes. Seventeen leading experts signed a petition at the conference, appealing to the aviation industry and the authorities to take the problems of contaminated air on planes seriously:

“We want the authorities, aviation authorities, airlines and the aviation industry to take note of the following conclusion of the conference:”

•This is a working environment issue which results in chronic and acute illness among the aircrew, both cabin attendants and pilots. 

•Unacceptable effects on aircrew’s health is a significant flight safety problem.

•We are also concerned that flight passengers suffer from similar symptoms to those found among air crew.

“That is why we are asking the authorities, the industry and the aviation authorities to cooperate with medical experts and air crew unions in order to analyse and quantify the problems with cabin air that we have identified and to find a solution“, the petition stated.

The industry plays down the dangers

Scientist Chris van Netten is one of the experts who signed the petition. The professor is involved in the ongoing research programme on cabin air contamination on planes directed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the USA. The Australian medic Jonathan Burdon is also among the medical experts who signed the appeal at the BALPA conference. Burdon is former president for lung specialists in Australia. He thinks that it is in the interests of both the aviation authorities and the aviation industry to downplay the dangers associated with toxic gases on aeroplanes.

“Yes, I have noted that the medical experts used by the authorities or the industry have conflicting interests in that they appear to be employed either by airlines or the aviation industry. During the Senate inquiry in Australia in 2000, there were almost none, if any, doctors independent of the industry,” says Doctor Jonathan Burdon to Dagbladet.no.