Toxic fumes could be leaking into planes


SPOKANE, Wash. -The smell of jet fuel is common when you board a commercial airliner while it's sitting at the gate.

When you're actually on the plane, there are a lot of other smells. But did you know that engine oil vapor seeps in too?

It does. And it could be dangerous. Flight crews have been complaining about this for years with headaches, memory loss, and tremors. In fact, in January 2017 an American Airlines crew of seven and 89 of its passengers were hospitalized after a fume event.

A UW medicine bio-chemical genetics expert is working urgently on a new blood test to make sure you weren't exposed to toxins during your flight "We could take a drop of your blood and tell you how sensitive you'd be to pesticides." said Dr. Clement Furlong with UW Medicine Genome Sciences.

The FAA keeps records of these kinds of incidents to study potential health risks of "bleed air" contaminants which is outside air that's been pulled from the engines into the air conditioning system and then into the cabin of the aircraft. This can happen when a bearing seal fails on the engine "If You're pulling air off the engine, and the engine seals leak, you're pulling neurotoxin into the aircraft."

But without a test to show if an exposure to toxins occurred doctors can't diagnose an illness. Which sick airline workers have called “aerotoxic syndrome.”  Some airlines are now installing special carbon filters to deal with potential contaminants…but the best solution will be future aircraft design, like the Boeing 787, which doesn’t pull air in off the engines.

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