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Aerotoxic Syndrome Lawsuit

Aerotoxic Syndrome Lawsuit

A growing number of lawsuit settlements have been paid to people who developed Aerotoxic Syndrome after breathing toxic air on airplanes during “fume events.”

What You Can Do & How We Can Help

The Schmidt Firm, PLLC is currently accepting Aerotoxic Syndrome induced injury cases in all 50 states. If you or somebody you know got sick from breathing toxic air on airplanes, you should contact our lawyers immediately for a free case consultation. Please use the form below to contact our Toxic Chemical Litigation Group or call toll free 24 hours a day at (866) 920-0753.

UPDATE: Spirit Airlines Hit With Lawsuit After Fume Event

In December 2020, Spirit Airlines was hit with a lawsuit by a woman who had to be hospitalized with health problems after breathing a “fetid, noxious, burning odor” on a flight in July 2018. The plane had to make an emergency landing and several passengers reported headaches, nausea, and trouble breathing.

Toxic Air on Planes Leads to Aerotoxic Syndrome

Have you ever felt sick after a long flight? You probably blamed jet lag for your headache, nausea, coughing, and achy muscles — when you actually had Aerotoxic Syndrome from breathing toxic airplane cabin air. Unknown to most people, the air you breathe on most passenger airplanes comes off the jet engines. This toxic air is called “bleed air,” and it has been a standard design on jet airplanes since the 1960s.

Breathing Toxic Airplane Fumes Since the 1960s

Airlines have known for decades that “bleed air” can contain neurotoxic chemicals from the jet engine — but the air is still not filtered or monitored with air-quality sensors before it is circulated throughout the cabin and cockpit, where it is breathed by all aboard.

What is Aerotoxic Syndrome?

What Causes Aerotoxic Syndrome?

Aerotoxic syndrome is an illness that is caused by exposure to contaminated air on a jet airplane. The term was first used in 1999 by scientists who were describing the symptoms (mostly neurological side effects) of being exposed to a “fume event” on a jet airplane.

Source: “Aerotoxic Syndrome: Adverse health effects following exposure to jet oil mist during commercial flights,” by Dr Harry Hoffman, Professor Chris Winder, and Jean Christophe Balouet PhD.

Were Do Fumes Come From?

The most hazardous exposure to toxic fumes on airplanes occurs through heated jet engine oil and hydraulic fluid in “bleed air.” There are also other sources of fumes, such as kerosene fumes, carbon monoxide gas, flame-retardants in interior materials, insecticides, and powerful disinfectant chemicals that have become commonplace in the era of coronavirus.

Symptoms of Single or Short-Term Fume Exposure

  • Blurry vision
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss
  • Shaking and tremors
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Numbness
  • Loss of balance, vertigo
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Headache
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling intoxicated
  • Breathing problems
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Fast heart-rate or palpitations
  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs

Severe Symptoms May Not Appear Right Away

The long-term signs & symptoms of being exposed to a fume event may not appear right away. It can take weeks for a person to develop side effects of breathing toxic air on airplanes, and the effects can last for years — especially in people who are very sensitive to toxic fumes.

Long-Term Risks of Breathing Toxic Air on Airplanes

  • Brain damage
  • Toxic encephalopathy
  • Memory loss
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Severe migraine headaches
  • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vision problems
  • Psychiatric symptoms
  • Depression, anxiety, irritability, etc.
  • Tremors (shaking hands)
  • Memory problems
  • Lung damage
  • Skin rashes, itching, etc.
  • Chemical sensitivity
  • Other systemic health problems

FAA Warning: Fume Event Symptoms May Last for Years

In 2009, the FAA published a Health Guide to Fume Events, warning that “neurological, psychiatric, respiratory, systemic, and dermal symptoms … may last for years after the exposure.” In 2010, the FAA revoked a pilot’s medical certificate due to “toxic encephalopathy” — brain damage from toxic chemicals.

How Toxic Air Gets On a Plane

Fresh air from outside the plane is sucked in through the jet engines. Because most jet airplanes are designed to have leaky seals, toxic fumes from the engine can contaminate the fresh air that  is mixed 50/50 with the recirculated air goes into the cabin and cockpit.

Leaky Seals on Jet Airplanes

Jet engines get extremely hot, so they must use synthetic chemical oils that release toxic fumes at high temperatures. And because metal expands when it is hot, jet engines use “wet seals,” which are supposed to be a bit leaky when the engine is cold and tight when the engine is hot. Unfortunately, if the seals get too leaky, loose, or worn-out, toxic oil fumes mix with the air supply for the cockpit and cabin.

Pilots May Be Unable to Fly The Plane … or Land Safely

In some cases, the seals fail completely and visible fumes or smoke enters the cabin and cockpit. This scenario is extremely dangerous for everyone on the plane — particularly if the pilots pass out, become so incapacitated that they are unable to fly the plane, or can’t safely land.

Pilots Who Get Sick May Never Fly Again

Obviously there are immediate risks to everyone on board when a pilot has blurry vision, confusion, or a loss of consciousness mid-flight. But there are also serious long-term risks that can end a pilot’s career, like tremors (shaking hands), memory problems, and brain damage.

You May Not Smell or See Fume Events on Planes

Fume events can be odorless and invisible, so passengers and crew may not be aware of it. Also, the most common signs of exposure to a fume event (headaches and fatigue) are easily mistaken for jet lag.

How To Recognize The Smell of Toxic Fumes

In some cases, you might be able to smell a fume event. Oil fumes are often described as smelling like dirty socks, a gym locker, musty, moldy, or foul. Hydraulic fluid fumes may smell like strong chemicals.

Both oil and hydraulic fluid fumes can contain carbon monoxide, a gas that is odorless and highly toxic — especially on a plane, where the air has less oxygen than on the ground. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause dizziness, fainting, headaches, slow thinking, or brain damage.

How Common Are Fume Events?

Hundreds of fume events occur every year, resulting in chemical exposures for tens of thousands of crew-members and passengers. In December 2020, the Los Angeles Times found safety reports for 362 fume events on airplanes in a 2-year period, from January 2018 to December 2019:

  • Nearly 400 passengers, flight attendants, and pilots needed medical attention
  • Pilots used emergency oxygen on 73 flights
  • 48 pilots were unable to perform their duties

60 Minutes: “The Airline Industry’s Darkest Secret”

Lawmakers Criticize JetBlue for “Disturbing Pattern” of Fume Events

JetBlue is a particularly common offender. In 2019, at least 46 people reported symptoms of fume events on JetBlue flights. Furthermore, more than 50 JetBlue flights had to make emergency landings, diversions, or return to the gate due to fumes. In response, several members of Congress sent a warning letter (PDF) demanding answers, in which they criticized JetBlue for the “disturbing pattern” of toxic fume events on its fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft.

Study Estimates “5 Flights Per Day” Suffer Fume Events

In 2015, a study by the University of Kansas estimated that fume events occurred on 5 flights a day in the U.S. — but today, no one knows how common fume events are, because the government does not track this data, airlines do not have to report it, and the planes do not have sensors to monitor air quality.

Do All Planes Have This Problem?

No. Unlike most jet aircraft built since the 1960s, Boeing’s newest 787 Dreamliner uses fresh air that is sucked in through inlets on the wing routes rather than the jet engines, which avoids the problem of toxic fume events in the cabin from “bleed air.”

Will Masks Protect Me From Toxic Fumes on Airplanes?

No. N95 respirators, surgical masks, and HEPA filters will not completely protect you from breathing toxic fumes on an airplane, but they can reduce the amount of pollutants you breathe.

Boeing Pays 1st Settlement in Aerotoxic Syndrome Lawsuit in the U.S.

In June 2011, Boeing paid a lawsuit settlement to Terry Williams, a former cabin crew-member for American Airlines who was unable to work after breathing toxic fumes. Her lawyers accused Boeing of manufacturing aircraft with a defective air supply: “To this day, the only thing filtering this toxic soup out of the cabin are the lungs of the passengers and crew.”

JetBlue Pilot Wins Major Lawsuit for Toxic Encephalopathy

In March 2020, JetBlue pilot Captain Andrew Myers won a major workers’ compensation award for brain damage after he breathed toxic fumes on an Airbus A320 in January 2017. He was diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy and other health problems. The judge said JetBlue was “more concerned about keeping planes in the air than worker safety. JetBlue appealed the verdict.

Flight Attendant Wins £84,000 in Aerotoxic Syndrome Lawsuit

In 2010, Joanne Turner, an Australian cabin crew-member, was awarded £84,000 in damages for her health problems, which she referred to as “Aerotoxic Syndrome” in her lawsuit against East-West Airlines.

British Union Represents 100+ Victims of Fume Events

Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, represents more than 100 cabin crew-members who have been sickened by toxic air on airlines. Howard Beckett, director of legal services at Unite, said most lawsuits are quietly settled out-of-court with non-disclosure agreements:

“I would estimate that about one third of those have had time off work as a result of their symptoms and another third have what you would class as relatively serious neurological symptoms.”

British Airways Pays Out-of-Court Settlement After Fume Event

In March 2016, British Airways paid £6,350 to a cabin crew-member who was sickened by a single fume event. Lawyers in the U.K. have also handled lawsuits against Jet2, Thomas Cook, Virgin and easyJet.

What Chemicals Might Be In Toxic Air?

Hot jet engine oil releases vaporized Tricresyl Phosphate (TCP), a highly toxic organophosphate chemical in the same family as sarin nerve gas. Even small amounts of TCP are extremely toxic to the human body. The hydraulic fluid in a jet engine also breaks down when it gets very hot, producing toxic chemicals like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde.

Symptoms of Exposure to TCPs in Jet Engine Oil Fumes

Jet engine oil fumes on commercial and military aircraft in the U.S. contain 1-10% tricresyl phosphates (TCPs). Exposure to TCPs is associated with symptoms like stomach cramps, muscle weakness, flu-like symptoms, and delayed problems with gait, balance, and tingling/numbness. Even low levels of exposure can cause long-term signs of neurotoxicity, such as problems with fatigue, memory, concentration, and speech. These symptoms can develop over days or weeks. There may be a delay between exposure and symptoms.

A Few Recent Examples of Fume Events…

  • List of Recent Smoke In the Cockpit Event Reports
  • In September 2019, a JetBlue flight had to return to an airport in Puerto Rico due to severe fumes. Both pilots and 3 flight attendants were hospitalized.
  • In August 2019, a Hawaiian Airlines flight made an emergency landing in Honolulu after smoke filled the cabin. A baby and a 9-year-old child were among 7 passengers who were hospitalized.
  • In June 2019, American Airlines Flight 1380 had to return to New Jersey shortly after takeoff due to fumes. The pilots said they “felt as though they were drunk.” The whole crew was hospitalized. Over the next 11 days, the same plane had 2 more fume events.
  • In April 2019, JetBlue Flight 629 had to return to Florida after a strong odor filled the plane, passengers had itchy eyes and nausea, and pilots had to breathe emergency oxygen. Two people were hospitalized.
  • In March 2019, four passengers were hospitalized after breathing fumes in the cabin of Spirit Airlines Flight 245. One passenger lost consciousness and had a seizure, another lost unconscious, and two vomited. A week later, the same plane had another fume event.
  • In February 2019, Alaska Airlines Flight 1506 had to return to Seattle because fumes in the cockpit made the pilots dizzy and nauseated. The pilot was unable to fly, so the co-pilot landed while wearing an oxygen mask. The pilots and a flight attendant were hospitalized.

Do I have an Aerotoxic Syndrome Lawsuit?

The Schmidt Firm, PLLC is currently accepting Aerotoxic Syndrome induced injury cases in all 50 states. If you or somebody you know got sick from breathing toxic air on airplanes, you should contact our lawyers immediately for a free case consultation. Please use the form below to contact our Toxic Chemical Litigation Group or call toll free 24 hours a day at (866) 920-0753.

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