Are airline pilots being killed by toxic fumes or aerotoxic syndrome?

Boeing has grabbed recent headlines for having battery problems in the new 787 Dreamliner, but some British papers (including the Mirror and the Daily Mail) are printing allegations that two British Airways pilots died within days of each other and after complaining about exposure to toxic fumes in the cockpits of passenger jets.

The families or lawyers of Karen Lysakowska (who was buried four days ago) and Richard Westgate (who passed away last month) say both had complained about cockpit toxic fume events. In fact, Westgate’s lawyers think they can prove the existence of aerotoxic syndrome, a physical and mental condition which they claim could be seen as the “new asbestos,” with one of his lawyers saying:

I see this as an impending tsunami for the airline industry – it has been hushed and ignored for so long.

The Mirror article pointed out that no airline has air quality detection systems installed because of a 2011 government-backed study which concluded that cabin air was safe, but records from the Civil Aviation Authority show that pilots and air crew have to put on oxygen masks at least five times a week to combat suspected “fume events” while the UK Committee on Toxicity claims that “fume events” occur on one flight in 100 – meaning pilots and air crew are at a greater risk of exposure than passengers.

And while its thought that low doses won’t lead to severe symptoms, campaigners claim that toxic chemicals used in engine oil can also enter the cabin despite safety features and cause symptoms like fatigue, blurred vision and seizures. The allegations also remind me of a recent documentary about World War I where it was mentioned that the crews of British tanks could only spend about a day them before having to be sent to a field hospital in the rear to recover – namely because they were in the same space as the engine breathing in all of its fumes.

With the above in mind, we would like to ask any readers who are commercial airline pilots the following question: Have you ever experienced a “fume event” on your aircraft or know of a commercial airline pilot who came down with “aerotoxic syndrome?”


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