The Airlines’ Toxic Little Secret

How Safe is Air Travel?

If you’re planning a plane trip soon you need to know about a condition that can cause airline pilots to develop brain fog and become confused and disoriented during flights. It’s known as aerotoxic syndrome. Tristan Loraine, former pilot and founder of the Aerotoxic Association, has documented dozens of cases (and two deaths) among pilots and cabin crews. It can also affect passengers and is suspected as the cause of unexplained midair collisions.

A Dorset (UK) coroner investigating the 2012 death of a British Airways pilot Richard Westgate has brought the issue to mainstream media attention by calling on British Airways and Britain’s Civil Aviation authority to take “urgent action to prevent future deaths.”  Frank Cannon, the lawyer for the Westgate case, also represents fifty other air crew, employed by several different airlines, affected by the condition.

The Cause of Aerotoxic Syndrome

Although aircraft manufacturers have known about the problem for decades, the term “aerotoxic syndrome” was first coined in 1999 by doctors treating air crews for the condition. The cause of the condition is repeated exposure to organophosphates* (as well as hundreds of carcinogens) that leak into the air used for pressurization. Sufferers typically show elevated levels of the organophosphate tricresyl phosphate (TCP) in their blood.

Commercial passenger planes compress air from the engines to pressurize the cockpit and cabin. There are seals meant to separate engine oil and so-called “bleed air,” but these commonly leak with age (most airlines rely mainly on aircraft that are fifteen to twenty years old) and inadequate maintenance. A recent 60 Minutes-Australia investigation found contaminated air in 50% of the aircraft they tested. The clip below also cites a 2007 memo by a senior Boeing inspector warning that “lives need to be lost” before Boeing takes action on preventing aerotoxic syndrome.

Loraine Calls for Organophosphate Detectors and Filtration Systems

Lorrine sees the introduction of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner — the first and only new commercial jet in which air isn’t drawn from the engines — as an admission of the risk by the airlines. The former pilot, who has made a documentary about aerotoxic syndrome, insists at minimum airlines should install organophosphate detectors in their cabins and cockpits. He claims the reason they refuse to do so is because they would go off all the time and alarm passengers.

He also points out that current aircraft could be fitted with filtration systems at a cost of no more than £20,000 each.

The FAA Position on Aerotoxic Syndrome

Shortly after a 2010 CNN expose on aerotoxic syndrome, Senator Diane Feinstein championed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 required the agency to establish a research program focused on aircraft engine/APU bleed air cleaning and monitoring technology.

The following paragraph summarizes their findings:

The FAA conducted a safety database assessment (i.e. a computer search of the airlines own data) of airliner cabin air quality events involving 121 commercial air line operators. The results of the analysis indicate an extremely low occurrence involving bleed air contamination from engine oil or hydraulic fluid. While there are reports of purported personal injury in news media, medical privacy laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 prohibit the FAA from obtaining corroborating data which could be used to determine a causative relationship between air contaminant events and associated risk to passenger and flightdeck crew health

In other words, instead of testing the air quality of passenger airlines like 60 Minutes Australia, they merely rely on the airlines’ data to conclude the problem was non-existent.

The Significance of Genetic Variability

Like British and Australian regulators, the FAA is using broad statistical sampling to argue the so-called aerotoxic syndrome is no more prevalent in air crew than the general population – therefore it doesn’t exist. The fallacy here is that people have enormous genetic variability in their capacity to metabolize organophosphates. Paraoxonase (PON1) is one enzyme that inactivates some organophosphates through hydrolysis.  A 2006 report found a 13-fold variation in adults in PON1 levels and efficacy.

It logically follows that individuals with low PON1 levels are at higher risk of developing aerotoxic syndrome with repeated exposure to TCP.

Safer than Childbirth in Africa

The good news here is that air travel is probably safer than drinking arsenic or childbirth in Africa. However it’s clearly not as safe as airlines and regulators would lead us to believe. Those with urgent and compelling reasons to get on a commercial jet should either make sure it’s a Dreamliner or bring their own oxygen tank.

*Organophosphates are chemical compounds commonly used as insecticides. Because they are potent nerve poisons, they are commonly used as chemical warfare agents. Phosgene, the nerve gas used in Nazi gas chambers, was an organophosphate.


Link to Loraine’s 2007 documentary Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines

Good websites for additional information on aerotoxic syndrome

Also posted on Veterans Today

The Early Internet Vision: Public and Free


Linux: Free Open Source Alternative to Microsoft Windows

Guest Post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

(Part 2 of a five-part series on the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Back to the Future

Back in the early 1990s, the Internet was barely beginning. Everyone was dazzled about the possibilities of a universal communicator, where any could connect to any other individual or any other thing for free. The US Post Office was prepared to offer universal connectivity to everyone. Infinite global networking was on the agenda. The natural cooperative human instinct was in ascendency.

The basic elements of what would become the Internet had all been developed for free, outside of corporations, and had been given away to the public with no concerns for making private profit. The different technologies built upon each other through the efforts of a highly distributed network of engineers all over the world. Each piece built upon the foundation laid by another.

TCP/IP was created as a basic protocol to communicate between computers (3) and was available to everyone, although funded by ARPANET, which was a project of DARPA, which was and still is part of the Defense Department. These days DARPA is working on different technologies, like drones.

TCP/IP established the foundation on top of which came email, which uses protocols such as SMTP, POP and IMAP. The key thing is all these use TCP/IP for the actual transmission. HTTP which is the basis for the WWW also uses TCP/IP. So do Instant messaging and everything else we’ve come to enjoy using.

TCP/IP led to email and HTTP. Tim Berners-Lee, working at CERN, the European nuclear lab, tied the free software TCP/IP (for establishing domain protocols) to the free software for standardize common text for every computer – HTTP. augmented by the equally-free APACHE server, and created open public access for anyone through WWW protocols. A server stores information and sends it to multiple clients when they request it. This is what’s happening when we open our browser and go to Then Berners-Lee released the web to the world as HTML markup language in 1989. This standardized web page building and linking. (4)

Suddenly computers anywhere could talk to each other. Soon the University of Illinois gave away MOSAIC – a free graphic interface. The open-source movement added Firefox – a free web browser. The basic open-source platform language LINUX spread around the world and is even grudgingly used by Microsoft.

Corporations for years had constrained the development of digital technology so they could make a private profit off selling privileged access to information. Berners-Lee designed the Internet so that it would be free:

I had designed the Web so there should be no centralized place where someone would have to ‘register’ a new server, or get approval of its contents.”  (5)

The idea was to establish open peer2peer networks, where the computing power, and therefore the choices, resides at either end. The most popular search engines massive servers, on the other hand, keep that power in the center, and use algorithms to determine which sites are featured first.

Since a server is centralized, it opens the door to the notion of customers. At this point, the contours begin to change as corporations start figuring out this Internet thing and start releasing their own products as competitors to freely available open source products. Corporations moved in for the kill.

The next stage in this trend is in the development of the browser. MOSAIC was the open and free alternative. But Microsoft came along with its own closed Internet Explorer and started giving it away for free with Windows. Mozilla then developed a free and superior open-source browser. Corporations struggled to develop a browser superior to this, but it now carries the bulk of Internet traffic.

Why do corporations give hardware and software away for free? Because they see a lot more profit potential in getting other corporations and citizens locked into their ecosystems. The race is to become the platform. Apple has successfully done this with their complete line of hardware/software products, which are notoriously closed to external developers. Now corporations began to exert control.

Background and Notes


4)  Larry Lessig. The Future of Ideas. 2001 , p 52 – 57

5)  Lessig, op cit, p 44

To be continued.

Reposted from Daily Censored

photo credit: aid85 via photopin cc

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at


Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at