Airline workers routinely face toxic exposure on almost every flight and in almost every airport. While short-term exposure may be largely harmless, long-term exposure to toxic air and chemicals can cause serious health problems. There is even a term for illnesses like this: aerotoxic syndrome. If you or a loved one works in such an environment, and if health problems are starting to develop, you should contact an attorney to discuss any legal options you may have.
Recently, a former flight attendant settled a claim against her employer that alleged that toxic fumes during routine flights had made her ill. Terms of the deal between Boeing Airlines and 42-year-old Terry Williams were not disclosed, but in her lawsuit Ms. Williams’ claimed that the cabin air contained toxic fumes, such as carbon monoxide, tricresyl phosphates (TCPs) and other toxins. Symptoms of aerotoxicity include drowsiness and memory loss. Ms. Williams stated that she also suffered from tremors and headaches. In some cases, stricken airline workers may even require an ER visit or be declared medically unfit to fly.
Nearly all aircraft use the same ventilation system first used in the 1950s: compressed air is pumped from the plane’s engines into the passenger area. The airlines have long contended that the system is safe and foolproof, but the Federal Aviation Administration has already responded with guidelines for dealing with the growing number of in-flight toxic exposure victims.
Airport Working Conditions
Recently, 50 workers at Washington’s Sea-Tac Airport filed a 140-page complaint alleging a long list of health violations at their jobsites. The state Department of Labor is currently investigating the complaints, which include:
- Toxins – Some workers, mostly restroom cleaners, claimed they were exposed to blood, urine, feces and other biological toxins without being furnished proper safety equipment.
- Secondhand Exposure – Other workers alleged that they brought home uniforms stained with jet fuel and other hazardous chemicals, and that their family and friends were exposed to these toxins.
- Faulty Equipment – Still other complaints alleged that their vacuum cleaners emitted sparks, trucks had faulty brakes or that the nozzles and hoses leaked jet fuel.
Many of these people work for contractors and sub-contractors who have an incentive to save every penny possible. In addition to the safety and toxic exposure complaints, many workers complained of employer wage-theft or inadequate training regimens.
In addition to aerotoxicity and general toxic exposure, the government has set standards for the use and handling of kerosene, a common jet fuel, among all airline workers. Exposure to the chemical itself or to its fumes can have very serious adverse health effects. Somewhat like gasoline, kerosene is colorless, although it does have a very strong odor. The fumes can be absorbed through the eyes, ears, nose or mouth, while the chemical can pass directly through the skin. Exposure victims sometimes experience:
- Moderate Symptoms – Skin conditions such as burns, rashes and blisters
- Serious Symptoms – Headaches, nausea, and vomiting
- Severe Symptoms – Coma, convulsions and kidney failure
If you work around kerosene, your employer must provide safety equipment such as protective clothing, facemasks, goggles and gloves. Even then, you can be exposed to no more than 100 milligrams per cubic meter over the course of a 10-hour work shift.
Even limited toxic exposure can be very dangerous to both you and your family. If you suspect that you or your family has been exposed to any toxins while working in the airline industry, you should contact a lawyer experienced in toxic exposure cases to discuss your options for compensation.