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Book and Arts Review

Aerotoxic syndrome is a phrase coined by Chris Winder and Jean-Christophe Balouet in 2000, to describe short- and long-term ill-health effects caused by breathing contaminated airliner cabin air. Modern jetliners have an environmental control system (ECS) that manages the flow of cabin air. Outside air enters the engines and is compressed in the forward section. A portion of that compressed bleed air is used to pressurise the cabin. In instances that are becoming increasingly frequent, contaminants enter the cabin through that air-supply system. If a bearing seal fails and begins to leak, some of the engine oil can be released into the compressed air stream. Oil leaks can be detected by pungent smells, described as ‘wet dog’ or ‘smelly gym socks’, and in more serious events, fumes fill the cabin which is known as fume event.

As bleed air is not presently filtered, installation of bleed air filtration systems would eliminate the problem, although a technically efficient system does not yet seem to have been developed. Chemical sensors to detect contaminated air in the bleed air supplies – instead of human noses – would alert pilots to problems, allowing prompt preventive action. The first well-documented case was of a C-130 Hercules navigator becoming incapacitated after breathing contaminated cabin air in 1977. The neurotoxic properties of organophosphates have been known about since before the Second World War. The toxicity of heated jet oil was known from 1954. Numerous independent scientific studies have produced clear evidence of contaminated cabin air being the cause of chronic health problems.

The toxins attack the central nervous system (including the brain). It’s not easy to predict how different exposures may affect different people, due to the genetic variability of individuals. Depending on detoxifying efficiency, the adverse health effects may be cumulative. Therefore, anyone frequently flying (which means once or more a week) is repeatedly exposed and is therefore especially at risk. Even after a serious fume event, it is possible that no symptoms show initially, but a few days later ill health associated with Aerotoxic Syndrome may kick in.

Various governments and regulatory authorities have commissioned research, which, while admitting an association between contaminated cabin air and chronic health problems, have stopped short of admitting causation. The aviation industry has tended to use the latter set of research (despite its often dubious scientific quality) to deny the existence of the problem, while ignoring the evidence of the independent studies or victims’ testimonies, about which this book tells one of many stories.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in England to an Irish mother and Swiss father, Bearnairdine Beaumont was destined to fly just like her parents and became an airline stewardess. Twenty years into her flying career she was medically retired due to workplace-related ill-health directly related to the air circulation of the airliners she flew in. Bearnairdine then emigrated from Germany to Ireland where she followed her life-long interest in naturopathy and herbal remedies, while at the same time researching and learning about the real background of her work-related health issues. Bearnairdine became specialised in chemical sensitivity, allergies and environmental health issues. An unexpected health relapse forced her to give up her successful health centre in Ireland and she now lives with her two loyal dogs in a secluded spot in the French-Swiss alpine mountain region. She offers her specialised health- and work-related services, experience and knowledge as a consultant and workshop facilitator to educate help-seeking aviators and airline passengers about the dangers they can encounter and how to lead a healthy lifestyle by avoiding known and unknown sources of toxins.

She says: “I wish I had the power to stop what is going on, sadly I haven’t. But I have the power of words and I will use it every day to inform as many people as possible about what is going on behind closed aircraft doors and warn as many people as I can and try and save them from such horrible ill-health as I and many others have experienced.”