The issue of diagnosis is further complicated by a number of other occupational hazards that could also cause ill health, among them stress, prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation and the interruption of normal circadian rhythms caused by jet lag and shift work. Despite this, a number of private European clinics offer treatment for the syndrome, while some sick crew members have launched legal cases seeking compensation.
In 2020, ex-captain Andrew Myers appealed a decision by JetBlue’s insurers to stop his benefits, after ill health rendered him unfit to fly following exposure to TCP during a fume event. The insurers denied that his symptoms, including toxic encephalopathy (brain dysfunction), were a result of aircraft fumes – but the State of Oregon Workers’ Compensation Board overruled the decision.
At the time, the judge reportedly remarked on the complexity of the case, saying in his summing up that, “the scientific explanations regarding airplane toxic fume exposures were highly technical and frequently not in agreement. The expert medical opinions were lengthy and, at times, diametrically opposed”.
A safer future?
On both sides of the debate, there’s an acknowledgement that more research is needed. Live fume events are, by their nature, hard to monitor. In addition, “the literature has been focused on TCP as the major toxic compound, however a mixture of other organophosphates such as TBP (tributyl phosphate), solvents (toluene, xylene), carbon monoxide and ultrafine particles is likely responsible,” says Hageman.
Investigations are ongoing. The EASA (Euriopean Authority for Aviation Safery) is currently conducting its third study into issues arising from contamination events caused by oil leakage, while the UK Government’s Committee on Toxicology has been reviewing new data on the issue. Its findings are due imminently.