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From December 10, 2001

Study Finds Poor Air Quality on Jetliners

The National Academy of Sciences just released a report showing that air quality aboard passenger jets can be a health hazard. Environmental factors, including air contaminants such as pesticides, "can be responsible for some of the numerous complaints of acute and chronic health effects in cabin crew and passengers," said the report's authors. A panel of 13 scientists conducted the study.

Factors of concern include cabin pressure, ozone and carbon monoxide levels, exposure to pesticides, and fumes from engine oil, hydraulic fluids and de-icing liquid. The report concluded that while smoking has been banned for over a decade, the Federal Aviation Administration has not adequately addressed these other issues.

Some foreign countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, India, and Uruguay, still require the occupied passenger cabin to be sprayed with pesticides to comply with quarantine rules. However, this practice is banned in the United States because of concerns about health effects.

During Congressional hearings in May 1994, Becky Riley with the Northwest Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides told the panel that, "[U]nsuspecting passengers, including pregnant women, infants, chemically-sensitive, elderly, or immune-compromised individuals (e.g., those undergoing cancer treatment) are doused with pesticides, yet no consideration is given to individual health status as passengers are blithely told that the spray is "safe" or won't harm humans."

The science panel calls for the federal government to launch a major research program into the quality of cabin air, and that the study be overseen by an independent scientific advisory board. The Association of Flight Attendants, a group concerned about air quality aboard airliners, praises the study. It is the first major report conducted on this issue in over 15 years.