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22nd April 2013:
Open Letter to Lord Attlee from Aerotoxic Association
16th April 2013:
Contaminated Cabin Air (German) by Tim van Beveren)
29th June 2011:
Airsense Analytics oil fume detector
A Family Holiday Ruined
I would like to share my story with as many people as possible to help raise awareness of the serious health issue that faces airline passengers and crew. I am 35 yrs old and am married to Y, aged 41. We have three lovely daughters aged 15, 12 and 6.
When we boarded the aircraft we were all in excellent health.
During the flight, my husband and I started feeling very light headed. We had head pain and felt very fatigued. I could not control my bowels and was continuously in the lavatory. My 6 year old vomited violently and the older two girls also presented with headaches and fatigue. This was highly unusual as I usually feel very well when I travel and my daughter has never before been travel sick on our frequent trips.
I could not tell you the last time I lost my ID like that, but I was feeling so confused and disoriented that, in retrospect, it is no surprise.
Our flight to Florida was filled with young children and their parents going to Disneyworld for the time of their life. Instead they got exposed to toxic fumes that, in many cases, ruined their trip and may cause them ill health in the long term.
On arrival at our hotel, we could not eat and we felt exhausted.
It would have been a tiring trip under the best of circumstances, but something was most definitely very wrong.
During the next 36 hours, we all slept a huge amount and felt shaky and not at all ourselves. In fact, on the evening we arrived, tornadoes hit the Florida coast only a half hour away from Orlando but my family slept through all the extreme thunder and winds, except for me as I had to visit the lavatory regularly in the night.
About 48 hours after we arrived, we all developed severe flu like symptoms. I felt delirious, along with my husband and youngest daughter, and none of us could stay awake. My two older daughters had the same symptoms, but not quite as bad.
It got so bad that we had to seek medical attention and went to the emergency room at a Florida hospital.
On examination by the medical centre doctor and the hospital consultant, none of us had a temperature. The severe respiratory condition that I had was put down to bronchitis as there was no infections found through blood tests and chest x-rays.
I had to keep having breathing treatments and steroids to control the inflammation that was present in all four lung fields; the wheezing and crackles were very alarming.
The doctors diagnosed my 6 year-old with an acute respiratory tract infection, although she did not have a temperature. My husband even said to me he had never felt so ill and it was almost like we had been contaminated with something.
Little did we know! Obviously the entire trip was a great disappointment. The travel agents at the Orlando based office knew of our illnesses, as did the cabin crew who stated that a number of children had vomited on that flight.
Throughout the trip we just thought we were unlucky and had no idea what was about to unfold.
Two weeks later we went back to the airport to fly home.
After several hours, we were informed that our flight had been cancelled and that arrangements were being made for us to stay overnight in a local hotel.
It was a charter flight so the passengers that had been on our outbound flight two weeks earlier were also travelling back to the UK that day, even on the same seats.
We endured a 27 hour delay and within this time you could not begin to believe my shock and horror that so many other passengers had experienced the same or very similar illnesses as we had and within the same time frame.
This prompted me to write some names down to provide to the airline as we knew something was seriously wrong. I spoke with about 40 some passengers and wrote down around 25 names, I still do not know what the full extent was but I would imagine a lot more people suffered because these were just the people that I did speak to and I did not get to everybody.
As the original aircraft was unsafe to fly, the airline sent a replacement 747 aircraft. Two flights were merged into one and we, along with 58 other passengers, were offered fifty pounds for our trouble.
Our immediate impression of the 747 aircraft was the air seemed much clearer and cooler than on the outbound flight. This was a great relief. We were still very unwell and were experiencing head pain and my neck muscles seized up.
I was in tears by this point and could not wait to get back home.
May I also say that, while all of us passengers were treated badly by the airline, the poor crew did not stand a chance and was totally unprepared for this situation. I would put that down to bad management.
Upon our return home after spending a further several days in bed with severe head pain, and my children were not well enough to return to school and normal activities, I made an appointment for all of us with our GP.
I also lodged complaints with the tour operator and the airline and alerted the environmental health agencies and health protection agency.
The health protection agency carried out an informal enquiry but did not get to the bottom of anything.
Our GP carried out further clinical tests for any infection. I had sputum tests, more blood tests, including legionella and typical pneumonias, another chest x-ray, and on and on it went.
Our GP could not identify any infection, but our symptoms were still present and getting worse.
My husband hit a car and left his keys in our car for hours through lack of concentration. He also spent many days in bed with severe head pain.
My chest was still wheezing and crackling, and both my 6 year old and I developed skin blisters and extremely itchy skin on our face, neck, and arms. My 12 year old had chest pain, dizziness, and her first panic attack.
All of us felt extremely fatigued and had headaches.
Two weeks after we got home I received the first letter from the airline stating that the aircraft had been cancelled due to an air valve bleed, so I phoned the aircraft manufacturer who advised me that an air valve bleed could affect the air supply, as stated on the manufacturer's website.
I immediately phoned the airline and their customer relations manager advised me that the aircraft registration numbers were the same on the outbound and the cancelled inbound, making it sound like the mechanical problem on the outbound flight that affected the air quality may not have been fixed by the time we were scheduled to take our return flight, although fortunately, we had not returned on that defective aircraft because the airline had found a replacement aircraft at the eleventh hour.
I phoned again to avoid human error and a second airline staff member confirmed the same.
Within two days of that call I received a second letter from the airline stating that the registration numbers of the aircraft that took us to FL and the aircraft that had been scheduled to take us home were different.
The letter stated that the technical fault had been corrected and that they had received no other reports of ill health from other passengers.
I know this to be an out and out lie as I am in contact with some of the passengers, I know they had been experiencing the same symptoms as us, and I had a copy of their letters of complaint to the airline.
I then contacted the Environmental Health Department to update them on my findings; specifically, our GP had found no evidence of infection and the airline was telling untruths.
Surprisingly, this prompted them to close the case. I did not realize that their only interest is infectious disease and I would have thought that chemical exposures that sicken large numbers of people should also be worthy of investigation, but apparently not.
The person I spoke to did say that he would review the airline maintenance logs and defect report and get back to me. Then after hearing nothing for eight weeks, all I got was an email stating that I should speak with the CAA. I had already called the CAA and nobody there was helpful or interested and they kept stating that passenger health was not within their remit.
Who is taking care of the passengers then?
This response prompted me to consult with our local MP. He wrote a letter to the Secretary of Transport who, in turn, also referred me to the CAA. I searched the internet for the air quality issues and sent several emails to professors in the USA and other organisations including the US Federal Aviation Administration, the World Health Organization, and the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
Eventually, I got in touch with two airline pilots in the UK who have been campaigning theses issues and have been of great help and comfort during this time.
Most importantly, they have provided me with practical information and put me in touch with the correct medical experts who have stated that my family and I have symptoms consistent with exposure to aerosolized aviation engine oil that contains some very toxic ingredients.
We are still going through very extensive tests. Most of all, as parents, we are greatly concerned as to how this will affect our children in the long term.
This has proven to be a great battle of red tape and ignorance. It has been an extreme mission and has demanded so much of me at a time when I am at my weakest.
I have had to be an advocate for myself, my husband, and my children, and the very organisations that are put in place to provide protection for paying passengers like us and the others on that aircraft, not to mention the crewmembers, have miserably failed us.
As a passenger and a victim, as a mother and a wife, I will make it my mission to do all I can in raising awareness.
To any passengers out there who have suffered ill health like this during and after flying, report it to the airline, the public health organizations, and anybody who will listen. Don't assume it is "just the flu" or "just the food."
Talk to other passengers if you are able to, make notes of your symptoms, investigate it, and don't be naive like I was and expect the airline to tell you the truth. Keep pressure on the airline and ask to see copies of the relevant aircraft maintenance records and pilot logbook entries.
Individual crewmembers and organizations like this charity have provided much support and information. The help is here if you want it but you have to take the first step.
To pilots and cabin crew, you are in a position more than any other to highlight and record such incidents and you can act collectively to push for change. Fear of making unpopular waves at your airline is not a good enough reason to not report, because if you get sick long-term and can no longer work then you are even worse off.
Many families probably still don't even know what happened and why their children still have strange neurological symptoms.
Please get informed - we are all in that metal tube together!