Between 1979 & 1994 I worked for 4 different airlines as cabin crew and I don’t remember any prolonged episodes of ill health. In 1994 I trained as an aerobics instructor, was fit, well and had loads of energy. In January 1996 I began flying as cabin crew for my present airline. In September ‘96 I was called from standby to operate a flight where the previous crew and dispatcher had all been taken to hospital with breathing difficulties. On the return flight on this aircraft a passenger said he could smell something that smelt like CS gas.
In November 96 I visited my doctor with a cough that would not go away. Over the next 12 years my health steadily declined. My medical notes record frequent bouts of gastro-enteritis, swollen lymph glands, sore throats, chest infections, abnormal lung sounds, fatigue, high blood pressure, mood swings, hot flushes, chest and neck pain. Two tests for Glandular Fever were negative.
“I felt constantly tired and stressed. Mood swings were becoming more pronounced and irrational – my daughter called them my ‘psycho days.’”
In 2005 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It is recorded in my notes from the Royal Marsden hospital that during the time I was being treated for cancer and had 8 months away from flying that I “felt well.” Following 2 operations and 6 weeks radiotherapy I was prescribed Tamoxifen. I tried to take it on 3 separate occasions as I was told it was “statistically significant” in reducing the possibility of the cancer returning. I felt like I was being poisoned and could not take it.
I returned to long haul flying in February 2006. Colds and flu ( lasting weeks at a time ) headaches and bouts of gastro-enteritis returned. I felt constantly tired and stressed. Mood swings were becoming more pronounced and irrational – my daughter called them my “psycho days.” She had commented on several occasions that I was a different person when on holiday and away from work. I started seeing an osteopath for the pins & needles and numbness in my left leg and pain in both forearms.
“I have received emails from nine other crew members on that trip saying that they too had been unwell.”
From September ‘07 I suffered from a cold that only disappeared for one week when I was on leave. As soon as I went back to work it returned. On December ‘07 I did a long range flight during which the First Class purser asked if she could lie down as she felt so ill. Two days later I became ill with flu-like symptoms which gradually turned into pneumonia. It did not respond to antibiotics and I thought I was dying. I received emails from five other crew members from that trip saying that they too had been ill. After six weeks I returned to work although still suffering from fatigue. I tried to eat healthily and increased the amount of exercise I did. I do not smoke and gave up alcohol and caffeine.
3 months later I returned from another long range trip and this time I became ill with excruciating nerve pain, muscle pain and mental confusion. I have been unable to work since. I have received emails from nine other crew members on that trip saying that they too had been unwell.
My Mother is nearly 80, my Grandmother lived to be 92. Neither has had any illness, not even their appendix out!
For the last few years I have been searching for the cause of my ill health and spent hours on the internet. Not until I heard about Aerotoxic Syndrome did I find a plausible explanation for my symptoms. I had never heard of organophosphate poisoning but my Doctor’s notes describe just about all the symptoms. Governments and airlines deny there is a link yet do not come up with an alternative explanation for the ill health being suffered by so many crew.
The dates on my GP’s notes and my diaries tell me I got ill only when I flew. Why did it take me so long to realise? Because I believed the air I breathed onboard was filtered. I thought my health and safety at work was protected by law.