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August 17th, 2009
12:52 PM ET

Scientists analyze blood to test for toxic airplane air exposure

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Terry Williams hugs her two boys - Jake, left, and Zack - in 2006, before she says toxic cabin air made her sick."]

By Allan Chernoff and Laura Dolan

(CNN) - Inside a freezer in a research laboratory at the University of Washington are blood and blood plasma samples from 92 people who suffer from mysterious illnesses, including tremors, memory loss and severe migraine headaches.

They are mostly pilots and flight attendants who suspect they've been poisoned in their workplace - on board the aircraft they fly.

Clement Furlong, University of Washington professor of medicine and genome sciences, leads a team of scientists who have been collecting the samples for 2 ½ years.

Furlong said his team is a few months away from finalizing a blood analysis test that will be able to definitely confirm whether the study participants were indeed poisoned by toxic fumes.

Results of Furlong's research could expand recognition of what a select group of researchers believes is a largely unrecognized risk of flying: the chance that poisonous fumes enter the cabin.

"There's a danger of inhaling compounds that are coming out of the engine," said Furlong in his laboratory.

The air we breathe on board a plane is a 50-50 mix of filtered, recirculated air and so-called "bleed air" - which bleeds off the engines, and then is pressurized and cooled before being sent into the cabin through vents. If an engine oil seal leaks, aviation engineers and scientists say, the bleed air can become contaminated with toxins.

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Filed under: Airline safety
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Tom Bolden

    This comment relates to the gun carry law (bars & resturants) in tennesee & New York State, discussed with John Roberts this morning.. Maybe some clarification is needed here regarding New York state's gun carry law. The only restriction on carrying a registered concealed handgun (full carry permit) pertains to NYC, which does not allow the carrying of handguns at all except with a special permit which is almost impossible to get for citizens who are not in law enforcement.

    Outside of NYC full carry license holders can legally carry their concealed handguns anywhere. Of course the owners or bars and resturants can set their own policy regarding this matter as this is private property.

    August 19, 2009 at 9:09 am |
  2. Allison

    I think that this is just another round about way to increase airline fees. I'm sure that once the research is completed, it will show that they must upgrade the system to clear out the toxic air and therefore raise the rate to fly.

    August 18, 2009 at 8:23 am |