Are friend told me about oil fumes contamination he experienced during a flight. This seems to be no isolated case. This list shows several incidents of similar type over years.
“Upon initial descent there suddenly was a very strong oil smell in the cabin.” “Both pilots had red irritated eyes and gave me the impression that they were quite fatigued.” “…the pilots did confirm that there is something and that this is very likely a strong oil smell.”
"Shortly after initiating a descent, an oily smell was noticed on the flight deck, almost immediately followed by a smoke build-up in the flight deck and cabin." "during the 36 months examined (by IATA), there occurred an average of two and a half smoke events each day." "Smoke protection for passengers is not a requirement on public transport aircraft"
When commercial flights began in 1958 passengers breathed in air supplied directly from the atmosphere using compressors. But this was deemed to be too expensive, so in 1962 a system was installed to draw the air from the heart of the engines — known today as “bleed” air.
Air is drawn out of the compression section of the engine and cooled. It then enters the cabin, where it mixes with recirculated air that has passed through filters designed to remove bacteria and viruses. These “recirculated air” filters do not remove any fumes or vapours from the engine. So if engine oil or hydraulic fuel leaks, because of poorly designed or faulty seals, or even over-filled tanks, toxic chemicals can contaminate the air supply.
On medical consequences the article states:
At the very least this can cause drowsiness, headaches, flu-like symptoms and nausea — the kind of symptoms that Dr Nicola Hembry, a specialist in environmental medicine, says passengers may wrongly assume have been picked up from another passenger. At worst, air can be laced with a chemical, tricresyl phosphate (TCP), an organophosphate, or other toxic mixtures of chemicals that have been linked to serious respiratory problems, memory loss, neurological illnesses and even brain damage.
It seems the coming Boeing 787 is the first airplane regarding (suddenly?) this:
In 50 of years of commercial flights, aviation has changed beyond recognition. But for all the advances in design, safety and comfort, until the launch of Boeing’s new Dreamliner (787) next year (on which air will be compressed electronically), little has been done about the fact that both passengers and crew are breathing in air that comes straight from the engines.
Q. How often do fume events happen? A. As there are no fume detectors - even on the most modern jets, it is impossible to give a figure but the UK Government works on 1 in 100 or 1 in 2000. Many aircrew say that each flight is affected.
Are those fume events a frequent occurance and a significant health hazard?
Airplane companies know that their constructed environmental system for cabin air is flawed and seriously hazardous to pilot & passenger health, but try to play sanitary consequences and frequency of such incidents down to save costs.
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing concedes there is a chance of fume events, but the company says the air on board its aircraft is “safe and healthy.”
Are there serious 3rd party studies from independent medical doctors who treated such passengers, studies how often these incidents happen in airliners? There seem to be quite a number of notifications and lawsuits about oil fume events (see links above). Even some pilots and flight attendants are involved in lawsuits with their companies.
Nobody seems to disagree that those fume events happen, but the airlines argue that they only happen seldomly under exceptional circumstances. Some groups though claim that those events are frequent and a significant health hazard to frequent flyers. How often do those fume events happen and are they a significant health hazard to crew and passengers?