Over the past years, GCAQE organised several major international conferences about Aircraft Cabin Air Quality. These events would normally take place in London, GCAQE’s residence. Both Airlines and Aviation authorities, as well as Unions of cockpit- and cabin crew and maintenance technicians are always well represented at these events. But also interested parties by personal title (e.g. those working in aviation) are always more than welcome. These conferences provide a unique opportunity to receive an update on the subject  of contaminated air, the latest scientific and medical evidence investigating the contaminated air debate and the emerging solutions available to airlines and aircraft operators.

In March 2021, as a result of imposed Corona measures, the conference was organised as a Online Event for the first time. Participants could follow the presentations offered via a Zoom Conference Call on their own desktop.

And also in 2023, on 27-29 of June, the conference was organised as an Online Event (Zoom conference call). And once again there was an impressive list of interesting speakers. Click this link for the complete list of speakers.

Below follow some highlights of the conference:

Medical Protocol

Led by GCAQE’s Head of Research Dr. Susan Michaelis and Jonathan Burdon of the University of Melbourne, a team of 17 specialists from 10 different countries has been working hard on the Medical Protocol for over 6 years. Shortly before the conference, this project was finalised, peer reviewed and published in the leading Environmental Health magazine. The result was officially announced and explained during the conference.

This protocol provides a guide for physicians and hospitals in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with aerotoxic-like symptoms and victims of fume events. The correct application of this protocol can save these patients a lot of extra damage as a result of misdiagnoses and it is therefore very important that this protocol is widely accepted and implemented by governments, (company) doctors and hospitals that may have to deal with these patients one day. The Medical Protocol is therefore a milestone, it means an important step towards the recognition of the Aerotoxic Syndrome as a disease (and eventually as an occupational disease)!

Blood test prof. Furlong

Professor Clement Furlong and his team have been working for more than 15 years on a test that can show that a patient has been exposed to the specific Organophosphates found in aircraft engine oil and hydraulic fluids. His dedication to this research went so far as to postpone his own retirement in order to complete the research.

The (interim) results of this research were presented during the conference. After high expectations had already been raised at previous conferences, there was now a groundbreaking result to report: the team has finally succeeded in finding suitable biomarkers in the blood with which to demonstrate such exposure. Prof. Furlong expects to be able to proceed to peer-reviewed publication of the research results within 6 months.

Although the test now works reliably, it is currently not very cost-effective: the blood samples to be used must be transported refrigerated/frozen to their laboratory in Washington and the test capacity is also still very limited: a test cycle takes 48 hours and max. 8 samples can be tested simultaneously.

Prof. Furlong however, expects that the test can be refined to such an extent in the coming months that, instead of refrigerated blood samples, a simple finger prick can be used, or even dried blood (e.g. from blood stains after an accident). This means that strict requirements are no longer imposed on the transport of the samples, which can then simply be sent by post for examination. Moreover, it is expected to be possible to test much more serially: approximately 100 samples can then be tested simultaneously within 12 hours.

Finally, the expectation was expressed that the test will also be suitable for worldwide use in a “standard” laboratory. The latter obviously means a huge step forward for the diagnosis and evidence for Aerotoxic Syndrome complaints and after fume events!

BASF Ozone-VOC converters

BASF presented their latest generation of Ozone-VOC converters, which can effectively purify the bleed air (as opposed to only the recirculated air) from not only Ozone, but also from V(olatile)O(rganic)C(ompounds). Mind you, these are NOT filters, but catalytic converters (something similar to the catalytic converter in the exhaust system of your car), which converts certain substances by means of a chemical reaction at a fairly high temperature (e.g. ozone is converted into oxygen). The residuals are then retained in the converter’s special internal coating. Over time (depending on the degree of contamination of the bleed air), the converter becomes contaminated and must then be cleaned by BASF, after which it will function optimally again.

Airbus announced last winter that they will equip their new A320 neo aircraft (including KLM’s new Europe fleet) with these new converters. A nice piece of technology that removes a large part of the contamination in the bleed air! However, the converter is not considered to be the final solution to the problem of contaminated cabin air, as it does not address ultrafine particles, a major contributor to health problems. Specialists also warn that this system mainly removes unpleasant odors (probably an important argument for Airbus to build this in), but that it certainly does not remove all toxic substances from the air. As long as no sensors and warning systems have been built in to warn of the presence of contaminated air, there is a risk that fume events can more often occur unnoticed and are therefore not followed up by the necessary technical interventions. This in turn will lead to further internal pollution of the entire ventilation system.

New oil types

Finally, in a presentation it was explained that both Nyco and Eastman have been developing less toxic oils for some time. However, a good alternative to the highly toxic organophosphates used so far is difficult to find. At the moment it is therefore not yet possible to indicate when these new types of oil will become available and how much less toxic they will ultimately be.