Pilot’s Death Raise Questions Over Safety of Air on Planes: Study

A new study highlights the circumstances surrounding the death of an airline pilot, raising questions about the safety of air in commercial plane cabins and potential health consequences for airline crew.

Richard Westgate was a pilot for British Airways who died in December 2012, after believing for years that he was suffering health problems as a result of airplane air. The findings of research published last month in the Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry appear to confirm that Westgate may have suffered from neurotoxicity linked to organophosphate poisoning after breathing pressurized air inside of planes he was flying.

Duke University Medical School researcher Mohamed Abou-Donia took samples of Westgate’s blood and tissue. His analysis confirmed elevated levels of biomarkers for neuronal cell degeneration. An autopsy of the body revealed the brain and spinal tissues had also undergone degeneration and demyelination.

Did You Know?

AT&T Data Breach Impacts Millions of Customers

More than 73 million customers of AT&T may have had their names, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers and other information released on the dark web due to a massive AT&T data breach. Lawsuits are being pursued to obtain financial compensation.

Learn More

Abou-Donia, an expert in organophosphate poisoning, concluded that Westgate had undergone organophosphate-induced neurotoxicity. The poisoning caused further injury to his brain and his heart.

Organophosphates are derived from jet engine lubricants and chemicals added to them. All jets pressurize the cabins using warm, compressed air. The air is “bled” from the jet engines and circulated through the cabin.

Airplanes use seals to separate the air from the oil and other chemicals. Sometimes the seals leak or fail and result in a “fume event” that contaminates the cabin.

Researchers believe Westgate was not exposed to a single fume event, but instead had chronic exposure during the course of his career, which began in 1996. Westgate first began exhibiting neurological deficits and other symptoms in 1999. His health deteriorated from there.

Neurological symptoms have been seen in other aircrew personnel who have been exposed to the pressurized air in the airplanes.

According to the study, about 20% of airline crews could experience symptoms. Only 0.01% will have the worst effects and face severe consequences. Abou-Donia said genetic variations can play an important role in whether a person will become sick or not.

Until very recently no concrete scientific evidence was found to support the claims of organophosphate poisoning from airplane cabins. Abou-Donia called Westgate the worst case he had seen in all his year of research.

In 2014, an Australian study detailed more than 1,000 reports received between 2008 to 2012 concerning similar cases. Most had minor consequences, but a several more serious injuries were found to airline flight crew personnel.

Image Credit: |

0 Comments

Share Your Comments

I authorize the above comments be posted on this page*

Want your comments reviewed by a lawyer?

To have an attorney review your comments and contact you about a potential case, provide your contact information below. This will not be published.

NOTE: Providing information for review by an attorney does not form an attorney-client relationship.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

More Top Stories

Management of Ozempic Lawsuit Pretrial Proceedings To Be Reassigned Following Death of MDL Judge
Management of Ozempic Lawsuit Pretrial Proceedings To Be Reassigned Following Death of MDL Judge (Posted today)

The judge overseeing Ozempic lawsuits consolidated in federal court has died, requiring a new judge to be assigned to oversee coordinated pretrial proceedings over claims the diabetes drug and similar medications caused stomach paralysis and other intestinal complications.

Baby Food Injury Lawyers Appointed To Leadership Roles in Autism, ADHD Lawsuits Over Heavy Metal Contamination
Baby Food Injury Lawyers Appointed To Leadership Roles in Autism, ADHD Lawsuits Over Heavy Metal Contamination (Posted 2 days ago)

A group of 19 plaintiffs' lawyers have been appointed to serve in various leadership position during the consolidated pretrial proceedings for all baby food injury lawsuits, taking actions that benefit all families pursuing claims for children diagnosed with autism, ADHD or other developmental problems from toxic heavy metals found in many popular products sold in recent years.