Toxic Travel Alert: Boeing Settles Workers’ Compensation Suit

Boeing AircraftBoeing Corporation recently settled a suit by a former American Airlines worker who claimed she has suffered from multiple complications after being exposed to toxic fumes in the cabin.  Terry Williams now suffers from a range of symptoms, from memory loss to sever headaches.  What is particularly troubling is that her experience was not an isolated incident and that design flaws in the very construction of jet liners might lead to toxic substances entering the air circulation system.

While the conditions of the settlement were not made public, the success of the suit has stirred debate about this health hazard that may be more common than most realize.

Judith Murawski, an industrial hygienist for the Association of Flight Attendants, told, “The issue is really heating up now.”  She added that she handles sometimes twelve new cases a month of flight crew employees reporting exposure to toxic fumes.  In fact, these injuries are often reported as employees are en route to medical care.

Industry officials say that on at least one domestically registered jetliner per day, all aboard are exposed to toxic fumes or even smoke.  However, these are only the documented exposures.  Fumes can include a number of chemical and carcinogenic compounds, including carbon monoxide and tricresyl phosphates (TCPs).

So…how do toxic fumes get into an air conditioning system built for human respiration?

On many jetliners, and on most Boeing commercial jetliners, cabin air is pumped from the engine itself.  Boeing insists that any leaks into this system are rare and such slight exposures ultimately pose no health risk.  Boeing released a statement saying it “still contends that cabin air is safe to breath and studies by independent researchers have consistently shown that existing systems for providing cabin air to passengers and crew meet applicable health and safety standards.”

Airline workers counter that “bleeding” air from engines into air conditioning systems have caused problems going back nearly half a century.  Some argue that it is the very location of intake – the engine – that is the root of the problem and that this antiquated design is ultimately faulty.

Flight Attendant Terry Williams argues a single exposure to toxic fumes led to her disabling symptoms.  Her workplace injuries include memory loss, asthma, tremors, speech impairment and loss of balance.   Workers’ Compensation physicians determined that she was suffering from a neurotoxic disorder due to her workplace environment.

The Airlines themselves are predictably fighting back by claiming that the issue is exaggerated and “emotional” for flight attendants.

If you are the victim of a workplace accident, be sure to first seek medical care.  Next, contact an experienced Seattle Workers’ Compensation Attorney before you initiate the claims process.  The attorneys at Emery Reddy are standing by to help you with your claim.


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