Repaving roads is a costly and complicated process, especially when the road is a critical artery. But new research from Norway shows that switching to more durable asphalt could save significant amounts of money on some cold climate roads.
In 2003, a survey of pilots belonging to the British Airline Pilots Association suggested that up to 96 percent of contaminated air events may go unreported. (Photo: Pieter van Marion/Flickr) Do you want media that’s accountable to YOU, not to corporate sponsors? Help publish journalism with real integrity and independence – click here to donate to Truthout! Also see: Pesticides on Planes: How Airlines Are Softly Killing Us Following the death of commercial airline pilot Richard Westgate, an inquest was launched into the cause of his death. Westgate had previously claimed that his health problems were caused by exposure to on board toxic chemicals and a subsequent coroner’s report raised concerns with the pilot’s employers, British Airways, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), regarding the health effect of aircraft cabin air on aircraft occupants. Both organisations have responded to the report and stress that they take the matter of cabin air quality very seriously but that scientific evidence had not established a risk to ill-health. The investigation is ongoing and the inquest has not yet been heard. This hasn’t stopped at least 17 former and serving cabin crew from seeking legal action against various British airlines for ill health they allege was caused by pollutants in cabin air. Whether their claims are successful remains to be seen, but at least one precedent has been set: in 2010 a former flight attendant in Australia was awarded compensation for respiratory damage sustained as a result of exposure to on-board toxic chemicals. What Are These Toxic Chemicals? Airline crew have been reporting ill-health following exposure to contaminated air for many years. Most commonly reported symptoms are: irritation to the eyes, nose and throat; headaches, light-headedness and dizziness; fatigue, weakness; generally feeling unwell; confusion and difficulties in concentration. While passengers have occasionally complained of similar symptoms, this is a much rarer occurrence (unsurprising perhaps because of the relative infrequency of travel compared to aircrew). Symptoms may be the result of exposure to the organophosphate known as tricresyl phosphate (TCP); a flame retardant additive in jet engine oil and hydraulic fluids. As well as acting as an irritant, these substances are a type of neurotoxic compound, and can interfere with nervous system functions, resulting in cognitive, emotional and behavioural problems. Since their use as nerve gas agents in World War II, it is known that organophosphates can cause ill health and death in high doses. However, controversy still surrounds whether low levels are actually harmful. Establishing a link between exposure and chronic ill-health lies in the difficulty we have with establishing an accurate estimation of exposure. The absence of routine air quality monitoring on commercial aircraft make it impossible to determine what chemicals enter the cabin and in what quantities. In addition, relying on self-reported measures of exposure is notoriously problematic as they depend on memory and a capacity to detect noxious substances (both of which vary enormously in reliability). So, before a causal relationship can be determined, our understanding of how exposure might occur, and the level of this exposure, needs to be improved. How Would Exposure Occur? Air is supplied throughout the aircraft to allow crew and passengers to breathe. The human body is used to breathing in air of around 15°C, at a pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch, or psi, (at sea level). However, at an altitude of 35,000 feet the air pressure is only 3.46 psi with temperatures lower than -50°C, so fresh air is pumped into the plane from outside the aircraft but only after it is warmed and pressurised to a safely breathable level. As part of the propulsion process, aeroplane engines heat and compress air before fuel is added and combusted. On most aircraft this air is then “bled off” and pumped into the aircraft, unfiltered. Ordinarily this process is relatively safe. But occasionally faulty seals can result in contamination by allowing heated and broken down engine oil fumes to escape into the airflow. The incidence of these “fume events” is difficult to quantify, as commercial aircraft are generally not fitted with equipment for monitoring on-board air quality. There is also significant under-reporting of exposure: for example, the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment estimated that fume events occur on about 0.05% of flights. However, in 2003, a survey of pilots belonging to the British Airline Pilots Association suggested that up to 96% of contaminated air events may go unreported. Collectively, the pilots in the survey claimed to have experienced more than 1,674 smoke or fume events but only 61 instances were formally reported to the CAA, possibly due to lack of awareness, commercial pressure and the perception that exposure to such contaminants is normal and part of their everyday job. To better establish the incidence of fume events, the UK Department for Transport commissioned Cranfield University to carry out an air monitoring study of affected aircraft types. They monitored 100 flights, measuring the levels of several chemical compounds that were present in the cabin during different stages of flight. A number of chemicals were detected over the course of this study, including TCP and carbon monoxide. All levels were reported to be within safe limits – regardless of an absence of aircraft safety standards regarding TCP. While reassuring for routine flight safety, no fume events were observed in this small sample size due to the relative rarity of cabin air contamination. The study reinforced the lack of clarity around possible exposure that aircrew and passengers may face during a fume event. So What Evidence Is There? Without accurate measures of exposure, it is very difficult to reliably determine whether there is a relationship between ill-health and exposure to fume events, though there is some supporting evidence. For example, symptom surveys from 2003, and case studies of exposed passengers and crew (where subsequent mechanical inspections of the aircraft confirmed oil leaks had occurred) have demonstrated signs of ill-health consistent with organophosphate exposure. In 2013, biological markers of possible neurotoxicity were found in flight crew with these symptom profiles. And in 2012, a neuropsychological study found that a group of airline pilots had a specific pattern of cognitive impairments similar to that seen in organophosphate-exposed farmers. While these studies may provide evidence consistent with exposure, it is still very difficult to claim causation, mainly because of small sample sizes. It seems there is still a large amount of scientific uncertainty regarding the long-term effects of inhaling pyrolysed engine oil on human health. However, with the growing pressure from lobbyists (such as the Aerotoxic Association), potential legal suits and inquests, we may soon have a more definitive answer to this question. The European Aviation Safety Agency has launched a preliminary cabin air quality measurement campaign, which should allow for the development of instruments that may be able to monitor air quality in real time. In addition, biomarkers for exposure to TCP are being developed by researchers from the universities of Washington and Nebraska. Given these advancements, we may not be far away from establishing a valid and reliable measurement of exposure. And with that a better answer on whether there is a clear link between ill health and exposure.
Living in an area with noisy road traffic may reduce life expectancy. Research has found a link between long-term exposure to road traffic noise and deaths, as well as a greater risk of stroke, particularly in the elderly.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Wednesday that greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes are a health hazard and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The so-called endangerment finding paves the way for the agency to develop regulations over airplane emissions. However, unlike with earlier findings, the EPA did not take the opportunity to set a standard, but rather deferred to ongoing deliberations by a United Nations agency working on the issue. Groups that had advocated for standards were disappointed with the announcement. “What EPA should have done is issue proper standards today,” Vera Pardee, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told ThinkProgress. “Airplanes are dangerous; pollution is dangerous. You can’t escape flying, but the means are there to get this under control.” In an endangerment finding, the EPA determines that a substance — in this case, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases — is endangering human life, and it establishes that a particular source is so large that it significantly contributes to the problem, Pardee said. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, if commercial aviation were a country, it would rank seventh after Germany in terms of carbon emissions. Those emissions are expected to more than triple by 2050 if no action to curb them is taken. Regulating emissions from airlines has been a priority for environmental groups for nearly a decade. In 2007, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth filed a petition calling on the EPA to begin setting standards. The EPA did not respond to the petition, and EarthJustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the environmental groups. In 2011, the judge ruled the agency was legally obligated to begin the process for crafting the regulations. In 2014, the EPA still had not come out with anything, and EarthJustice sent it an intent to sue. By suggesting waiting for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to set a standard, today’s EPA announcement fell short of what many climate change activists were hoping for. ICAO, which is housed under the United Nations, has also been tasked with creating international limits on airplane emissions since 1997. But the agency has not produced any regulations, and it has been criticized for watering down potential action. The ICAO standards are likely to only apply to new aircraft, a designation that would apply to roughly 5 percent of the world’s total aircraft fleet by 2030, Pardee said. She called these expected standards “totally insufficient.” But one way or another, with this new endangerment finding, the EPA will now have to address emissions from airlines. “Once the endangerment finding is final, there is absolutely no way [the EPA] can avoid setting standards. It makes it mandatory to set standards,” Pardee said. The EPA took the opportunity to call for comment on its announcement. Environmental groups, the public, and the industry are all expected to weigh in on whether waiting for ICAO is appropriate. “This notice actually invites people to say, no, this is totally unacceptable to let a growing source of greenhouse gases to escape regulation,” Pardee said. The EPA began regulating car pollution in the 1970s. The crackdown on particulate matter, poisonous carbon monoxide, nitrogen, and other pollutants has made a big difference in air quality across the nation, particularly in cities such as Los Angeles. Then in 2009 the EPA announced findings that carbon dioxide — the leading human contribution to climate change — was a pollutant and that vehicles were a significant contributor. That announcement led to increased vehicle fuel efficiency standards. Since then, the EPA has also undertaken a lengthy, litigous, and as-yet unfinished project of regulated carbon emissions from power plants, under the Clean Power Plan. That rule is expected to be finalized in August, and the process for putting out an airplane rule is expected to be similar. In other words, it still may be a while before airplane travel is as green as advocates want it to be. The EPA’s findings apply only to commercial aircraft — not military flights, turboprop planes, or helicopters. As Pardee put it, “Our CEOS in their private jets get to go and do whatever.” Tags airlinescarbonClean Air ActemissionsEPAInternational Civil Aviation OrganizationplanesRegulationsTransportation The post EPA: Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Airplanes Are Dangerous To Human Life appeared first on ThinkProgress.