Commercial aircraft passengers and crew have reported symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation, respiratory distress, headache, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.
However, limited investigations conducted to date by government agencies, research groups and airplane manufacturers have not shown associations between cabin air quality and reported symptoms. Contaminants in cabin air have not been measured on a sufficient number of flights to draw firm conclusions.
Research examining the link between cabin air quality and health is being funded by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
The first phase of ASHRAE research project, 1262-TRP, Relate Air Quality and Other Factors To Comfort and Health Related Symptoms Reported By Passengers and Crew on Commercial Transport Aircraft, will be conducted by principal investigator Chester Spicer, Battelle, Columbus, Ohio. The research is expected to take nine months to complete at a cost of $225,000.
ASHRAE will work with the Federal Aviation Administration, which is sponsoring a parallel effort in which monitoring packages will be installed on two commercial aircraft, a B-767 and a B-777. The installed packages are being developed by the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
"These research projects will be useful to airframe manufacturers in future design for improving passenger and crew comfort," said Morton Lippmann, Ph.D., chair of an ASHRAE committee overseeing the project and a professor of environmental medicine at New York University's School of Medicine. "Information on symptoms and their potential causes also can be used by aircraft manufacturers and airlines in identifying air quality problems and their control. Also, results will be used by the medical community in educating patients about cabin environment exposures and their possible consequences."
Data collected in this study also will be useful to ASHRAE and other organizations in supporting the development of air quality standards for commercial aircraft. ASHRAE currently is developing such a standard, 161P, Air Quality Within Commercial Aircraft.
Standards are needed to ensure that cabin air is safe for crew members and passengers, minimizes the potential for adverse health effects and is comfortable to occupants, according to Lippmann.
Researchers will collect data on a sample of flights recording cabin air quality. Also, perceptions of comfort and health by flight attendants and passengers will be recorded using questionnaires.
The planned research includes two major parts. The first will include literature review, protocol development and pilot test of measurement systems. Upon its completion, a contractor for the second part involving selection of a larger number of aircraft and flight routes, cabin air monitoring, data analysis and final report will be chosen.
This is the third cabin air study conducted by ASHRAE. Earlier projects explored the relationships between measured air quality data and perceived symptoms on aircraft, as well as bleed air contaminants.
ASHRAE, founded in 1894, is an international organization of 55,000 members. It is the world's foremost technical society in the fields of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration. Through its meetings, research, standards writing, publishing and continuing education, the Society helps keep indoor environments comfortable and productive, deliver healthy and safe food to consumers and preserve the outdoor environment.