SICK FROM BREATHING FUMES ONBOARD?
REPORT IT – EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU'LL BE BETTER SOON
Many different types of chemicals can contaminate the cabin air, including exhaust fumes, deicing fluid, electrical fumes, and jet fuel. All of these can make you sick. AFA-CWA is especially concerned if the air was contaminated with heated oil or hydraulic fluid. Oil fumes are often described as smelling like dirty socks. In some cases, crewmembers do not remember seeing or smelling anything unusual during a flight, although they report symptoms consistent with exposure to carbon monoxide gas and neurotoxic chemicals, and aircraft records confirm that oil or hydraulic fluid entered the air supply. Many symptoms that you may experience are not specific to contaminated bleed air. For example, you may have difficulty breathing due to insufficient oxygen or exposure to ozone gas.
If you feel that you may be suffering from symptoms due to exposure to airborne chemicals that were supplied to the aircraft cabin via the air supply system, the best thing you can do for yourself is document it. Don't just figure you'll likely feel better soon so there is no need to report anything. If your health problems persist or return after another incident, the paper trail will be critical. Start the process by informing your INFLIGHT SUPERVISOR. Follow up by calling either your LEC or MEC union Safety/Health representative, or email them: ashs@spiritAFA.org.
It is very important that you see a doctor as soon as possible to document your symptoms. Your Inflight Supervisor will get the Workers Comp paperwork started. Do not just go home. Get medical attention. It is especially important to have everything documented to protect yourself if your symptoms get worse. If you think that you were exposed to heated oil or hydraulic fluids on board the aircraft, read and print the information from the AFA-CWA Air Safety, Health, & Security website: http://ashsd.afacwa.org/docs/practical.htm. Download and keep a copy on your PDA. Describe to your doctor the cabin conditions and your symptoms, both during the flight and since the flight. Bring the relevant product safety data sheet and Health Care Providers’ Guide (posted on the AFA site) to all medical appointments.
If you have symptoms that are visible, have somebody take photos or video as soon as possible. It will help to establish the cause-effect relationship that you want to prove. Symptoms such as stomach cramping, fatigue, muscle pain, and confusion are not visible, but can be documented by a doctor. Video may be helpful for recording some symptoms, such as tremors or speech issues. In some cases, neurological symptoms may develop during the weeks after an exposure.
Whenever possible, have your doctor perform objective tests to document your condition There is currently no blood test that will confirm that you breathed engine oil or hydraulic fumes, so your description of the cabin conditions and your symptoms are especially important. Some medical tests may be useful for assessing symptoms. For example, if you have respiratory complaints, a lung function test may document any reduced breathing capacity. Nerve conduction velocity tests may be used to confirm nerve damage. If you are dizzy or faint, you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide and a blood oxygen hemoglobin test may be appropriate, although blood must be drawn within a few hours of exposure, and within one hour of exposure if you went on oxygen during the flight. Also, you don't have to be exposed to carbon monoxide to be exposed to toxic oils or hydraulic fluids.
File a Safety Report with the company. Note the date, flight number and tail number. Describe the working conditions. Did you notice an odor or visible mist/haze/smoke? Were you aware of any mechanical problems? During what phase of flight did you develop symptoms? Was this your first exposure? Copy ASHS@spiritAFA.com with this report.
Keep copies of everything – every medical record, report, photo, and a record of all phone conversations (names, dates, and a short summary). If you have to mail anything, send it by certified mail with a return receipt. Reporting to the company is a priority, but to advocate on your behalf, AFA also needs your information, and will keep it private. For more information, contact Judith Anderson at AFA's Air Safety, Health & Security Dept. Seattle field office (206-932-6237 or judith@AFAnet.org).