Flight Attendants Say Boeing Has ‘Dirty Little Secret’


     CHICAGO (CN) – Boeing knows that its airplane cabins can become filled with toxic air, but refuses to do anything about it, four flight attendants claim in court.
     Vanessa Woods, Faye Oskardottir, Darlene Ramirez and Karen Neben, along with her husband Nathan, sued Boeing in Cook County after becoming sick while working a flight on one of its planes, leaving them with lifelong medical problems.
     The plaintiffs say in the complaint that they are exposing “a previously hidden and ‘dirty little secret’ of the commercial airline industry.” The air on all but one of Boeing’s airplanes is pumped through the engines into the cabin, known as a bleed air system, allowing the possibility for it to “become contaminated with heated jet engine oil and its toxic by-products” if there is a leak.
     The lawsuit, filed Monday, points to a 1955 study done by the Aero Medical Laboratory showing that inhaling heated oil can damage the brain, liver, kidneys and cause death.
     It is now known that the chemical by-products from engine oil include “neurotoxins such as organophosphates” that are used in pesticides and nerve gases and were banned for residential use in 2001 by the Environmental Protection Agency, the complaint states. Inhaling them “can cause short-term or transient symptoms as well as permanent and serious personal injury.”
     According to the lawsuit, Boeing has been “put on notice more than 40 times” over the past 60 years “that its aircraft was unreasonably dangerous but failed to rectify the flawed design.”
     In 1953 the company first recognized that heated engine oil could contaminate the air with dangerous chemicals but “alarmingly, to this day, Boeing has never met its…objective to fully identify the contaminants present in cabin air after a fume event,” the complaint states.
     That same year Boeing was working on a filter system to clean the air but it was never implemented, the plaintiffs say, and air quality sensors are still not used either.
     A separate compressor is needed to eliminate the use of engine air entirely, but “despite this knowledge, and the availability of safer options decades ago, Boeing only eliminated the bleed air supply system from one of its commercial aircraft: the Dreamliner launched in 2004,” according to the complaint.
     In 2013 the plaintiffs were working on a Boeing 737, manufactured in 2012, over several flights with Alaska Airlines, the last of which was from Boston to San Diego.
     Shortly after takeoff, the plaintiffs say the crew noticed a funny smell in the cabin and the four flight attendants started to fill ill, including dizziness and vomiting. Oskardottir fainted and needed assistance from medical professionals who were passengers on the plane.
     After landing in Chicago the plaintiffs were treated at Resurrection Medical Center for “symptoms…consistent with hydrocarbon exposure,” the lawsuit states.
     The plaintiffs claim they still experience symptoms ranging from numbness and tingling, vertigo, extreme fatigue and blurred vision to memory loss, anxiety and depression.”
     The lawsuit cites numerous examples of similar incidents involving pilots, crew members and passengers.
     The plaintiffs say “Boeing knew that cabin air could become contaminated, knew that such contamination could cause health problems and knew that safer alternatives were available,” but chose to do nothing.
     Instead, the company’s “executives have affirmatively represented that Boeing aircraft, including the cabin air specifically, are safe” and “deliberately misrepresented the safety of its aircraft,” according to the lawsuit.
     The Boeing Company could not be reached for comment.
     The plaintiffs seek damages for strict liability, negligence and fraud. The plaintiffs are represented by Power Rogers and Smith PC in Chicago, LittlepageBooth in Houston, TX and Friedman Rubin and Brodkowitz Law in Washington.

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