Workers Assail American Airlines|Over Toxic Toilet Water Practices

           PHILADELPHIA (CN) – American Airlines has proudly rechristened one of its jets Shepherd One for the first U.S. tour of Pope Francis, but workers claim in court that the carrier is hiding a dirty secret.
     “Choosing profits over safety, and literally poison chemicals over logic, reason, or human empathy, American Airlines has knowingly contaminated the airport, and workplace of plaintiffs, with toxins and bio-toxins ranging from poisonous chemicals to human airplane lavatory waste in the form of solid fecal particulate,” a complaint filed Monday in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas states.
     David Smith and four co-workers brought the lawsuit against American, its post-merger partner US Airways, and nine corporate officers.
     “American Airlines has been so cheap, unsafe, and inappropriate, that it sunk so low as to convert thousands of Deer Park/Nestle Five Gallon Returnable jugs (the kind that sit on top of office water coolers) for its own use, filled them with poison chemicals, and then, unbeknownst to Deer Park/Nestle, and intentionally hiding this toxic and poisonous practice, acting callously, over a period of years, returned those poisoned jugs to the Nestle/Deer Park water delivery system,” the complaint states (parentheses in original).
     Derived from formaldehyde, the poison in question is known in airline circles as “blue juice.” It’s the chemical that makes airplane toilet water blue.
     Smith and the other fleet-services agents contend that the airline directed them to fill 5-gallon water jugs with the “blue juice,” which they then carry to airplane bathrooms after a lavatory-service truck empties the lavatory tanks.
     “The practice of poisoning Deer Park/Nestle Five Gallon jugs was created all so that American Airlines did not have to spend money fixing broken valves and other parts on an aging fleet, and all so that American Airlines did not have to spend money purchasing appropriate equipment to do the job,” the complaint states.
     Smith and his co-workers say the scheme has made Deer Park/Nestle “a victim.” Neither Deer Park nor Nestle is a party to the action.
     “In addition to the poisoning of the Deer Park/Nestle products, the same practices lead to spread of fecal matter all over the tarmac, into storm drains, in the break rooms, in the aircraft catering service area, and inside the airport, to the derogation of the public health and safety,” the complaint states.
     Smith says American Airlines puts the emptied jugs back into the stream of water-consuming commerce.
     Although the jugs are cleaned out before they are redistributed for water-cooler pickup, the sticky blue chemical substance often remains “all over the inner walls” of the container, according to the complaint.
     Smith says each of the four lavatories on Boeing 757 aircraft is cleaned with one jug of blue juice, a process known as “top-filling” that U.S. Airways instituted in 2010 before the merger.
     Since then, American Airlines employees have filled approximately 15,000 5-gallon jugs with toxic “blue juice” and redistributed the jugs to Deer Park/Nestle, which then installs them in water coolers at “schools, hospitals, homes and other workplaces throughout America and possibly the world,” according to the complaint.
     In addition to harming the public, American Airlines has put its employees at risk, forcing them “on threat of their jobs” to hand-fill jugs without legally required protective gear.
     The suit includes as an exhibit a government-issued Material Safety Data Sheet on the “blue juice,” which warns against inhaling the substance or letting it contact human skin. The sheet requires disposed of the chemical “in an appropriate container to avoid environmental contamination.”
     After airline workers hand-fill the lavatory tanks with blue juice, they say they put the jugs back in a truck filled with the fecal-splattered hoses that just sucked up waste out of the tanks.
     The hose “is generally still dripping of, human waste,” according to the complaint.
     Furthermore, any employee who steps into the truck tracks the waste all over the airport, Smith says.
     An appendix filed with the complaint contains 11 images of the water jugs being used for the purposes described. The airline’s “mishandling of human sewage and chemicals” constitutes a public nuisance and violates the rights of the plaintiffs, who have suffered headaches, nausea and respiratory woes as a result of their exposure, the complaint says.
     American’s cost-cutting measures mean that the airline’s profits are built, at least in part, “upon fraudulent and literally poisonous foundations.”
     “The foregoing practices create a vector for disease at the Philadelphia International Airport,” according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs seek punitive damages and injunction, alleging public nuisance, fraud and civil conspiracy. They are represented by attorney Brian Mildenberg.
     A spokesman for American Airlines noted that Mildenberg has a history of bringing “frivolous” lawsuits against it.
     “Mr. Mildenberg has brought several lawsuits against the company over the years that we found to be frivolous and that were ultimately dismissed,” spokesman Matt Miller said in an email. “But we, of course, take any allegations surrounding our employees and customer service very seriously and will fully investigate these latest accusations. We are proud of our 8,300 PHL-based employees and are 100 percent committed to serving the citizens of Philadelphia.”
     Pope Francis is flying from Washington, D.C., to New York on Thursday, and then Saturday to Philadelphia, the last leg of his visit to the United States. Though Francis normally flies Alitalia, he makes it a point to switch to the national carrier of countries he visits. American Airlines confirmed to news outlets that it will shepherd the pope during his U.S. visit.
     Editor’s Note: Nestle Waters North America released a statement Thursday that it is “thoroughly investigating the allegations,” after being made aware of the lawsuit against American Airlines.
     “If the allegations are true, it’s unacceptable,” Tom Uhl, the company’s vice president of quality assurance, said. “Our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our customers and the quality of our products. The company has a rigorous testing and continuous quality-monitoring process for all of our products including our 5-gallon bottles. We have industry-leading product safety measures in place to ensure our bottled water meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements. While we have complete confidence in our quality processes and the products we produce, as a precautionary measure, we are taking steps to ensure that no bottles from this customer are reused until this is resolved.”

     Brian Mildenberg, the attorney for the plaintiff workers, sent a statement Friday as well.
     “The evidence in this case is overwhelming and speaks for itself,” Mildenberg said in an email. “The defendant’s statement is simply that of a wrongdoer trying to cover its tracks.”

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