The role of carbon monoxide in aerotoxic syndrome

Neurotoxicology. 2024 Jan:100:107-116. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2023.12.008. Epub 2023 Dec 21.

Abstract

Chronic low-level exposure to toxic compounds in airplane cabin air may result in Aerotoxic Syndrome (AS). Aetiologic agents are organophosphates and numerous volatile organic hydrocarbons originating from leaks of engine oil and hydraulic fluids. Despite a documented history spanning decades, the role of carbon monoxide remains controversial. What evidence exists that carbon monoxide (CO), present in the cocktail of toxic compounds in bleed air, contributes to the AS? We selected 22 publications encompassing 888 flights with 18 different aircraft types. In one study of 100 flights, fume events were confirmed in 38. Four studies were initialized after air quality incidents. The cabin CO concentrations could be categorized in three levels, 1) low (<5 ppm), without health implications, 2) moderate (5-10 ppm) with probably health implications in case of chronic exposure, and 3) high > 10 ppm, with health effects in case of acute and chronic exposure. These levels were recorded in 12, 6 and 4 studies respectively. In the six studies in category 2, max CO concentrations ranged from 5.8-9.4 ppm. The four studies with CO > 10 ppm comprised 376 of the 888 flights (42%) with six aircraft types. Toxic CO levels ranging between 13-60 ppm were identified in at least 129 of 888 (14.5%) flights. In one study with high CO levels four flight attendants were diagnosed with CO poisoning with elevated HbCO levels. Max CO levels in aviation are either the same or higher than current occupational exposure limits (OEL) for ground-based workplace exposures or levels for urban street transport environments. Specific aspects of aviation should be taken into consideration: the effect of low(er) air pressure at high altitudes increasing the toxicity of CO, and the binding of CO to CYP enzymes, leading to impaired organophosphate detoxification. We conclude that CO must be considered an important factor in the lubrication derived cocktail of airborne toxic compounds causing AS. In line with the WHO advice, a reduction of the OEL to 5 ppm over 8 hr time weighted average (TWA) for aircrew is strongly recommended. And we advocate continuous monitoring during all phases of flight and installation of CO detectors in the air supply ducts to the aircraft cabin.

Keywords: Aerotoxic syndrome; Bleed air; Cabin crew; Carbon monoxide; Fume events.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Indoor*
  • Aircraft
  • Carbon Monoxide / toxicity
  • Occupational Exposure* / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure* / analysis
  • Organophosphates

Substances

  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Organophosphates