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A Series of Three Aircraft Emergency Public Health Alerts at an International Airport Over a Six Week Period due to Suspected Contaminated Cabin Air

Author(s): O’Connor L, Boland M

Air travel is a safe, common mode of transport for both work and leisure activities. It can be associated with health risks, with exposure to toxic compounds or fumes in the aircraft cabin resulting in a variety of clinical symptoms. We report on three aircraft incidents which resulted in passenger and crew illness and necessitated emergency landings at Dublin International Airport. We obtained details on the three incidents from the National Ambulance Service Operations Centre dispatch system and staff, regional public health specialists and the National Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU). We conducted a chart review of all passengers and crew who attended the hospital Emergency Department (ED) and consulted with the attending ED physician. Twenty-three crew and passengers reported feeling unwell on the three flights over a six week summer period. Symptoms included dizziness, headache, and throat and eye irritation. On one flight there was a severe odour. Fifteen crew and passengers from the first two incidents were treated at a hospital ED. One case had a low oxygen saturation, and another required oral steroids and nebulised bronchodilator. The AAIU did not find a cause for illness on assessment of all three aircraft. The three aircraft incidents described highlight the potential safety risk of air quality alterations. While there is no evidence that serious health events occurred in these events, sharing of experiences on similar events may lead to increased understanding of these complex events and ensure that aircrafts are a safe environment in which to travel and work.

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