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What is a "fume event"?

Fume Event

You may have heard of the term "fume event" or "bleed-air" when traveling recently. Few people know what these terms reference. If you ask any flight attendant, they can generally advise you what they mean. Boeing knew about this issue since the late 1950s. The FFA tracks these events.

A fume event references an event occurring when in flight — generally when taxiing, climbing in altitude or descending — in which there is cloudy air in the top of the cabin associated with a smell usually of rotten eggs or stinky socks. What causes these fume events is the engine oil and/or hydraulic fluid becoming highly heated (pyrolyzed). They then:

  • Pass through air filters located in the air vent system
  • Travel through the air vents located above the seats and throughout the plane
  • Enter the cabin

It is not commonly known, but the air which comes through on the vents above your seat in most planes originates by going through the engines. On some occasions, things don't work properly due to maintenance irregularities, mechanical failure, faulty design or other issues. The highly-heated oil fumes get into the cabin. Since the fumes are lighter than air, they drift to the top of the cabin.

What chemicals are contained in these fume events?

The types of chemicals found in these fumes depend on the type of engine oil used and other chemicals used in the plane engine. However, these usually include carbon monoxide, tri-cresyl phosphate, N-phenyl-L-naphthylamine, and other tri-ortho isomers.

What symptoms do people experience after a fume event?

Symptoms from fume events can include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Brain fog
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Throat irritation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nasal respiratory difficulties
  • Chest tightness and chest pain

What should I do immediately after exposure to a fume event?

The key to proving that someone is suffering from the effects of a fume event is to get immediate medical attention. That should include a blood test and breathing test(s) within 24 hours of exposure. Many of the chemicals noted above will elude showing up in standard blood test results after 24 hours. However, these chemicals will remain in the body for a much longer time without showing up in most standard tests.

Do I need a workers' compensation attorney to help me with my claim?

If you're a flight attendant or were traveling for work on an airline and believe you were exposed to a fume event and you are suffering from any of the symptoms noted above, you should consider hiring a workers' compensation attorney experienced in these types of claims. The law offices of McLaughlin & Sanchez has over 50 years of combined experience and have represented numerous flight attendants regarding their claims for fume event exposures.

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