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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Anger over air health claims
Airline passengers
Recirculation of cabin air is safe, insist specialists
A Canadian researcher who claims that air quality in aircraft cabins could endanger health has been accused of "scaremongering".

Professor Martin Hocking, from the University of Victoria, says that passengers are at risk of catching diseases as serious as tuberculosis.

Viral infections such as the common cold, influenza, measles, mumps and chicken pox are easily spread

Professor Martin Hocking
This, he says, is due to the constant recirculation of cabin air, which not only has lower than normal oxygen content, but also exposes travellers to viruses which are not removed by standard aircraft filtration.

However, his claims have been attacked by both industry groups and a leading aviation health expert, who say it has no foundation in science.

And a recent report of the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords, did not accept the view that recycling of air meant "any harmful change" in the quality of cabin air.

Oxygen supplies, it concluded were more than adequate for airline passengers, who would spend most of their time seated.

Professor Martin Hocking
Professor Martin Hocking said passengers could be at risk
However, Professor Hocking, who is backed by the UK's Aviation Health Institute, said that the risk of exposure to disease was "often underestimated".

He said: "Viral infections such as the common cold, influenza, measles, mumps and chicken pox are easily spread.

"More worryingly, there have been well-documented cases of TB transmission, a significant risk to air travellers when it is remembered that this disease is endemic in many parts of the world."

He said that research showed that airborne viruses and bacteria from one passenger could conceivably spread over an area covering up to 15 rows of seats.

However, a recent World Health Organisation report concluded that there was little evidence that TB could be more easily acquired in aircraft conditions.

'No evidence'

Dr Ian Perry, an independent consultant in aviation medicine, said that it was almost impossible for viruses to pass unscathed through the filtration systems in modern aircraft.

You are more likely to pick up an infection breathing the air in an operating theatre than in a modern aircraft

Dr Ian Perry, consultant in aviation medicine
He said: "It's the cleanest air there is. You are more likely to pick up an infection breathing the air in an operating theatre than in a modern aircraft, because these systems are so good."

"Nothing gets through them."

He added: "People like Professor Hocking make these whimsical remarks about fanciful ideas but they are not able to prove a thing they have said.

"All this does is unnecessarily scare members of the travelling public."

A spokesman for the British Air Transport Association echoed this.

He said: "Quite honestly, this is a scare story. Medical opinion supports none of it."

Bob Preston, of the British Air Transport Association
Bob Preston: "The standard of air on aircraft is extremely high"

Bob Preston, executive officer of the British Air Transport Association, which represents most of Britain's airlines, dismissed the worries.

"I don't accept that passengers should be concerned about these allegations.

"The standard of air on aircraft is extremely high.

"All this was investigated by the House of Lord's Select Committee on Science and Technology last year and they said the standards were more than adequate and that the oxygen was more than enough for all the passengers and that the incidence of confirmed infection was amazingly low."

Professor Hocking will be answering your questions live on camera at 1200 BST. Email your questions to him using the form below.


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The BBC's Karen Allen
"Many scientists believe the claims are alarmist"
Bob Preston, British Air Association
"The standard of air on aircraft is extremely high"
University of Victoria's Prof. Martin Hocking and
Dr Ian Perry discuss the air quality on board aeroplanes

Talking PointFORUM
Air health risk?
Researcher Prof Hocking quizzed.
See also:

23 Oct 00 | UK
The seats of discontent
10 Jun 01 | Health
Airlines 'knew blood clot risk'
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