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Airplane cabin as test tube

Wed, Oct 17, 2007 — David Evans

Briefs

“Whenever human beings and ozone are simultaneously present, one anticipates production of acetone,” declares a study in the September 2007 issue of Environmental Science & Technology. Acetone is just one of the witches’ brew of products created by the interaction of passengers and ozone; the other products include formic acid, acetic acid, and other potentially irritating compounds.

The study, by Charles Weschler of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and colleagues, examined what happens to ozone in a B767 cabin full of passengers.

As planes fly at high altitudes, the air entering the cabin contains elevated levels of ozone. Using a rebuilt section of a B767 within a climate chamber, the researchers found during simulated 4-hour flights that ozone reacts with the compounds in the seats and carpeting. But passengers also help to create the problem. As the study found, “Most byproducts were derived from surface reactions with occupants and their clothing.” More than half the irritating byproducts were the result of reactions with passengers’ clothing and natural oils on their skin and in their hair.

“Several of these compounds reached levels above their reported odor thresholds,” the study found.

Many airplanes have equipment to eliminate the ozone, but many do not.

The researchers say their findings may have implications for other indoor environments where ozone buildup can occur and where people are present to create compounds that may affect health. (See an abstract of the article at http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/esthag/2007/41/i17/abs/es0708520.html)


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