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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

How Clean is Plane Cabin Air?

Aired June 5, 2003 - 20:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The latest on the fight to prevent the spread of SARS. U.S. health officials testified today during a Congressional hearing on the chances of catching the deadly virus as well as other serious illnesses on a plane flight.
CNN's Kathleen Koch reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flight attendant Jill Haller was fit and healthy until a January 2001 flight when unidentified noxious fumes filled the cabin she was working in.

JILL HALLER, FLIGHT ATTENDANT: The initial symptoms were burning eyes, burning nose, tightness in my chest, severe headaches. I was placed on pain medication for the headaches and given an inhaler to help with the tightness and pain in my chest.

KOCH: Passengers, too, have reported being sickened by air in planes.

ROBIN MONTMAYEUR, PASSENGER: An oil leak occurred in the pressure regulator shut off valve causing a strong

KOCH: Robin Montmayeur says she's had insomnia, dizzy spells, memory loss and severe respiratory problems since breathing oil fumes for more than two hours while on a United Airlines flight from Washington to San Diego in 2000.

MONTMAYEUR: It's definitely caused me to change my entire life. And I've accepted that at this point and moving forward, but I will never be the person I was before that flight.

KOCH: The FAA tells Congress it doesn't know what's causing the problem and what corrective measures to take, if any.

DR. JON JORDAN, FEDERAL AIR SURGEON: Exactly the mechanism for those problems has been difficult to define and what we do to correct them is also been difficult to define.

KOCH: A 2001 study by the national research council found cabin air contaminants can be responsible for -- quote -- "some of the numerous complaints of acute and chronic health effects." Some blame new plane infiltration systems that cut costs by mixing in half recirculated air from the cabin instead of using all fresh air.

The practice raises particular concerns in the case of SARS, though the Centers for Disease Control says there's little threat of infection on a plane.

DR. MARTIN CETRON, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: The risk appears quite small and though that risk is not zero.

KOCH: Aircraft maker Boeing insists its filtration system eliminates such biological contaminants.

But some pilots and the flight attendants union charge air systems and filters aren't always properly maintained and changed. Airlines deny that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're changed on a regular basis and interestingly, they do work better the longer they've been in.

KOCH (on camera): Lawmakers are angry that the FAA won't have a complete study on cabin air continents until 2007. Some want immediate standards for cabin air quality so passengers and crews can breathe easier.

Kathleen Koch, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: I want to know about those little pillows. They always seem dirty to me whenever I get them. Anyway.

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