Press Releases

2004 Releases

FAA Establishes Consortium that Includes HSPH to Study Safety of Airliner Cabin Environment

For immediate release:  October 20, 2004

Boston, MA - HSPH has been named a member of a new, federally established consortium that will investigate the health and safety of air quality, including chemical and biological risks, in airplane cabins.


The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established the Center of Excellence for Airliner Cabin Environment Research. Headed by Auburn University, the consortium includes HSPH and Purdue University, which will co-lead technical-related efforts for the Center, as well as Boise State University, Kansas State University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.


John Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation in the Department of Environmental Health, is a co-principal investigator on the project. Spengler is an expert on indoor air quality and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences committee whose report on the health consequences of environmental tobacco smoke in 1986 helped lead to a smoking ban on domestic airplane flights.


Spengler and other Harvard researchers have measured allergens, particles, carbon dioxide, relative humidity, temperature and pressure, volatile organic compounds, and ozone in the passenger cabins of commercial airplanes. Recently, Spengler and colleagues reported in Indoor Air the results of ozone analyses for 106 flights across the U.S. and Pacific. Approximately 20 percent of these flights had ozone exceeding federal air quality health standards. In related work, former HSPH doctoral student Gwangpyo Ko, HSPH Associate Professor Kimberly Thompson, and Harvard Medical School and HSPH Associate Professor Edward Nardell modeled the transmission of tuberculosis on an airplane. They published the paper in April in Risk Analysis: An International Journal.

Members of the Center of Excellence for Airliner Cabin Environment Research are currently developing a research agenda. A number of health-related issues are being considered, including:

* potential spread of infectious diseases among passengers
* inhalation of fumes from the breakdown of lubricants and hydraulic fluids
* effects of persistent levels of noise and vibration within the cabin
* exposure to cosmic radiation
* risks for deep vein thrombosis, colloquially known as "Economy Class thrombosis"

The FAA has established seven other Centers of Excellence, which focus on a variety of subjects. This new Center is the first among them to focus on health issues associated with the internal environment of airplane cabins.


Initial funding for the Center will come from the federal government. The FAA will provide at least $1 million for the Center in the first year and $500,000 in each of the second and third years. Matching funds will be provided by state and local governments and the private sector.

For more information contact:

Christina Roache
Publications Associate
Harvard School of Public Health
Office of Communications
665 Huntington Avenue, SPH1-1312A
Boston, MA 02115
Telephone: 617-432-6052
Fax: 617-432-3232
Email: croache@hsph.harvard.edu