Investigation of Airline Crew Health Complaints Before and After New Uniforms
Principal Investigator: Eileen McNeely, RN,C., M.S., Ph.D.
Alaska Airlines (AA) Flight Crew reported health complaints such as skin rash, eyes, ears, nose and throat irritation, hair loss, fatigue, chemical sensitivity, and thyroid disease, after the introduction of new crew uniforms in 2011. Although approximately 800 of the 3,000 flight attendants filed health complaints, the claims were dismissed as not uniform-related by the airlines. Even so, the airlines discontinued the Chinese manufacturer for the uniforms in 2014. Chan SPH researchers are in a unique position to track trends in reported health complaints before, during, and after the uniform change because this population is part of our Flight Attendant Health Cohort. We have collected approximately 700 health surveys from Alaska crew on each of three occasions in 2007, 2013, and 2015. In addition, we have comparative population survey data from approximately 4,000 flight attendants from other airlines who were sampled in 2007 and again in 2014-2015.
We have submitted a manuscript (Environmental Health, April 2017) that showed the relationship between the introduction of new uniforms in flight attendants and an increase in symptoms.For several years, Alaska Airline crew lost support from NIOSH, Washington State DOL, and class action because of a lack of evidence of the relationship between the uniforms and their symptoms, despite laboratory findings of numerous chemical irritants, sensitizers, endocrine disrupters, and carcinogens present on the uniforms.
Starting in Fall 2016, new uniforms were introduced at American Airlines made by the same Chinese manufacturer and their flight attendants made the same reports of health problems. Flight attendants are sending us their uniforms for test. We plan to submit a grant for uniform testing.