Deadly Airport Toxins

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The US aviation industry has grown to be the most robust in the world, shuttling millions of passengers from one point to another every year. According to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, more than 8.5 million flights departed from US airports in 2014 alone. In addition, the number of airports increased from 15,161 in 1980 to 19,453 in 2013. Along with this rapid expansion, and under the aviation industry’s veneer of transport efficiency, lies a deadly secret very few people are willing to discuss in air travel: deadly toxins emitted through the day-to-day operations of the industry. To learn more deadly airport toxins, checkout the infographic below created by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Masters in Civil Engineering Online degree program.


Deadly airport toxins

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Toxins Emitted By Aviation Industry

The aviation is by far the leading emitter of harmful and deadly toxins such as sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, these toxins are harmful to living things. In fact, people living, working, or simply within nine square miles of airports are exposed to air pollution that is 10 times higher than areas outside this zone.

Air Pollution Levels at Select US Airports

To get a good grasp of the aviation industry’s air pollution problem, it is important to look at select airports in the US. To start with, Van Nuys airport in Van Nuys, CA is estimated to generate 1.4 tons of lead emissions every year. Another top air polluter is Seattle Airport in Seattle, WA where carbon monoxide levels exceed the federal guidelines. Logan Airport in Boston, MA is also a guilty party with VOC emissions reaching the 667432 kg mark annually. At the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, air pollution is so bad every terminal services employee subjected to tests registered ACGIH carbon monoxide levels in excess of the threshold limit of 25 ppm.

Health Risks Associated With Various Aviation Industry Toxins

The potential health risks associated with aviation industry toxins vary depending on the type of toxins. Here is a look at some of these toxins and their potential health risks:

Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Exposure to carbon monoxide increases the risk of low oxygen levels in the blood. As a result, the body is unable to meet oxygen demands especially for physically active people or those with heart disease. Moreover, it increases the risk of premature death.

Particulate Matter

Continued particulate matter exposure can compromise lung function as well as cause aggravated asthma and irregular heartbeat. For people with lung or heart disease, these toxins can cause premature death.

Nitrogen Oxides

Nitrogen oxides can cause health problems such as aggravation of heart disease, increased respiratory symptoms and disease, and premature death.


VOCs are notorious for aggravating respiratory symptoms and disease, causing headaches, damaging the liver and kidney, damaging the central nervous system, as well as irritating the nose, eyes, and throat.

Sulfur oxide

This toxin is responsible for worsening heart disease symptoms thereby increasing likelihood of premature death. Moreover, it aggravates respiratory disease and symptoms.


Medical experts warn that lead can damage the reproductive system, nervous system, lower the oxygen carrying capacity of blood, damage cardiovascular system, and cause negative neurological effects in children.

Fatalities and Diseases Attributed to Aviation Industry Toxins

Given the large amounts of toxins generated by this industry, diseases and fatalities are inevitable. SEATAC Airport alone is responsible for higher than normal cancer rates among people living near this aviation hub. Take note physicians and researchers in the medical world have pegged the normal rate of developing or dying from a brain cancer called glioblastoma at one in 25,000 people.

Adults who live near airports in the US have a higher likelihood (3.5%) of developing cardiovascular complications that require hospital admission compared to adults who do not live near. Even planes flying at cruising altitude (35,000 feet or so) emit toxins linked to about 8,000 deaths worldwide every year.

Air Pollution Remedies

Since this state of affairs is not sustainable, interested parties must take steps to reduce air pollution. A good starting point would be replacing old aircraft with newer energy-efficient ones. The aviation industry expects 52% of commercial aircraft in the US by 2025 to be energy efficient. This figure will rise to 86% by 2035. Another solution is taking steps to decongest airports, which translates to less toxic emissions caused by aircraft idling on the taxiway. Redrawing and shortening flight paths can also cut toxic emissions. Finally, airlines should adopt the use of jet fuel with a sulfur concentration of between 400 and 800 ppm, which means that the top industry players would have to support the desulfurization of jet fuel.


Although the aviation industry plays an important role in transport, it is a leading source of toxic emissions. These include lead, carbon dioxide, sulfur oxide, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds.