Published March 1, 2022 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Routes of Aircraft Cabin Air Contamination from Engine Oil, Hydraulic and Deicing Fluid

  • 1. Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Hamburg, Germany


Purpose: This paper discusses potential contamination of the air in passenger aircraft cabins. It gives an overview of cabin air contamination basics. It further names possible contamination sources and possible routes of contamination.

Methodology: Evidence follows from a review of material found on the Internet and from the documentation of a visit to an aircraft recycling site. Parts were retrieved at the site and investigated later with more time.

Findings: Jet engine seals leak oil in small quantities. Metallic nanoparticles are found in the oil and have been detected in human fatty tissue of aviation workers. It has been observed that the potable water on board can also be contaminated. Oil traces have been found in bleed ducts, air conditioning components, and in air conditioning ducts. Deicing fluid and hydraulic fluid can find their way into the air conditioning system via the APU air intake. Fuel and oil also leak down onto the airport surfaces. These fluids can be ingested by the engine from the ground and can enter the air conditioning system from there. Entropy is the law of nature that states that disorder always increases. This is the reason, why it is impossible to confine engine oil and hydraulic fluids to their (predominantly) closed aircraft systems. This is why engine oil with metal nanoparticles hydraulic fluids, and deicing fluids eventually can go everywhere and finally into the human body.

Research Limitations: No measurements have been made.

Practical Implications: Awareness and prevention of contaminated cabin air can protect passengers and crew.

Social Implications: The exposure of contaminated cabin air provides a basis for a general discussion and shows that people should be alerted and need to act. New technologies need to be implemented such as a bleed free architecture.

Originality: This paper shows many original images of contaminated parts and air ducts between engine compressor and cabin air outlet. Own observations are combined with similar observations found in literature and online. The collected evidence is visualized in a diagram showing the routes of possible aircraft cabin air (and water) contamination.


This is a paper from the INCAS Bulletin. This is a publication from the International Aircraft Cabin Air Conference 2021 (Online, 15-18 March 2021)



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Presentation: 10.5281/zenodo.4743773 (DOI)