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Flight attendants say air inside planes can be toxic

WSB-TV has learned that three airline crews in Atlanta in the past year had emergency medical care after they say fumes on board their planes made them sick.

The director of Georgia's Poison Control Center told WSB-TV’s Tom Regan that the agency received emergency calls three different times in the past year about flight crews falling ill at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

>> Watch the news report here

The jet engines that take you into the air also draw in the air you breathe.

Despite filters, that air sometimes contains invisible fumes that can sicken crews, drawing an emergency response at airports. 

Dr. Gaylord Lopez of the Georgia Poison Control Center told Regan, "We had 13 patients exposed over the past year related to airplane fumes."

He described the symptoms as "coughing, choking, gagging, wheezing, shortness of breath. One felt like they could not breathe anymore."

>> Read more trending news

Lopez said in one case, a ground supervisor also became ill.

"They went to investigate. They breathed the air and they got sickened as well," Lopez explained.

Pressurized cabin air is drawn through the jet's engines. It’s called bleed air. In the engine's oil is an additive called Tricresyl phosphate, or TCP.

If there's a leak or other mechanical issue, fumes from the chemical could circulate into the cabin, affecting passengers, but more often the flight crew.

"I couldn't think. I had nausea. I felt dizzy. I had a headache," said former flight attendant Vanessa Woods.

She said that when she worked for Alaska Airlines, she and three other flight attendants were taken to the hospital after breathing the fumes. The doctor said they had hydrocarbon exposure.

Woods says it has caused neurological issues that have made it impossible for her to work. She and the other flight attendants filed a lawsuit against Boeing, the manufacturer of the plane.

"I want Boeing to make changes. They need to put in sensor alarms, redesign the planes," Woods said.

ON WSBTV.com:

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In a statement, Boeing told Regan, "The air in our airplane cabins is safe. Boeing's bleed air systems meet all applicable FAA requirements, and an overwhelming body of scientific evidence confirms the safety."

"We know that pilots and flight attendants are getting sick from toxic fumes," Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants told WSB-TV.

Based on a 2016 study from Kansas State University, the flight attendants union estimates there are five fume events each day on airlines worldwide. Most are minor, but the union says there's a risk.

"It's a real concern. Because if a crew member can become incapacitated, and there's a pilot flying the plane, that can be very dangerous to everyone on board," Nelson said.

A WSB-TV investigative producer dug through FAA reports and found more than 100 possible fume events on commercial airlines in the past year. In nine cases, illnesses were reported. The reports filed with the FAA come from a variety of airlines and a variety of planes.

>> ON WSBTV.com: PHOTOS: "The Dirty Dozen" airplanes with the most reported fume events in the past year

"We know that it happened, not only with crews, but passengers that might be closer to the front part of the plane because of the way air circulates and where it starts coming into the plane," Lopez told Regan.

The FAA told WSB-TV that fume events are rare considering the millions of flights in the U.S. every year. The agency also says cabin air is as good or better than the air found in offices or homes.

But the flight's attendants union says more can be done to ensure the safety of the crew and passengers.

“The only way to solve this issue is to build aircraft with alternative air circulation means," Nelson said.

The Boeing 787 is the only commercial plane that doesn't use a bleed-air system.

The flight attendants union says it's working with Congress to require new fume sensors and filters on airplanes. Airbus, like Boeing, says its cabin air is safe.

In response to WSB-TV’s report that Spirit Airlines had 11 out of the top 12 planes with the highest number of reported fume events in the last year, a spokesperson sent the following response:

"Thank you for taking the time to look into this issue. As you heard from the FAA, these events are very rare. To show the rarity of such events, in the time frame you researched (since May 1, 2016), we have had well over 150,000 individual flights, of which 41 have had an odor event. That’s a ratio of 0.000027 of flights. The reason you see more reports of odor events on Spirit aircraft is because we aggressively report our incidents. We have encouraged other airlines to also report their incidents, as well, with the hope of better research and understanding the root causes. While these odor events are very rare, we take each and every incident that takes place on one of our aircraft very seriously. In fact, Spirit is an industry leader in investigating and researching the various causes of these odor events. We have invested substantial dollars on detection equipment to help detect particulates that cause odor events on aircraft. We have also installed a new, more robust air filters on our planes in an effort to reduce the frequency of such events.

"It’s important to note that odor events happen to every airline and every type of aircraft that uses bleed air, and has been an issue in the industry for decades. To call these fume events is mostly hyperbole. There are many reasons the air odor on aircraft can change. It could be because planes are flying through rain clouds and moisture gets into the aircraft's air system; foul odor outside the aircraft that gets through air filters; and yes, it could be because oil or hydraulic fluid odors get past air filters and into the bleed air. All sources of foul odor can be uncomfortable for passengers and crew – but to say these odors are toxic fumes or harmful – is an overstatement. That said, we understand the concern people may have regarding such odors, and that is why Spirit is leading the industry in trying to understand the root causes of the different odor events, with a goal of preventing and hopefully eliminating them in the future."

American Airlines, which also had one plane in the top 12, sent this statement:

"The health and welfare of our crews and customers continues to be our top priority at American Airlines. We take cabin odor issues seriously and have devoted extensive efforts over time, including working with aircraft, engine and auxiliary power unit manufacturers, to address these types of concerns. Our Technical Operations team actively monitors and conducts in-depth inspections whenever a cabin odor event is reported by one of our crewmembers. Our team members are encouraged to report any issues so that we can make improvements to their work environment."

WATCH: Massive fire erupts on I-75 after deadly Ohio gas tanker crash

A car traveling the wrong way on southbound Interstate 75 crashed into a gasoline tanker truck in Dayton, Ohio, creating a massive, smoky fire that shut down the interstate in both directions Sunday evening.

>> On DaytonDailyNews.com: PHOTOS: Car, truck collide, leading to closure of part of I-75

The blaze and freeway closure sent motorists searching for detours and triggered environmental concerns on reports of thick smoke entering part of the city’s sewer system.

>> On DaytonDailyNews.com: These detours will help you navigate around SB I-75 closure in Dayton

Almost immediately after the crash, the conflagration sent thick, black smoke high into the air, attracting immediate attention.

The driver of the car, a 30-year-old Beavercreek man, was confirmed killed in the crash, Dayton police Lt. Mark Ponichtera said.

>> Read more trending news

Police and the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office did not release the man’s name, nor the name of the truck driver who suffered minor injuries.

Northbound I-75 reopened Sunday night, but police said a portion of I-75 south could be closed for multiple days due to the damage to the highway. 

United unveils 10 policy changes, will pay bumped passengers up to $10,000

United Airlines has announced 10 policy changes after a video of passenger David Dao being dragged off a plane went viral earlier this month.

>> Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat

In what may be the biggest change, the airline will now offer travelers as much as $10,000 to relinquish their seats on overbooked flights, up from $1,350, according to Bloomberg.

>> United Airlines passengers describe scene as man dragged off flight

In a Thursday news release, the airline also pledged to take the following actions:

  • “Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.
  • “Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
  • “Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines or ground transportation to get customers to their final destination.
  • “Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
  • “Provide employees with additional annual training.
  • “Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.
  • “Reduce the amount of overbooking.
  • “Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.
  • “Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a 'no questions asked' policy on lost luggage.”

In a statement, United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized for the incident and said the airline is "taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again."

>> United Airlines changes policy after man dragged from plane

"Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: Our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what's right," Munoz said. "This is a turning point for all of us at United, and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline. Our customers should be at the center of everything we do, and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust."

>> Read more trending news

Read more here.

Uber plans to take ride-sharing off the ground

The Uber Elevate Summit is live in Dallas this week through Thursday.

>> Read more trending news 

Uber Elevate describes its mission as “fast-forwarding to the future of on-demand, urban air transportation.” 

Uber is working to take its successful ride-sharing services airborne.

The Uber Elevate Summit is offering information and working to bring awareness to the benefits of flying taxis, with car manufacturers, lawmakers and venture capitalists presenting research and preliminary plans for how to get the next phase of Uber off the ground.

The multibillion-dollar company is already detailing its aircraft capabilities – basically, quiet and capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) – and has worked up a drawing of theoretical landing pads in Dallas

Dallas-Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter is on the short list for its first batch of possible air taxi manufacturers, and given its large-scale production capabilities and experience building the type of aircraft that Uber would like, Uber Elevate could be calling Texas home.

Here’s a video of one of Uber Elevate’s other development partners demonstrating its concept of electric-VTOL aircraft:

Government hurdles could be the biggest roadblocks to Uber Elevate taking off, but executives are hoping to begin large-scale production by 2023.

Read more at Uber, and see the full Uber Elevate Summit schedule and speakers here.

New video shows moments before United Airlines passenger was dragged off plane

The story of Dr. David Dao and United Airlines has dominated headlines since late Sunday. Dao was forcibly removed and injured after boarding a United Airlines flight out of Chicago. Footage went viral that showed Dao arguing with officers before he was removed from the overbooked flight.

>> Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat

On Wednesday, a new video began to circulate that showed the moments leading up to Dao’s removal.

>> Watch the video here

Dao was randomly selected to de-board the aircraft when United Airlines personnel needed extra seats in order to travel for work. A Twitter user named Joya Cummings claimed to be a passenger on the flight. Cummings uploaded a video on Tuesday morning that showed what happened before Dao was removed.

>> Merriam-Webster trolls United, defines 'volunteer' after harrowing video goes viral

“I won’t go,” Dao tells officers when they tell him he needs to leave the plane.

“I’m a physician, [I] have work tomorrow.”

>> All passengers on United Flight 3411 to receive compensation

When Dao is informed that he will be dragged off the flight, he threatens to sue United Airlines.

TMZ later uploaded a compilation of videos provided by Cummings.

>> See the clips here

“You can then drag me…I’m not going.” Dao says.

“I’d rather go to jail.”

>> Read more trending news

Dao was ultimately taken off the flight and reportedly injured in the process.

Widow of bus driver in deadly Texas crash dies days after husband's memorial

The wife of the man who was behind the wheel of a church bus involved in a deadly head-on crash near Uvalde, Texas, that claimed his life and the lives of 12 others last month has died.

Dianne Barrett, the wife of Murray Barrett, died a few days after a memorial service was held for her husband in New Braunfels, according to First Baptist Church of New Braunfels, which released the following statement to the American-Statesman on Wednesday:

“We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dianne Barrett. We continue to pray for our Lord's mercy and comfort for our church family members who continue to grieve.” 

>> Driver who hit church bus, killed 13 was texting, witness says

Barrett is listed on the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels website as a ministry assistant.

New Braunfels police spokesman David Ferguson said Barrett’s body was found inside her home on Walnut Heights Boulevard around 9:45 a.m. Tuesday after emergency crews were dispatched for a medical emergency.

“Crews arrived and found the female deceased,” he said.

>> Read more trending news

A justice of the peace arrived and officially pronounced Barrett dead, and ordered a standard autopsy. Ferguson said there were no signs of foul play.

Murray Barrett and 12 others were killed March 29 when their church bus collided with a pickup that had swerved into oncoming traffic on U.S. 83 north of Uvalde.

Only two people survived the collision, the pickup’s driver, 20-year-old Jack D. Young, and one of the bus passengers, 64-year-old Rose Harris.

92 percent of motorists use phone while driving; Florida gets study’s 2nd worst score

study released Wednesday suggests 92 percent of U.S. drivers with cell phones have used them while moving in a car in the past 30 days, and Florida received the nation’s worst score for such use after Louisiana. Tennessee ranked as the state with the third worst phone-use habits of motorists.

>> Read more trending news

“It’s pretty insane,” said Ryan Ruffing, director of communications at EverQuote Inc., the company behind the research. “Most people consider themselves good drivers, but they are not aware of how often they are using their phones behind the wheel.”

An app called EverDrive collected data on more than 2.7 million vehicle trips and 230 million miles driven, according to the company. By sensing motion changes and other factors, the app assigns drivers a score on everything from phone use to use hard braking, speeding, risky acceleration and hard turns.

“I’m not surprised by the results of the study,” said state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. “We’re one of four states that don’t make texting while driving a primary offense.”

That means police don’t cite drivers for texting on cell phones unless they pull them over for something else like speeding.

Slosberg and others have sponsored legislation to beef up penalties, but it is not clear those measures will get through committees in time to pass before the session ends in early May.

The EverDrive technology does not count hands-free devices or incidental phone motion in a pocket or car seat, but aims rather to detect active phone use such as unlocking it while the vehicle is moving, Ruffing said. Use can include texting and talking.

EverDrive, a privately-held firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and founded in 2011, calls itself an online insurance marketplace in the U.S. matching drivers with insurance providers based on price and coverage needs. The company insists it does not share individual driver data with insurance companies without permission, according to Ruffing, but its goal is to encourage safer habits by making drivers more self-aware.

Is it working? Company officials say there is evidence it may be. That 92 percent figure for phone use may sound high, but it was higher last year: 96 percent.

Southerners have the highest phone usage rate while driving — on 41 percent of trips. Other regions used the phone on 34 percent to 37 percent of trips.

Last year EverQuote calculated Americans were on the phone about half a mile for every 11 miles driven.

Insurance companies such as Progressive have invited customers to use plug-in devices to measure many driving behaviors, if not necessarily phone use. Despite initial advertising claims, the gizmos can raise premiums as well lower them, The Palm Beach Post found. Drivers may not realize the tech cannot always distinguish between inattentive driving and, say, a hard stop to save a neighbor’s dog. Also often penalized: Driving after midnight, even if you work the night shift.

Still, just about everyone acknowledges phone use behind the wheel represents a big and growing safety issue.

“We hope this data sheds light on actual driving habits versus people’s perception of their driving skills,” said Seth Birnbaum, CEO of EverQuote. “Our goal is to empower drivers to use their scores to improve their driving skills and ultimately make the roads safer for themselves and the 214 million drivers on the roads across the U.S.”

Read more at EverQuote.

Update: AT&T officials said they commissioned research showing 57 percent of people are more likely to stop driving distracted if a friend or passenger brings it up. As AT&T spokeswoman Kelly Starling in North Palm Beach said, “That means half of people are just waiting for someone to tell them to stop.”

During Distracted Driving Awareness Month, AT&T said it has launched the #TagYourHalf social media campaign to “encourage the public to join the conversation on Twitter.”

Merriam-Webster trolls United, defines 'volunteer' after harrowing video goes viral

The internet’s had jokes since shortly after a video emerged showing a dazed and bloodied passenger being dragged screaming from a United Airlines flight.

>> Twitter users respond to United Airlines fiasco, suggest mock company slogans

Now even the dictionary’s joining in.

>> See the tweet here

It’s hard to miss Merriam-Webster’s meaning in choosing to highlight the definition of “volunteer,” a word United used (in addition to “re-accommodate”) in its initial corporate responses.

>> Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat on flight

Other Twitter commentary has been a little more blunt:

United CEO's internal email describes man dragged off flight as 'disruptive,' 'belligerent'

After disturbing videos surfaced of a passenger being dragged off a plane because the flight was overbooked, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz told employees that he "emphatically" stands behind them in an internal email circulated to United Airlines employees and acquired by CNBC.

>> Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat on overbooked flight

Munoz’s public apology, also reported earlier Monday by NBC News, read:

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

But in an email circulated to employees Monday, Munoz opened with, “Like you, I was upset to see and hear what happened last night,” and wrote that "the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this passenger defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers."

Munoz wrote that the “situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we asked to deplane refused” and that employees “followed established procedures.”

>> When can an airline force a ticketed passenger off a plane?

"While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right,” Munoz also wrote before including a brief summary of internal reports of the incidents. “I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation."

The United CEO added that the passenger at the center of the video, who said he was a doctor and had patients to see the following morning, was “disruptive and belligerent.” He said the airline “sought volunteers” before they followed an “involuntary denial of boarding process.”

>> Watch the news report here

– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

'Messages From Mom' on freeway signs aim to curb distracted driving

Drivers, beware: Mom's watching.

According to KTVL, Oregon's freeway signs are lighting up with mom-inspired advice under a state Department of Transportation campaign to put the brakes on distracted driving.

>> Read more trending news

The project, dubbed "Messages From Mom," includes missives such as, "Drop the phone because I said so, that's why" and "Put the phone away, I'm going to count to 3."

Drivers traveling on Interstate 5 in the southern part of the state will see the messages through the end of the month.

Read more here.

>> Click here to watch the news report from KTVL

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