Friday, November 27, 2009

Experiencing upper atmosphere pollution. Fuel Dumping as short sighted safety procedure.

In September of this year my son and I boarded a 727 airplane on our way back to the US. From England. Thirty minutes into the flight, we noticed that the plane started a prolonged turning maneuver. It did not take long for the captain to address us through the intercom system, indicating that the airplane would have to return to base; he assured us that we were not in danger, although the generator feeding the right motor had malfunctioned and that engine was now powered by the emergency generator. He stated that for safety reasons he preferred to return to the port of origin rather than to continue with the transatlantic flight. He then proceeded to indicate that if we looked out the windows we would see jet streams coming from each wing. These he added, were generated by the fuel being dumped in the upper atmosphere. The dumping lasted about 30 minutes.
The attached picture shows one of these jets of fuel contaminating our atmosphere.
It was good that I knew that certain aircrafts could not land with full fuel tanks. This was a straight forward safety procedure.
Some of my fellow passengers commented on the waste of money that this safety maneuver represented. I, on the other hand, was concerned about the possible environmental and health repercussions of a procedure which most certainly resulted in a prolonged increase of atmospheric pollutants.

Back at home, curious about the environmental and health impact of atmospheric fuel dumping I searched the Internet where I came across a Wikipedia article listing the aircrafts that have to be equipped with a fuel dumping system but, the Wikipedia article also stated:

“Considering the more powerful engines that had been developed, the FAA [Federal Aviation Agency] changed the rules to delete [earlier] requirements, and FAR [Federal Aviation Regulation] 25.1001 was enacted stating a jettison system was not required if the climb requirements of FAR 25.119 (Landing Climb) and FAR 25.121 (Approach Climb) could be met”

Why, I ask, if the technology is in place to build economically sound aircraft, able to land with a full (or almost full) fuel tank, are the airlines still using airplanes equipped with jettisons?
Should we boycott these planes so as to apply pressure on the manufacturers and airlines?
Planes currently equipped with jettisons are:
Boeing 727
Boeing 707
Douglas DC-8
Planes that currently may have the fuel dumping system installed, depending upon how they were ordered are longer-range twin jets such as :
Boeing 767
Boeing 777
Airbus A300
Airbus 310
Airbus 330
In addition, most three and four engine jets like the
Lockheed L-1011
McDonnell Douglas DC-10/MD-11
Boeing 747
Airbus A340
usually have difficulty meeting the requirements of FAR 25.119, near maximum structural takeoff weight, so most of those have jettison systems.

There is more: Reports of health problems (nausea, respiratory infections, skin irritations, immune-suppression) are associated with jet fuel exposure; but is not only the fuel per se which is toxic. Jet fuel has a number of chemicals added as stabilizers. Their reactivity in the upper atmosphere is not known, although it is well recognized that they pose a biological hazard.

Here is that list
Antioxidants used to prevent gumming, usually based on alkylated phenols, eg. AO-30, AO-31, or AO-37; [Known disruptor of endocrine function]
Antistatic agents used to dissipate static electricity and prevent sparking; Stadis 450, with dinonylnaphthylsulfonic acid (DINNSA) as the active ingredient, is an example [Among other toxic effects shows carcinogenic potential]
Corrosion inhibitors, e.g. DCI-4A used for civilian and military fuels, and DCI-6A used for military fuels. [Listed as hazardous materials for handlers]
Fuel System Icing Inhibitor (FSII) agents, e.g. Di-EGME [Diethylene glycol monomethyl ether] often mixed at the point-of-sale so that users with heated fuel lines do not have to pay the extra expense. [Presents developmental and gestational toxicity]
Biocide which can be added if evidence of bacterial colonies inside the fuel system exists. [Biocides are intended to kill living organisms; many biocidal products pose a significant risk to human health and welfare]
In addition to their biological toxicity, nobody knows for sure how these chemicals could affect the wellbeing of Gaia, the only home we truly have so far.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Thanksgiving 2009