Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

A flight attendant for American Airlines says her uniform is making her sick.

Heather Poole, a flight crew member, says the company-issued uniform may look “sexy” but it has had a negative impact on her health, the New York Post reports.

Flight Attendant “Feels Terrible” Every Time She Goes to Work

Poole, who has a thyroid condition, says American’s new uniform has had adverse effects on her condition—a reactions to chemicals in the uniform.

She has written on her blog, “Every time I go to work I feel terrible,” according to the Post. Poole is not alone in her complaints. Other employees have reported health issues, including respiratory ailments and fertility problems, since American Airlines introduced the new uniforms in September 2016. Poole also claims that flight attendants from other airlines who wear uniforms made by the same manufacturer have also reported health issues. Poole says, “It’s kind of crazy to think your clothes could be poisoning you.”

The attorneys at Parker Waichman have long experience with health issues caused by chemicals to which people are exposed in their daily environment. These include not only chemicals in their clothing, but also chemicals in household items like rugs, upholstery, and bed linens, and sometimes in the building materials in the home or workplace.

In 2016, American Airlines spent $1.5 million on new slate grey uniforms to replace the old navy blue uniforms for 70,000 employees. But since the uniform changeover, employees have complained of allergic-like reactions to the new clothing, the U.K. Sun reports.

As of late December 2016, 2,200 flight attendants have reported reactions to the uniforms, including “eye swelling, rashes, skin blistering” and wheezing, headaches, and vertigo, according to NBC News. In a letter to the airline, union president Bob Ross asked American to stop issuing the uniforms; to honor flight attendants’ requests for sick leave, and to reimburse them for medical expenses. Ross called on the airline to establish a $2 million fund to investigate health issues linked to the new uniforms.

The new uniforms consist of blazers and pants in a wool/polyester/spandex blend, with 100 percent cotton shirts. American said it provides a cotton version of the uniform pieces to those who are sensitive to wool.

According to NBC News, American said it had done three rounds of testing on the old uniforms, the new ones, and the packaging they came in. The airline told NBC it was working with the flight attendants’ union to do a fourth round of testing.

Pilots for American Airlines have also complained about health issues they believe are connected to chemicals in their uniforms.

In a recent blog post, Poole said she has been assailed by internet trolls who do not believe the new uniform is linked to her health issues. She said people have called her “psycho” and “crazy.” But, she said, even when she stopped wearing the uniform, her health issues did not clear up. She wore clothing similar to the uniform but she said that being on flights with co-workers in the new uniforms affected her health. She says she even had to make a trip to the emergency room for health issues.

Research on Chemicals in Clothing

Research has shown that chemicals used in the manufacture of clothing have been identified as health risks. In 2015, researchers at Stockholm University tested 60 garments from Swedish clothing chains and found substances that could pose health risks, ScienceDaily reports.

“Exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of allergic dermatitis, but more severe health effect for humans as well as the environment could possibly be related to these chemicals. Some of them are suspected or proved carcinogens and some have aquatic toxicity,” says Giovanna Luongo, PhD in analytical chemistry at Stockholm University.

Some of the chemicals washed off when the clothes were laundered, but others remained in the clothing. The researchers say these chemicals could be a source of long-term skin exposure, though it not known what level is hazardous and what effects the chemicals have over the long term.

Conny Östman, professor of analytical chemistry, said the study has “only scratched the surface. . . Clothes are worn day and night during our entire life. We must find out if textile chemicals go into our skin and what it means to our health. It is very difficult to assess and requires considerably more research,” according to ScienceDaily.

Help for Those Harmed by Chemicals in Clothing

If you or someone you know has experienced thyroid or other health issues that may be related to chemicals in a uniform or work clothing, the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can offer advice about your legal rights. For a free, no-obligation case evaluation, fill out the online contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).