Five UK airlines face legal action as a union called on the industry to take urgent action to tackle toxic cabin air.

Lawsuits have been served by the Unite union in 51 court cases involving pilots and cabin crew working for easyJet, British Airways, Thomas Cook Airlines, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic.

Unite is backing the court actions after it was claimed that independent expert evidence concluded that the air in most commercial airline cabins can cause irreversible neurological damage and chronic illness among susceptible individuals.

The union backed claims that allege that expert medical evidence shows long term exposure to cabin air or to high dose ‘fume events’ can lead to pilots and cabin crew developing chronic ill health and life threatening conditions.

Of the cases being brought, four are by pilots, while the remaining 47 are from cabin crew and they could take up to a year to come to court.

The airlines say that previous studies found no proof of long-term ill-health arising from cabin air quality.

However, Unite claims that fumes from jet engines affects air used to pressurise airline cabins and can contain a mix of toxic compounds including organophosphates and TCP.

Unite wants an inquiry into toxic cabin air and for airlines to use safer oil to lubricate jet engines and fitting cabin air filters on board aircraft.

The union’s assistant general secretary for legal services, Howard Beckett, said: “Independent expert evidence concludes that air on board jet planes can contain a toxic mix of chemicals and compounds that potentially damage the nervous system and may lead to chronic irreversible health problems in susceptible individuals.

“The airline industry cannot continue to hide from the issue of toxic cabin air whilst placing the health and safety of air crew at risk.

“Unite will use every avenue, including calling for a public inquiry and pursuing legal action, to get the airline industry to take responsibility and clean up the cabin air on jet planes.

“This must include using different oils to lubricate jet engines, better monitoring of cabin air, installing air filters and manufacturing planes that bring compressed air straight from the atmosphere.

“It may result in additional financial cost to industry, but that cost bears no resemblance to the value of cabin crew health and safety.”

BA said that “none of the substantial research conducted over many years” had shown a link between cabin air quality and ill-health.

“We would never operate an aircraft if we believed it posed a health or safety risk to our customers or crew,” the airline said. UK airline face legal action over  pointed to European Aviation Safety Agency research which concluded that the aircraft air quality was “similar or better than that observed in normal indoor environments”.

EasyJet said its aircraft were “fully compliant with the latest standards in terms of air quality and air-conditioning”.

The budget airline added: “EasyJet takes any health concerns raised by its crew seriously. However, aviation regulators and manufacturers around the world have looked at this issue and found no proof that long-term health issues arise from cabin air quality.”