“I couldn’t even breathe. And my voice would go hoarse. I would feel like I was going to faint. I got some rashes.”
That is how American Airlines flight attendant Tracey Silver-Charan felt in 2016.
Seven years later, in late October, she and three other flight attendants were awarded $1 million by a jury in California that ruled their uniforms had caused their health problems.
Silver-Charan had joined 424 other employees of American Airlines and its affiliates in a 2017 lawsuit alleging their health problems were caused by the formaldehyde applied to cotton blouses in a Chinese fabric mill to prevent wrinkles.
An Alameda County jury said the uniforms provided by manufacturer Twin Hill were a “substantial factor in causing harm” to the flight attendants.
Long Road to Court Win
“It’s been a long road, but we’re very happy with the outcome,” said Daniel Balaban, one of the lawyers for the airline employees. “We couldn’t represent better clients — who doesn’t love a flight attendant?”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Silver-Charan said she notified her supervisors that something was wrong a month after she began wearing the new blouses. The Post reported that Twin Hill had provided about 1.4 million garments and accessories to more than 65,000 American Airlines employees.
Silver-Charan was awarded $320,000. Brenda Sabbatino received the most of the four flight attendants — $750,000. She had taken early retirement after developing “severe chemical sensitivities.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, formaldehyde “can irritate the skin, throat, lungs, and eyes. Repeated exposure to formaldehyde can possibly lead to cancer.”
Attorneys told the Associated Press that they represent more than 400 other American Airlines flight attendants making the same claims about the uniforms.
Health Connection to Uniforms Precedent
The connection between the health problems of flight attendants and their uniforms was first reported after employees at Alaska Airlines got new uniforms toward the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. The flight attendants began to report rashes and eye irritation and documented hives, blisters, and scaly patches, according to a report looking into the issue.
A research group at Harvard found a connection between the Alaska Airlines flight attendants’ health issues and the new uniforms they wore. The study showed a significant increase in physical ailments after the uniforms were worn and then a decrease after those uniforms were recalled in 2014.
“Employees had reported skin reactions, hair loss, breathing problems, thyroid dysfunction, headaches, fatigue, and chemical sensitivity in association with the rollout of the new uniform,” the report found.