Last month, several air traffic controllers at the Newark Airport claimed they were forced to direct planes while they were suffering from dizziness, confusion, headaches, and disorientation brought on by carbon monoxide poisoning. It turns out that a test of the facility’s backup generator sent exhaust fumes into the building’s ventilation system, thus releasing the carbon monoxide fumes. The controllers also say that they were not allowed to leave the building, or even to leave their posts, and that management refused to call the fire department. Some of the employees said they would call the fire department to come and test the air, and that they were told by the operations manager that, ‘If you make the call, I will not let them in the gate and I will refuse them entry into the control room.”
Later, after the sleepy, confused and physically ill controllers directed hundreds of planes, some of them went to the hospital, where it was confirmed that significant levels of carbon monoxide was in their blood.
Now the air traffic controllers are calling for a criminal investigation of the incident. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has sent a letter to the FAA, asking for such an investigation. “We’ve sent a letter to the FAA today asking for a thorough investigation to what’s happened,” Schumer said, “and I have to tell you given my past experience here, the FAA does not have a good record.”
WABC Eyewitness News has already done a series of reports on how staffing cutbacks have led to an increase in controller errors at the Newark Airport.