BLOWING a hole in a mass cover-up is probably every journalist's dream.

From the Washington Post's expose of the Watergate scandal to the Boston Globe's tenacious unravelling of a Catholic Church conspiracy to brush child abuse under the carpet, these are the kinds of scandals cinemagoers love to watch and reporters dream of uncovering.

Two recent trips to the cinema made me think about this: one, to see the excellent Spotlight, and the second to see a documentary on aerotoxic syndrome, Unfiltered Breathed In, that premiered in Glasgow and was reported on in The Herald.

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I am not in a position to say where this controversial condition, which is denied by the aviation industry, is real or not.

But what did strike me were the similarities to other cases of corporate or institutional cover-ups, from the tobacco industry insisting for decades that cigarettes were safe or that nicotine was not addictive, to the Catholic Church as depicted in 'Spotlight' secretly shuttling paedophile priests from parish to parish with the help of a police force willing to turn a blind eye and lawyers happy to cash in by drawing up pay-offs and confidentiality agreements.

The same happened again in relation to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disorder sustained by American Football players as a result of the brutal head-on collisions associated with the game. The NFL spent years shouting down and disparaging the evidence until the cases became too numerous to ignore.

The bottom line is, the bigger the scandal and the more lucrative the vested interests are, the harder it is to prove.

Of course, the fact that aerotoxic syndrome ticks several of the boxes characteristic of a cover-up – airlines motivated to avoid billions of pounds worth of compensation and aircraft modifications, national regulators reluctant to cause a fuss and governments even less inclined to make an enemy of the aviation industry – does not mean there is a cover up.

But I am willing to believe that there might be. Individual cases are already being quietly settled out of court for hundreds of thousands of pounds for former pilots or cabin crew convinced they have suffered chronic neurological damage as a result of either prolonged or concentrated exposure to toxins flowing from aircraft engines into plane air.

Some of the cases featured in the Unfiltered documentary were heartbreaking, from one air stewardess who boarded a plane healthy only to be left permanently crippled after exposure to a single, concentrated blast of so-called "bleed air", to another who struggles with her speech and memory.

There was little doubt these individuals' lives had been devastated by something but they face an uphill struggle proving it is aerotoxic syndrome.

For a start, only a minority of people – some three per cent – are believed to be susceptible to aerotoxic poisoning, at least in the short-term. Most frequent fliers and airline staff will never suffer any ill effects.

But so-called "fume events" – when highly contaminated bleed air seeps into the cockpit or cabin – have already been implicated in cases of pilots becoming incapacitated at the controls. A few cases can be quietly settled; a plane crash would be harder to ignore. Let's hope it does not come to that.