If the threat of your plane being hijacked and crashed into a building by your own government wasn’t enough to make you think twice about flying commercially, here comes the best reason yet: flight attendants regularly spray chemical pesticides in the passenger cabins of airplanes.
Vacations are supposed to help you feel relaxed, and happy — but if you travel by airplane, you might end up feeling worse when you get home than you did when you left.
The practice of spraying chemical pesticides directly into passenger cabins of airliners is called “Disinsection”, and is being done around the world without warning or consent. The purpose of disinsection is said to kill any insects on the flight that could pose a threat to plant, animal, or human health. More likely, though, the purpose is simply to avoid a public relations backlash if somebody were to find an insect on an airplane. As a spokesperson for U.S. Airways put it, “No one likes seeing a spider on a flight.”
From the US DOT website:
“Disinsection is permitted under international law in order to protect public health, agriculture and the environment. The World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization stipulate two approaches for aircraft disinsection–either spray the aircraft cabin, with an aerosolized insecticide, while passengers are on board or treat the aircraft’s interior surfaces with a residual insecticide (residual method) while passengers are not on board.”
According to the United States Department of Transportation, flights to countries where passengers are directly sprayed with aerosol pesticides, while still strapped in their seats, before being allowed to leave the plane include:
- Ecuador (only Galapagos and Interislands)
- Trinidad and Tobago
Flights to countries where passengers are exposed, without their knowledge or consent, to pesticides sprayed prior to passenger boarding, but intended to leave long-lasting insect-killing residues in the passenger cabin include:
- Cook Islands
- New Zealand
Finally, passengers on flights within the US or other countries may also be exposed to residues of insecticides sprayed on planes at the discretion of the airlines. Some airlines report making monthly pesticide applications as part of routine ‘maintenance’ of their planes, while other airlines refuse to disclose information about pesticide use practices.
Health Effects of Airplane Pesticide Exposure
“This practice is insanity. Tralomethrin (a commonly used airline spray) contains bromide. Bromide has been shown in animal studies to cause thyroid disease.”
– Jack Thrasher, PhD
Victims of Airplane Pesticides
- A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that 12 of 17 reports of illness involving flight attendants “met the definition for work-related pesticide illness”. “The aerosol application of a pesticide in the confined space of an aircraft cabin poses a hazard to flight attendants,” concluded the study.
As of May of 1994, the EPA had received reports from 6 people in separate incidents that suffered reactions to in-flight sprays. The reported health symptoms ranged from headaches and nausea to more severe cases of seizures and memory loss (US EPA, 1994).
Testimony from the flight attendants’ union described an incident of a passenger who suffered from emphysema and who died of “acute exacerbation of chronic airways obstruction” 18 hours after being sprayed with d-phenothrin on a flight to Australia, and also the case of a retired flight attendant who filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services maintaining that her health problems, which include liver damage and abnormal clotting of her blood, were caused by nearly 25 years of required in-flight pesticide spraying (Miller, 1994).
- In 2013 a former airline steward for the airline Quantas, Brett Vollus has sued the Australian government claiming that frequent insecticide use in airplane cabins resulted in his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. After he told his doctor what he did for a living, his doctor nodded and said “Another one, I am seeing a lot of you.” In an interview, Brett told The Australian “This is a nightmare that has ruined my life. I am very keen to start a legal action and if it can help others I am happy to lead the way.”
Health hazards of selected pesticides commonly used on aircraft
How to Protect Yourself from Pesticides
If you’re concerned about exposure to onboard pesticides, ask before buying your ticket whether an insecticide will be sprayed on the flight. You may want to change your airline, or — if the flight is to a country that requires spraying — your destination. Boycott the airlines that poison their passengers with chemical pesticides, and phone them to let them know you will never fly with them again so long as they continue to do so.
If you still must fly onboard an airplane that sprays pesticides, be sure to load up on certain nutrients to protect yourself from the onslaught of chemicals that you will be exposed to during your flight.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C can detoxify any known chemical. All toxins are pro-oxidant in the body, which means they take electrons away from cells unless neutralized with antioxidants. This oxidative stress damages cells. Increasing your body’s blood levels of the antioxidant Vitamin C will give the toxins something to consume so that they cannot negatively effect your cells, and they are then removed from the body. Take 2 grams of Vitamin C before a flight and 1 gram every hour during the flight.
Vitamin A – Known for protecting and healing mucus membranes in the mouth, throat and lung, Vitamin A has a protective effect against toxic absorbtion. A study attached environmental pollutants to the lungs of small animals, like benzopyrene, cigarette smoke, smoke from oil and coal fires and notes their resistance to cancer. Almost all of the animals developed lung cancer. The researchers repeated the experiment after giving the animals vitamin A, and very few developed lung cancer. Try 10,000 IU of Vitamin A or more before a flight. (Source: The encyclopedia of common diseases (emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1976), 312-13)
Vitamin E – According to Stephen Langer, PhD, Vitamin E also protects mucous membranes from chemicals. A good daily amount of mixed tocopherols is 400IU, but before sitting in a gas chamber or an airplane for a few hours, up to 2000IU would be best.
In order for us to see the day when poisons are no longer sprayed on passengers of commercial airliners, we’ve got some work to do. NCAP’s report offers recommendations for actions that we can take to protest the spraying practices on aircraft, including contacting airlines, government agencies, foreign embassies, and tourism bureau and lodging your complaints. The report also urges flyers to contact government officials and agencies to demand the requirement that airlines at least provide warning to passengers if sprays will be used on or before a flight.
Below is the contact information for US airlines, and the same types of actions can equally well be taken by air travellers from other countries: