Qantas steward to launch landmark pesticides lawsuit
Flyers fume over planes treated with pesticides
Long haul flight attendants who have been forced to spray insecticide throughout aircraft cabins every time they landed in Australia fear the chemicals may have given them Parkinson’s disease.
Former Qantas steward Brett Vollus has been diagnosed with the disease and is preparing a legal action
against the Australian government, which enforces the need for spraying to prevent disease.
Experts have warned that international frequent flyers exposed to repeated doses of insecticide within an enclosed aircraft cabin could also face the same risk.
“We all blindly sprayed this insecticide as we landed in Australia after every long-haul flight. Why wasn’t I warned that it could give me this disease?” he said.
Mr. Vollus, 52, worked as flight attendant with Qantas for 27 years until May this year and was referred to a neurosurgeon as the symptoms of Parkinson’s began.
The spraying was mandated by the Australian government on World Health Organization guidelines to prevent the spread of insect-borne diseases such as malaria. Known as “aircraft disinsection”, such spraying has been in practice since the 1920s.
Australia’s Transport Workers’ Union said it would consider filing a class action on behalf of the nation’s aircraft workers if a health link could be established with insecticides, urging anyone with such concerns to come forward.
Airline Passengers Sprayed for Bugs
A flight to the tropics may involve greater health risks than a dose of airline food. Pesticides are routinely sprayed in aircraft cabins by U.S. airlines sometimes over the heads of passengers during flight. Disinsection continues despite evidence of risk to passengers and crew.
The United States ended the in-flight spraying of insecticides in passenger cabins of arriving airliners in 1979, after determining that the health danger it posed outweighed any benefits. But the United States cannot forbid other governments from requiring spraying aboard airliners.
To counter disease-bearing pests, certain governments require flight attendants to spray d-phenothrin, an insecticide that has a low toxicity to humans, 30 minutes before landing at airports in the Caribbean, South America and South Pacific. The ventilation system must be turned off as flight attendants walk down the aisle spraying the insecticide into the air.
Six countries: Australia, Barbados, Fiji, Jamaica, New Zealand and Panama require the use of residual pesticides. In this case every surface in the cabin is sprayed with a solution that contains 2% permethrin.
This process takes place shortly before crew and passengers board, without their knowledge. Babies and children are said to be more sensitive to the effects of permethrin. Once an aircraft has been residually treated, foreign quarantine officials will allow it to land without additional pesticide treatment for the next 56 days.
Alternatively, passengers on US domestic flights may find themselves on an airliner that has just been sprayed. United Airlines, for example, treats all of its 747-400 aircraft in Hong Kong. These aircraft are not restricted to the South Pacific routes; they are simply scheduled to fly to Australia or New Zealand during the next 56 days, but in the meantime, can be flown on both international and domestic routes.
The International Civil Aviation Organization reports that most airlin
es use permethrin and pyrethroid, both are suspected endocrine disruptors, and permethrin may be a carcinogen. The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) points out that pesticides cause even greater harm on airplanes, where up to 50% of the air in the cabins is recycled.
The airlines are not required to inform passengers at time of ticketing of flight sprays, and there is also no control over how much pesticide is applied.
The Association of Flight Attendants reported in 2001 that one airline used 50-60% more pesticide than the maximum recommended by the World Health Organization. Between 2000 and 2001, one cabin crew union received complaints of pesticide-related illness on more than 200 flights.
The Association of Flight Attendants suggests that passengers contact the airline to find out if pesticides will be sprayed on their flight, or if they will be boarding a “residually sprayed” craft. The U.S. Department of Transportation website also lists countries that require spray.