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Photo Stories

July 12, 2002 - Jack Leiss, senior epidemiologist at Analytical Sciences, Inc. in Durham, NC, sent us this photo, printed in Buzzworm Magazine, of a flight attendant spraying DDT above passengers' heads, circa 1955. Although banned in the U.S. in 1972, DDT was sprayed aboard U.S. aircraft until 1989. International flights continue to be treated with other toxic pesticides, usually synthetic pyrethroids, despite harm to human health.

According to the Association of Flight Attendants - AFL-CIO, Australia, New Zealand, India, Uruguay, and other countries require that incoming aircraft be treated with specific pesticides that are not approved for use in the passenger cabin in the United States. On flights requiring pesticide applications, flight attendants must walk down the aisles and spray over the passengers' heads after announcing that the spray is non-toxic. United requires that this announcement be made, despite an internal company document dated 1987 that acknowledges health effects associated with exposure to the in-flight sprays, as well as their recent admission that the non-toxic claim "is not entirely true."

One airline attendant describes passenger's clothing, skin, and hair being soaked with pesticides. The Association of Flight Attendants have accumulated hundreds of poisoning incidents between June 1989 and November 2001.

Passengers on domestic flights may also have reason for concern. Pesticides may be sprayed on planes making domestic flights at the discretion of the airlines. Many pesticide products are registered in the U.S. for use on aircraft, including in passenger cabins. Additionally, the same planes are occasionally used for both domestic and international flights.

Symptoms of exposure to pyrethroids include nasal stuffiness, headache, nausea, incoordination, tremors, convulsions, facial flushing and swelling, and burning and itching sensations. The most severe poisonings have been reported in infants, who are not able to efficiently break down pyrethroids. With orally ingested doses, nervous symptoms may occur, which include excitation and convulsions leading to paralysis, accompanied by muscular fibrillation and diarrhea. Death in these cases is due to respiratory failure.

For more information visit the Association of Flight Attendants' website at http://www.afanet.org/pesticides_what_you_need_2_know.asp or contact Beyond Pesticides.

Beyond Pesticides launched Photo Stories on March 1, 2002. The photos are updated on a biweekly basis. Read the instructions on how to get your photo story featured. To see what other visitors to this site thought about this photo story, visit the reader's comments page.