of Transportation Begins Study of Alternative to Pesticides on Airplanes
(Beyond Pesticides, October 10, 2003) Beyond Pesticides reported in a July 12, 2002 Photo Story that many airline passengers and employees suffer symptoms of pesticide poisoning due to the fact that airplane cabins are routinely sprayed with pesticides after international flights. Beyond Pesticides recently received an update from the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), AFL-CIO, on the union's latest efforts to make the airplane environment healthier for flight attendants and travelers. See current Photo Story.
According to Judith Murawski, an Industrial Hygienist with AFA, a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Florida is now studying the efficacy and feasibility of using air curtains to repel bugs as an alternative to spraying pesticides. If the laboratory testing goes well, then the second phase of this study will be on-aircraft testing to assess whether air curtains are effective and feasible means to keep insects off aircraft as an alternative to spraying pesticides. The WHO is aware of this work, as are some of these governments that require spraying. The work is being led by the Department of Transportation.
AFA has been pushing for finding a non-toxic alternative to spraying pesticides on aircraft for the past several years. Ms. Murawski anticipates that trying to get air curtains approved as an alternative will be a long process with lots of hurdles to overcome, but calls the study "a real step in the right direction."
On the other hand, while alternatives to spraying pesticides are still in the research phase, flight attendants and passengers continue to experience pesticide exposure. Recently, an flight attendant who just returned home on from a 6 day trip to Australia contacted AFA to report that she had a terrible skin rash and swollen, bloodshot eyes, all of which developed during the flight after spending time in the bunkroom that is sprayed. Her doctor noted the similarity between her case and migrant farm workers he has treated for pesticide poisoning. Despite this, Ms. Murawski worries that her workers' comp claim will be denied.
According to AFA, 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. 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 since they began tracking the problem in 1989.
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.