New Report Highlights Risk of Pesticides Used on Aircraft

January 20, 1999

       Airline passengers and crew can be exposed to hazardous pesticides without their knowledge, according to a report recently released by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP). "Flyers Beware: Pesticide Use on International and Domestic Aircraft and Flights" states that pesticides are commonly used on both cargo planes and passenger aircraft in the U.S. and in other countries. Some airlines spray voluntarily, while others spray to comply with U.S. regulations or requirements of other countries. Pesticides are used in occupied or unoccupied passenger cabins, galleys, cockpits and cargo holds. NCAP calls for U.S. airlines to implement non-toxic pest prevention and management practices and for the U.S. government to put greater pressure on other countries to prohibit or discourage use of hazardous pesticides on aircraft.

On flights to at least six countries (Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Madagascar, Kiribati, India, and Uruguay), passengers are directly sprayed with pesticides while still strapped in their seats after landing. According to one airline attendant, passengers' clothing, skin and hair may be soaked with the pesticide.

On flights to many other countries, passengers are exposed to pesticides sprayed prior to boarding -- without their knowledge. This type of spraying leaves long-lasting insect-killing residues in the passenger cabin and is required on some or all flights to Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, Panama, Fiji and Guam.

Passengers on domestic U.S. flights may also be exposed to residues of insecticides sprayed on planes. In fact, many pesticide products are registered in the U.S. for use on aircraft, including in passenger cabins, and these chemicals can be used immediately prior to boarding. Several insecticide active ingredients commonly used on aircraft, including permethrin, cypermethrin and piperonyl butoxicide, are classified by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as possible human carcinogens. Others are classified as reproductive hazards or suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals.

NCAP's report urges passengers to contact airlines, U.S. government agencies, and international tourism bureaus to protest the practice of spraying passengers and aircraft cabins with toxic pesticides. The report also urges flyers to contact U.S. Congressional representatives and agencies to press for requirements that airlines at least provide advance notification to passengers if sprays will be used on or before a flight. The report provides contacts at airlines for information about spraying policies in general as well as whether a particular flight will be sprayed.

The report summarizes incidents where people have reported illnesses and even one death due to in-flight spraying. It also describes complaints made by flight attendants and passengers that such spraying has caused headaches, nausea, fatigue, seizures and, in extreme cases, memory loss, a reduction in cognitive skills or a depressed immune system.

The U.S. stopped spraying occupied aircraft in the 1970s, citing health risks to passengers. U.S. health officials report that there have been no outbreaks of vector-borne disease since then that can be attributed to hitchhiking insects arriving on incoming aircraft.

The full report on aircraft spraying is available on NCAP's Web site at

Source: Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP)

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