Have you ever hopped on an international flight to notice a “dirty sock” smell radiating throughout the cabin? Or maybe you’ve noticed the flight attendants walking around spraying something that looks like Febreeze into the air, but the smell tells you otherwise? You may have witnessed a chemical spray that put your health at risk, without even realizing it.
It may occur while passengers are on board or before they board the plane. Either way, all passengers are exposed. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the procedure is safe when done appropriately, but some people may “experience discomfort.”
Disinsection is used to reduce the risk of bringing back live mosquitoes and viruses from other regions. While it might help kill mosquitoes, it seems that no one is concerned about the effects these chemicals may have on airline passengers.
According to the World Health Organization, the chemicals used for disinsection are insecticides. The synthetic version of insecticides have been linked to breast cancer, issues with the reproductive system and a weakened immune system. The chemicals sprayed in planes are permethrin and d-Phenothrin. The label warns of acute poisoning, slow respiration, tremor and prostration.
The World Health Organization states, “Like other chemicals, insecticide formulations used in aircraft disinsection have the potential to cause a wide range of toxic effects. During application of insecticides, both the individuals spraying and the aircraft passengers may be at risk of inhalation exposure.”
While being a one-time passenger on a flight that uses these chemicals is certainly unsafe, think about the flight staff. The pilots and the crew members are repeatedly exposed to the dangerous chemicals that are either sprayed or leaked into the plane.
Flight Attendant Falls Chronically Ill After Chemical Leak
Pesticides on planes are not the only problems.
According to ABC News, former airline pilot David Hills and his entire crew became ill after one flight. Flight attendant Denise Weiss explained, “It was a flight of confusion… I felt intoxicated, I felt a headache that was like no other headache, my eyes were bloodshot, I felt intoxicated and obviously I had had nothing to drink and didn’t understand why I was feeling that way.”
A chemical used in the plane’s oil known as tricresyl phosphate or TCP can leak into the air and cause damage to the nervous system. It’s estimated that 1 in 35,000 flights experience this fume event.
Weiss says that experience has affected her health everyday since. She was unable to go back to her job due to health issues. “My whole life changed. My health to this day is not the same,” she said. She added that she wished there was a sensor that would detect if the neurotoxin leaked, along with filters to capture the toxins.
Which Flights Are Sprayed?
The following is a list of countries that require disinsection when passengers are on board:
- Ecuador (only Galapagos and Interislands)
- Trinidad and Tobago
The following is a list of countries that require disinsection while passengers are not on board:
- Cook Islands
- New Zealand