Airlines are facing new complaints, union trouble and possible lawsuits over pesticide spraying on aircraft.

In the USA, two major lawsuits filed by flight attendants in Louisiana and California against pesticide manufacturers claim that many crew members are suffering chronic illness and multiple chemical sensitivity from long term exposure to the aerosol spraying. "We have received a lot of complaints about sickness from our members who fly into countries where spraying is required," says Chris Witowski, director of air safety and health for the Association. of Flight Attendants.

Gary Ordog, a physician and toxicologist in Valencia, California, is treating 10 United Airlines flight attendants suffering from a variety of symptoms. One stewardess is permanently disabled. "Many we have tested have high levels of multiple pesticides," says Ordog.

Airlines may also need to take a second look at their policies which restrict them from telling passengers about the onboard spraying of pesticides. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is increasingly concerned about how few passengers are aware of pesticide spraying when they buy tickets. But the Air Transport Association (ATA) staunchly opposes any government mandate to tell passengers that aircraft have been treated with residual pesticides or that there might be onboard spraying during flights into certain countries. Most airlines will disclose the pesticide spraying only if asked.

According to pesticide suppliers, between 1,000 and 1,500 US airliners are treated each month with bait traps and sprays as part of overnight maintenance routines. In addition, up to 12 aerosol spray cans per aircraft are used daily on US flights to certain foreign countries, including India and Australia. The spraying is done to prevent such diseases as yellow fever and malaria that are transmitted by mosquitoes and the practice complies with mandates from the World Health Organisation, which specifies the insecticides types and quantities.

Fresh concern about the practice has been precipitated by a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles by Houston attorney Linda Laurent on behalf of 350 United and American Airlines flight attendants against pesticide manufacturers. A similar lawsuit is proceeding through the Louisiana court system. Laurent contends that one of the pesticides, which contains the active ingredient permethrin, is applied in concentrations of 2% and is not registered with the EPA. "The EPA prohibits permethrin to be used in occupied aircraft and allows it to be used only in the cargo holds at a concentration of 0.5%," the suit contends.

The ATA has criticised the Department of Transportation and the State Department for not being strong enough to persuade foreign countries from stopping "this anachronistic and questionable practice". ATA vice-president John Meehan admits "-the airline industry continues to be saddled with this requirement in the face of growing public apprehension". The airlines admit they would prefer not to have to spray aircraft.

Source: Airline Business