For the last few years, some have raised concerns over chemicals being sprayed on plane passengers before flying (even video footage had surfaced).
While I have not experienced direct spraying inside the plane myself, it was impossible to ignore that on my last international flight to Europe, as soon as the overhead air vents were turned on, the whole plane started to smell of chemicals.
It could be a variety of reasons for the stench, as the plane seemed to be old, but without knowing that the air is safe, I closed the vent to lessen the exposure and covered my nose and mouth with a scarf. After the trip, I finally had the time to research: what are they spraying inside the planes?
As I found out – a lot, and the passengers are rarely notified.
(Watch one of the videos of chemicals being sprayed directly into the plane while the passengers are on board:)
Disinsection: Two Ways of Spraying Chemicals Inside the Plane
The procedure of spraying chemicals inside the plane is called disinsection. There are two ways, one is when the passengers are on board, the other happens beforehand (in which case the passengers are exposed to the residual chemicals). Both are permitted under international law.
The U.S. Department of Transportation quotes a likely-outdated 1995 report about the safety of the procedure, and claims that it is safe when done “appropriately” but states that some experience discomfort.
The stated reasons for disinsection are risks of bringing back live mosquitoes and viruses from region to region.
While a lot of attention seems to be on killing the mosquitoes, not nearly enough attention has been directed on how these chemicals affect the passengers and if they are really necessary, along with how can we detox before or after the flight to protect out health.
Worst of all, we all sign up for this when purchasing a ticket without fully aware of it.
(In another video, a passenger recording the procedure gets told not to film:)
Which Chemicals Are Being Used?
The chemicals used for disinsection are insecticides (pyrethroids), according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
While in nature pyrethroids are a lovely compound produced by flowers in small amounts, the synthetic version of them has been linked to breast cancer, negative effects to the reproductive system, and interference to the immune system, Beyond Pesticides warns.
The pyrethroid sprayed in the planes are permethrin and d-Phenothrin (although it can have many trademarked names). Depending on the manufacturer d-Phenothrin is rated by EPA as level III or level IV toxic (I being most toxic, and IV being least). It has the word CAUTION on its label, and warns of symptoms of acute poisoning: paralysis, slow respiration, tremor, and prostration. Chronic exposure in rats results in liver issues. It also is labeled as an endocrine disruptor (increases risk of breast cancer).
Permethrin is no better, and has been linked to dementia by some studies.
WHO acknowledges that “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.”
“The products used for aircraft disinsection may cause symptoms as a result of the odours or irritation caused by propellants and the solvents they contain,” states WHO, yet there has been no risk assessment of these ingredients. The risk assessment also does not account for skin exposure.
The worst cases of exposure is when plane equipment malfunctions, leading to high exposures.
The people who suffer the most are pilots and crew members, who are exposed to the chemicals repeatedly.
Many Flight Crew Members Suffer from Chronic Illness
People who fly often report negative health effects such as flu-like symptoms, sinus issues, rash or hives, respiratory problems, and at least one person has suffered from anaphylaxis.
Neurological issues are also common, as these persticides, pyrethroids, kill mosquitoes by attacking their nervous system.
The worst cases are the people who are being exposed the longest: flight crew members.
ABC News reported that former airline pilot David Hills and his entire crew fell ill after one flight.
“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,” said a flight attendant at the time, Denise Weiss.
“My whole life changed. My health to this day is not the same,” she said.
But it may not be the pesticides, or not just the pesticides.
The air in the plane’s cabin is redirected straight from the engine, and sometimes the chemical used in the oil called tricresyl phosphate or TCP leaks into the air. (The smell is described similar to that of dirty socks).
TCP is a toxin, and when it leaks into the cabin’s air, it can cause damage to the nervous system. Three professors in 1999 called it Aerotoxic Syndrome in 1999.
Weiss said she wished there was a sensor that would detect if this neurotoxin leaked, and filters to capture its toxins.
Weiss’s health has been affected by this so much, that she was unable to go back to her job.
For people who love traveling, this is information can be concerning. Until better filters are installed in the planes, and better and safer ways are found to fight the mosquitoes, there are a few things you as a passenger can do: know which flight will be sprayed, and supply your body with proper nutrients to handle and help eliminate the toxins efficiently.
Which Flights Are Sprayed?
If you are worried about being sprayed directly while on the plane, here is the list of countries that require disinsection when passengers are on board:
- Ecuador (only Galapagos and Interislands)
- Trinidad and Tobago
And here are the countries that require disinsection while passengers are not on board:
- Cook Islands
- New Zealand
There are also many countries that require disinsection on some flights (dependent on where they are flying from). The list can be seen at Transportation.gov.
Taking Care of Your Health After a Flight
After you return from a flight, there are a few steps you can take immediately to detoxify from any chemicals you may have encountered on the plane.
- Get plenty of healthy oxygen. A home oxygen machine can be very useful for frequent flyers.
- Detox with organic chlorella, and antioxidants
- Take Zeolite (a powerful supplement that helps get rid of toxins)
- Take 1000mg of vitamin C (best when taken every day at least a week before the flight, and a week after); natural is best