Cabin crew members with U.S. carrier United Airlines have started court action over New Zealand's practice of spraying airplane cabins to kill insects, the U.S. Association of Flight Attendants said Wednesday.
Airline staff have blamed the insecticide for symptoms including itchy skin, headaches and nerve problems.
The spray, repeated inside cabins every six to eight weeks, was making cabin crew members sick, Association spokeswoman Judith Morowski told National Radio.
United, the only U.S. airline regularly serving New Zealand, confirmed that flight attendants have lodged health claims in court but would not release details of the legal action. Morowski also did not give details of the case.
Morowski said the association fields as many as 15 complaints a week from crew on flights to New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
Crew members reported reactions consistent with exposure to the sprays.
"Typically, rash, severe rash, particularly on the parts of the body that are not covered by clothing, upper respiratory complaints, difficulty breathing, wheezing, inflammation of the eyes and so on," she said.
'Cumulative effect' of exposure
While spraying takes place on few actual flights, the residue remains in the aircraft cabin for about eight weeks.
Morowski said airliner cabin crews are constantly exposed to the chemicals, and "there has been shown to be a cumulative effect of exposures to these pesticides."
On its Web site, the association says residual spray could be "absorbed through the skin or through the stomach if a person eats food prepared on sticky galley counters."
The association is urging the World Health Organization, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies to press New Zealand to ease its regulations.
But the government said Wednesday it would not be changing its practice, which aims at keeping foreign insects out of the country where they could wreak havoc in the agriculture sector.
The WHO-approved insecticide is safe and New Zealand is one of 35 countries which spray airliner cabins, said border management program manager Mike Alexander.
Spray which includes the insecticide D-phenothrin is used when people are still on board, and permethrin, a slightly stronger agent, is used after people disembark from the plane.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has banned the sprays from aircraft in the United States and is reported to be investigating suggestions that some ingredients can damage the brains of infants and fetuses.
I do not even know who's side to take in here. From one side New Zealand is right, but United has its truth too. Time will show!
Photo © Andy Mok