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Pesticide Illness Among Flight Attendants Due to Aircraft Disinsection

Background: Aircraft ‘‘disinsection’’ is the application of pesticides inside an aircraft to
kill insects that may be on board. Over a 1-year period, California’s tracking system
received 17 reports of illness involving flight attendants exposed to pesticides following

Methods: Interviews, work process observations, and a records review were conducted.
Illness reports were evaluated according to the case definition established by the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Results: Twelve cases met the definition for work-related pesticide illness. Eleven cases
were attributed to the ‘‘Residual’’ method of disinsection, i.e., application of a solution of
permethrin (2.2% w/w), solvents (0.8%), and a surfactant (1.4%); the method of
disinsection could not be determined for one case.

Conclusions: The aerosol application of a pesticide in the confined space of an aircraft
cabin poses a hazard to flight attendants. Nontoxic alternative methods, such as air
curtains, should be used to minimize disease vector importation via aircraft cabins.
Employers should mitigate flight attendant pesticide exposure in the interim.

Sutton PM, Vergara X, Beckman J, Nicas M, Das R. Pesticida illness among flight attendants due to aircraft disinsection. Am J Ind Med 2007;50:345-356.

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