HIAPER research aircraft taking off

Photo courtesy of Julie Haggerty (NCAR)


What you need to know

Some countries require that in-bound flights be treated with pesticides to prevent the spread of insects that may pose a threat to the health of people, plants, animals, and agriculture. These pesticides can cause illness in crewmembers on an aircraft during or after pesticides are applied. The process of applying pesticides to kill insects is called disinsection. Here you can learn more about aircraft disinsection, related health problems, and what you can do to reduce your exposure.

What are pesticides?

  • Pesticides are chemicals used to kill pests, such as rodents, insects, or plants.
  • Chemicals known as synthetic pyrethroids (permethrin or d-phenothrin), are used to disinsect aircraft.
  • Other pesticides, including DDT (dichlorodiphyltrichloroethane), were used to disinsect aircraft years ago but are no longer used.

Why might aircrew be concerned about exposure to pesticides on an aircraft?

  • You can be exposed to pesticides during aircraft disinsection or from contact with treated surfaces.
  • Exposure to pyrethroid pesticides may cause:
    • Irritation of the eyes and upper respiratory tract
    • Irritation, burning, and itching of the skin
    • Respiratory symptoms
    • Dizziness, headache
    • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
    • Reduced energy
  • Exposure to high levels of pyrethroids may also cause
    • Muscle twitching
    • Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
    • Convulsions
  • Crewmembers have reported illness from exposure to pesticides on aircraft.

Who is exposed to pesticides on aircraft?

All crewmembers on aircraft that are treated with pesticides may be exposed in these ways:

  • Flight attendants may spray a pesticide in the aircraft cabin after the aircraft leaves the gate and/or before it lands.
  • Ground crew may treat surfaces inside the aircraft with a pesticide prior to aircrew and passengers boarding.

Learn what countries require disinsectionExternal on in-bound flights.

What is not known?

There is some debate about the safety of the pesticides and methods used for disinsection.

What can I do to reduce or eliminate exposure?

  • Talk with your employer or employee representative about concerns you have with pesticide exposure.
  • Avoid skin contact with wet surfaces such as bunks and/or puddles of pesticide.
  • Follow up with your doctor if you have concerns about your potential pesticide exposure. Make sure your doctor knows that you work as a crewmember. Sharing this and other information with your doctor may be useful. You or your doctor may also contact us for more information.
  • The California Health and Human Services Agency recommends additional stepsCdc-pdfExternal that the airline industry can take.

For more information

Page last reviewed: March 10, 2015