Pesticide Background

A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest. Pests can be insects, mice and other animals, unwanted plants (weeds), fungi, or microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Though often misunderstood to refer only to insecticides, the term pesticide also applies to herbicides, fungicides, and various other substances used to control pests.

Many household products are pesticides:

  • Cockroach sprays and baits.
  • Insect repellents for personal use.
  • Rat and other rodent poisons.
  • Flea and tick sprays, powders, and pet collars.
  • Kitchen, laundry, and bath disinfectants and sanitizers.
  • Products that kill mold and mildew.
  • Some lawn and garden products, such as weed killers.
  • Some swimming pool chemicals.

By their very nature, most pesticides create some risk of harm to humans, animals, or the environment because they are designed to kill or otherwise adversely affect living organisms. Pesticide use is not just limited to farming. Human exposure to pesticides can come from household pesticides and pesticides used during work, i.e., by farmers, golf-course workers, etc. If spills or accidents occur, workers in plants that manufacture pesticides may be exposed. In fact you may have been exposed to harmful pesticides without your knowledge in places you never expected.

For example, on flights to at least six countries (Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Madagascar, Kiribati, India, and Uruguay), passengers are directly sprayed with pesticides, while still strapped in their seats, before being allowed to disembark from the plane. On flights to many other countries, passengers are exposed, without their knowledge or consent, to pesticides sprayed prior to passenger boarding. This method is intended to leave long-lasting insect-killing residues in the passenger cabin. Countries that require such spraying on some or all flights include Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, Panama, Fiji, Guam, and others. Use of sprays on these international flights is required by the particular destination countries, and therefore must be done by all airlines flying to those countries.

Passengers on domestic flights may also be exposed to residues of insecticides sprayed on planes at the discretion of the airlines. Many pesticide products are registered in the U.S. for use on aircraft, including in passenger cabins. There is nothing in current regulations to prohibit airlines from using such products in cabins immediately prior to passenger boarding. Airplane passenger cabins are already noted for their poor air quality due to the lack of adequate ventilation and restrictions on intake of fresh air during flights. Up to 50% (or more) of the air in passenger cabins of newer generation aircraft is recycled. Deliberately introducing intentional poisons into this enclosed and poorly ventilated environment creates additional and unnecessary health hazards for all airline passengers. Infants, young children, pregnant women, asthmatics, cancer patients, and other sensitive individuals may be at special risk. 

International and domestic travelers may be dermally exposed to residues of pesticide sprays or dusts remaining on carpets, upholstery, and other surfaces of aircraft cabins treated prior to passenger boarding. Passengers may also be exposed to vapors or residues through recirculated air, or to pesticides revolatilizing from carpets or fabric seat coverings. Young children may also ingest residues picked up from surfaces via hand-tomouth contact. Passengers may also be exposed to residues of pesticides on their luggage.


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