Flying Gas Chambers

as WHO disowns insecticide

“Dear beloved passengers, I am your WHO-compliant cabin crew. It is time to rid you of those creepy bugs you’ve carried into my aircraft. DO NOT try to run, the doors have been locked.”

In Brief

  • TOXIN ON BOARD! Frequent international flyers and aircrew, be very afraid. And if you are pregnant be even more afraid [for yourself and for your unborn]. This is not a drill. If you have been exposed to the so-called WHO-insecticide, it was time you visited your doctor for a thorough medical check-up
  • “The WHO has not authorised Callington to use the following text on their product label i.e. ‘World Health Organization Compliant Formulation for Disinsection of Aircraft’. The WHO are to take up this labelling misuse with Callington.” - WHO

For uSpiked Audio:

The World Health Organisation (WHO), our global premier body entrusted with everything to do with our health has not just been playing dumb, but has systematically overseen the repeated exposure of airline passengers and cabin crew to highly toxic substances.

If you look and appear healthy you most likely are, but that would be until you become a frequent international flyer or are part of cabin crew that patronise international routes requiring spraying of poisonous insecticides, otherwise known as disinsection.

In attempting to manage the spread of disease carrying insects such as various species of mosquitos responsible for malaria, zika, dengue, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis, or rat fleas responsible for bubonic plague; the WHO has impressed on certain countries to undertake disinsection of aircraft.

uSpiked Investigative Team can now reveal the questionable expertise and unscientific regulations relied on by WHO that exposes unsuspecting passengers and airline crews to unimaginable health risks.

To frequent international flyers, jet lag, stuffy noses, ringing in the ears or dry throats should be the least of their worries. They should be more afraid of those unidentified aerosol sprays the cabin crew blast above their heads post take-offs and before final approaches.

Some of those sprays we can now reveal, contain permethrin, a synthetic pyrethroid that numerous studies have linked to leukaemia, lung and liver tumours, multiple myelomas, breast cancer, disruption of testosterone production, and possibly what scientists call transgenerational DNA alterations.

Permethrin, an organic compound whose chemical name is 3-phenoxybenzyl 2- 2-dimethylcyclopropanecarboxylate, is the WHO’s current best bet for combatting deadly insects in order to maintain public health; the Environment; and Agriculture.

Identifying the key ingredients of those aerosol insecticides has never been easy for passengers as “no cans are left behind.” That is according to cabin crew we talked to. “The empty cans must be handed in as confirmation that the aircraft has indeed been rid of the suspected insects…”

While there is no evidence proving the effectiveness of the exercise, we can now reveal that the so-called WHO approved formulation was passed onto the WHO by a single manufacturer of the laboratory-created compound, Permethrin.

On permitting 2% permethrin to be used in disinsection of aircraft, a Joint Meeting on Pesticide Specification by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation relied on efficacy and safety data provided by Tagros Chemicals (India) Ltd., one of the manufacturers of this potentially deadly chemical.

The WHO is a body filled with scientists, why couldn’t it undertake its own studies or at least consider all other available studies? Our team attempted the latter and found frightening results.?

If the warning on the label isn't enough the humanity is doomed.

With the recent cases of Zika virus, (spread by species of mosquitoes called, Aedes). More than fifty countries, including Zimbabwe, Mauritius and South Africa... now require disinsection of inbound flights. Major airlines routinely use the WHO approved insecticides on flights from and to the earmarked countries.

Very little was previously known about the safety or lack thereof of insecticides being sprayed over unsuspecting passengers. Apparently, a mere WHO’s stamp of certification does not necessarily mean something is safe.

We can further confirm what many have always suspected - that some of the insecticides bearing an endorsement of the WHO are toxic, and compromise the health of passengers and flight staff.

For decades, the WHO has continuously down-played what it regards as ‘noise’ from the ill-informed, insisting the insecticides are safe.

There are four main WHO recommended methods for disinsection: Pre-flight Spraying, Residual Spraying, Block-Away Spraying and Top-of-Descent Spraying.

The least hazardous method would be ‘Pre-flight Spraying’ which involves the aircraft cabin being sprayed with an aerosol containing a residual insecticide while the aircraft is on the ground before passengers embark.

An aviation expert who requested anonymity because he consults for various airlines explained; “Some airlines prefer treating of an aircraft’s interior before passengers are allowed to board. But that has become too expensive. … Passenger aircraft don’t make any money when on the ground.

A delay of thirty minutes after every landing can cause financial ruin for an airline.”

And so the WHO has agreed to a compromise with grievous health consequences for passengers and crew.

During its 37th Session in Montreal Canada, members of International Civil Aviation Organisation, seemingly concerned for the health of their staff and passengers, called on the WHO to seek, and find a non-chemical means of disinsection of aircraft. That was in 2010.

A year later, the manufacturer of permethrin and other synthetic chemicals presented their own study clearing the compound of all concerns.

Six years down the line, WHO has maintained the toxic option instead of re-assessing its ways. The body would appear to be more economically conscious than the Rating Agencies. And ICAO has continued to sound the warnings.

The Pesticides Action Network classifies permethrin as ‘highly hazardous’, and other studies by various health and environmental organisations have linked the compound to a variety of illnesses including, but not limited to various types of cancer, nervous system damage, allergies and the disruption of testosterone production.

Several scientists consulted by our team rubbished aircraft disinsection, with one calling it an “unscientific public relations exercise that achieves nothing other than making passengers feel protected against insect-borne diseases while the long-term health consequences remain unaddressed.”

When contacted for explanation, Fadéla Chaib of the WHO’s Communication Department, categorically informed us that Callington, (the Australia-based chemical manufacturer), is misusing the ‘stamp of approval’ on their products. “the WHO has not authorised Callington to use the following text on their product-label i.e. ‘World Health Organisation Compliant Formulation for Disinsection of Aircrafts’. The WHO are to take up this labelling misuse with Callington.”

She further explained; “WHO has not evaluated or approved specification of any of Callington’s end-use permethrin formulation for aircraft disinsection. Note that, even when a formulator uses technical materials from the approved sources, their formulation must still be submitted for WHO evaluation because formulation processes can introduce relevant impurities in the end-use formulation.”

Callington has therefore been defrauding its customers, including South African Airways, as the claimed compliance may not exist.

For some explanation, we contacted Kintetsu World Express South Africa (Pty) Ltd, the company that handles Callington’s products locally and whose phone numbers appear on the cans ‘in case of emergency’.

Ryan Stuart Lowery, a manager at the company, refused to explain how it got the products bearing misleading assurance into the system, and who its customers are! Lowery told us to find the contact details of Callington and have them address the concerns.

Lowery may fend off inquiries by evoking Callington, but locally the supplier is Kintetsu and not Callington and it must provide answers locally.

WHO, however continues to reassure; “All the product types containing Permethrin evaluated were considered to be acceptable for cabin crew and for passengers.” But, the health body is still deliberately failing to acknowledge the other peer reviewed studies that doubt the organic compound.

Prof Hanna-Andrea Rother, head of Environmental Health Division at University of Cape Town’s School of Public Health and Family Medicine, has been involved in drawn-out talks with the WHO to reduce exposure risks to passengers and cabin crew.

“One question that is not being asked is what vector is being targeted by this spraying. [Is it] only mosquitoes? and has anyone tested whether permethrin actually kills these vectors through cabin spraying? Resistance is a big issue and with the amount of cabin spraying, I am not sure permethrin is still an efficacious control measure,” says Prof Rother.

An academic of high repute, Prof Rother is also a WHO technical adviser on the FAO/WHO Joint Meeting for Pesticides Management where they have been trying to address the issue of aircraft disinsection.

Passengers are not expressly informed about the spraying requirement when booking their flights. No permission is sought or agreed to.

When there is a warning, it is buried in fine print on the tickets that are given to travellers only after payment. Had American Radiologist Dr Samson Munn been forewarned, he would not have boarded an Air France flight in 2003 with his pregnant wife and 21-month-old daughter, who  became violently ill on-board after the disinsection of their Boston-bound flight from Paris.

Communicating to our team from California, Dr Munn assured us that his family are fine. He maintained that passengers need and have a right to be informed of what they are being exposed to beforehand.

The US government attempted to get the rest of the world to stop aircraft disinsection a decade before Dr Munn’s combat with on-board insecticide. In 1994 Bill Clinton’s administration launched a series of measures to discourage governments from requiring disinsection. According to The New York Times, the then Transport Secretary Federico F. Pena was to head the campaign. Pena’s first priority was to get U S airlines to provide customers with disinsection information prior to booking flights. With the emergence of deadly viruses such as Zika, it seems the gains made by Pena have fallen away.

Prof Rother, an ardent advocate of passengers’ right to spraying information, says it would enable people to make informed decisions. “For example, pregnant women and passengers who are immune-compromised, may not wish to fly at that time if they knew.” She says.

The professor is working with the WHO and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), to have airlines provide comprehensive disinsection information to passengers. “This is a key first step in reducing exposure risks …but it is a slow process,” she says.

In a recent flight to Mauritius, South African Airways cabin crew sprayed four 70g containers of Callington’s insecticide.

The cabin crew had used two WHO recommended applications known as ‘Blocks-away spraying’ and ‘Top-of-descent spraying’. This is how our team managed to see the can before it was taken away for ‘auditing purposes’.

The active ingredient in the Callington Aircraft Insecticide was noted as Permethrin.

WHO-sanctioned or unsanctioned? Some airlines spraying poisonous permethrin on passengers and crew.

The precautions for using Callington Aircraft Insecticide sound even more scary, especially because potential victims are 30,000 feet above the ground with no access to a phone and medical professionals.

‘First Aid:

If in eyes – wash immediately.

Skin – wash with soap and water…

if skin irritation and rash occurs, get medical advice immediately …

if swallowed – do not induce vomiting, contact Poison Information Center or a doctor.’

During our investigations, we found another Callington product, 1-Shot Aircraft Insecticide whose active ingredients are 2% permethrin and 2% d-Phenothrin, (also a pyrethroid but low in toxicity).

Callington’s filing with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for the 1-Shot Aircraft Insecticide warns; “For indoor use within aircraft cargo holds only. Do not use in aircraft cabins.”

The registered precautionary statement further warns. “Harmful if absorbed through skin.

Avoid contact with the skin, eyes, or clothing. Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking, chewing gum, using tobacco, or using the toilet.  Applicators and other handlers of 1-Shot Aircraft must wear long-sleeve shirts, long pants, shoes and socks, and chemical resistant gloves.

[We are yet to see or hear of cabin crew wearing protective gear to spray oblivious passengers who are left suffering the contaminated air and skin. The airlines would rather ignore safety precautions than alarm passengers. - editor]

It took our team less than five minutes to obtain a copy of Callington’s EPA filing. Why has it taken WHO nearly three decades to address the possible risks of insecticides containing permethrin?

We did not find any filings or approval for Callington Aircraft Insecticide within the EPA’s Database. A source at the Agency told us; “If you cannot find it in our database of pesticides, it means it has never been filed and should therefore not be used on US-bound flights.”

What really is Permethrin?

Permethrin is the common name for 3-phenoxybenzyl(1RS)-cis,trans-3-(2,2-dichlorovinyl)-2,2-dimethylcyclopropanecarboxylate.

The insecticide may have no adverse health risks when sprayed on once-off passengers, but the same cannot be said of frequent flyers, flight staff and passengers with compromised immune systems.

Dr Kate Balme, a medical officer at Poisons Information Centre in Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, concurs: “The pyrethroids as a class of pesticide have some allergic phenomena, therefore I assume that personnel with asthma or chronic airways disease may suffer from exacerbations of their symptoms with both acute or chronic exposures. I am not sure of the long-term risk to frequent flyers and cabin crew in particular after repeated exposure, but it is certainly worrisome.”

WHO seems to have just considered carcinogenicity when vetting safety of permethrin.

However, the endorsement granted for permethrin is based on a 1991 classification by International Agency for Research on Cancer, (IARC), which labelled it as “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.”

WHO has further ignored the EPA’s classification of permethrin as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” if consumed.

A paper by Dr Meriel Watts, of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, (PANAP), noted that permethrin residues had been found in breast milk, umbilical cord blood, the blood of new-borns and in children’s urine. According to the study, permethrin’s acute toxicity is rated as moderate. But, it is a neurotoxin. The compound is thought to have adverse effects on the nervous system. Early exposure to young children can lead to long-term cardiotoxicity.

Dr Watts’ study linked permethrin to neurobehavioral effects, delayed mental development, Parkinson’s disease, cancers and genotoxicity – mutagenic and genotoxic in human cells. The W H O has known about the toxicity claims, for at least a decade.

In its own document, Environmental Health Criteria 243, Aircraft Disinsection Insecticidespublished in 2013, researchers working for the organisation recorded:

“Reports completed by flight attendants or airline personnel have suggested the possibility of the onset of symptoms in passengers and crew members as a consequence of pyrethroid application. The reported symptoms varied from metallic taste, slight and nonspecific irritation of eyes, throat and upper respiratory tract and, in some cases, skin, to severe respiratory symptoms such as dyspnoea, cough, and even asthma. In other cases, headaches and allergic reactions were reported.”

The WHO commissioned researchers dismissed the concerns, writing. “WHO points out that many of the reports lack details such as the type of active ingredient or the application method used; moreover, the symptoms observed in most of the reported cases are not typical of those from pyrethroids and might be attributable to other etiological factors.”

[Simply because the manufacturer had never included such symptoms in their submitted reports, which WHO had gladly accepted as the real deal. WHO has further failed to acknowledge the scientific fact that not all pyrethroids have the same effects -editor]

The abstract of another study co-authored by Washington State University scientists; Mohan Manikkam, Carlos Guerrero-Bosagna, Rebecca Tracey, M Haque, and Michael K Skinner; announced; “Environmental factors during foetal development can induce a permanent epigenetic change in the germ like (sperms) that transmits epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of adult-onset disease in the absence of any subsequent exposure.”

One of the environmental compounds included in the study was permethrin.

The study didn’t involve human subjects; hence it cannot be a conclusive reflection of the effects of the compounds on humans. But the slim chance that they could influence a human’s DNA, is something that should not be ignored, at least not by the WHO.

Additionally, bodies like the WHO should reconsider how they formulate their regulations and recommendations, considering that several ailments that were previously only prevalent in the elderly are now being diagnosed among younger persons. 

Sitting in airy offices in Geneva, it can be easy to dismiss the risks facing consumers across the world. WHO’s benchmark for controlling the spread of bugs is proving to be more catastrophic for humans than the bugs...

While distancing itself from the mess it created, the WHO through Fadéla Chaib told us: “Ultimately, it is national governments who decide whether or not to undertake airline disinsection and which products to use based on the assessments...”

If there’s one piece of advice we can give to international air travellers: Call your airline and ask, ‘do you intend to book me on a flight where I will be fumigated with the poisonous permethrin insecticide?’ Asking that question, particularly if you are a frequent flier, pregnant, have a pre-existing health condition or compromised immune system, can make all the difference. And don’t accept WHO compliance as a guarantee for safety.

But, it would not matter much if your destination requires disinsection, so buy a gas mask and body-suit to use on-board.

·       Additional data acquisition and processing by Miguel García of San Francisco, California.