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The air up there.

I am an employee of one of the airlines mentioned in Karin Winegar's article ("Danger in the Air," Outfront, July/August) and an aircraft technician with 18 years of experience in aircraft maintenance.

Winegar quotes a representative of Northwest Airlines saying they treat their aircraft with pesticides for the safety of their passengers. She then discounts this because several pilots and flight attendants said disinsection is done to make passengers happy. Please don't misunderstand this, but pilots don't know shit about why these aircraft are treated. Pilots are trained to operate an aircraft safely, not in the inner workings of the machine.

The Federal Aviation Administration mandates that the maintenance department ground an aircraft until it is treated if a report of bugs or rodents is made in the aircraft logbook. This is mandated because pests endanger the airworthiness of the aircraft. I have personally witnessed a cabin fill with smoke due to a roach shorting out an electrical connector.

I have also personally tested an aircraft with a faulty system that was traced down to a wire that had been chewed all the way through by a rodent. We found damage to approximately 15 to 20 wires from all different systems of the aircraft, and rodent droppings right there with the chewed insulation and wires. This scared me.

So when Northwest comments that they treat for the safety of their passengers, I take it to mean exactly that.


Orlando, Fla.

I am a pilot with more than 15,000 hours of flight time, most of it with the major airlines. I have never heard of any problem stemming from the use of pesticides in aircraft. Of great danger, however, is the possibility of transporting from one place to another some critter that could make people ill or become a new pest with no natural enemies. Find a real problem to talk about.


Paradise Valley, Ariz.

Karin Winegar claims that the Department of Transportation's involvement with the issue of disinsection on international flights was due to an article she wrote for Conde Nast Traveler in 1994. It was, in fact, the result of our originally having broken the story in a 1993 edition of Buzzworm's Earth Journal magazine, which was summarized in a Dec. 21, 1993, USA Today business travel column for which we were interviewed.

That column subsequently came to the attention of Martin Tolchin, then aviation writer for the New York Times, who brought it to the attention of then Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena, who in turn initiated the letter-writing campaign that ultimately resulted in the requirement for disinsection being dropped by most of the countries that had maintained it.


Barnegat, N.J.

Karin Winegar responds: I did not say pests aboard planes should not be treated, but that it would be less risky for all aboard if nontoxic methods were used (and the FAA told me it does not specifically require pesticide use). The experts I spoke with also questioned the efficacy of pesticides in reaching their targets. Wallace contends that because he hasn't seen the consequences of airline pesticide use, they don't exist. Nerve damage, cancer, and endocrine disruption don't generally manifest themselves as you disembark from the plane. Wallace might want to hear from some of the approximately 300 flight attendants who filed suit in 1996 with the Houston firm of Reich and Binstock claiming they have been injured by pesticide use aboard international flights.

Linda Bonvie is a respected colleague. I believe we were reporting on the same topic at roughly the same time.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:BACKTALK
Author:Kagel, Gary; Wallace, K.A.; Bonvie, Bill; Bonvie, Linda
Publication:Mother Jones
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Sep 1, 1998
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