Air Steward Sues Qantas Over Insect Spray
A Qantas air steward who believes he developed respiratory problems and Parkinson's disease after repeated exposure to pesticide spray is suing his former employer.
In a case that could have global implications for airlines worldwide, Brett Vollus instructed lawyers after his neurosurgeon revealed "a lot" of flight attendants had similar problems.
Mr Vollus, 52, worked for Australia's national carrier for 27 years before an early onset of Parkinson's forced him to take redundancy in May.
Now he has engaged specialist lawyer Tanya Segelov who won a case in 2010 against East-West Airlines on behalf of an attendant who claimed engine fumes caused their respiratory damage.
Ms Segelov said: "He has no family history of Parkinson's which he believes has been caused by exposure to insecticide he sprayed as a long-haul flight attendant on at least a fortnightly basis over a period of 17 years.
"There is a link in the medical literature between Parkinson's and other motor neurone disease and insecticide, and that link is well established," she added.
Australia's Transport Workers' Union (TWU) said it would consider filing a class action on behalf of the nation's aircraft workers if a health link could be established with insecticides, urging anyone with such concerns to come forward.
"Imagine spraying household insecticides in a small room each day, then spending the day working in that room," said TWU secretary Tony Sheldon.
"When you're flight crew or cleaners, you have no choice. You're sucking these chemicals into your lungs every working day."
Ms Segelov said Mr Vollus' case would hinge on whether the government knew of the potential risks to cabin crew, or should have known.
She said it was now customary to allow spraying to take place once the aircraft was empty, in a hangar, and for the personnel carrying it out to wear protective gear.
"As I understand it from looking at the World Health Organisation (WHO) requirements that option has always been available," she said.
"From the research I've done I think (the Australian government) were the ones that made the decision to spray on board the planes and they did it in such a way no protection was offered to my client - he had a can in each hand; he couldn't even cover his mouth."
Qantas said it complied with the law and the issue was a matter for the government.
Australia's health department said its disinsection programme was in line with WHO requirements and all products used had been assessed as safe, both internationally and by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.
"The WHO has found no evidence that disinsection sprays, when used according to their guidelines and manufacturers' instructions, are harmful to human health," a spokesman said.