Former Qantas steward Brett Vollus has been diagnosed with the disease, which can leave victims immobile, speechless or with tremors, and is preparing to launch a legal action against the Commonwealth government, which enforces the need for spraying to prevent disease.
“If it can be shown that at the time it was sprayed the Commonwealth knew or should have known that airline employees having repeated exposures to the spray over a long period of time were at risk of injury, then the Commonwealth will be liable to pay damages,” she said.
Parkinson’s expert Professor Kay Double, from the University of Sydney’s Medical School, said: “Certainly there is epidemiological evidence that the exposure to the chemicals in pesticides is associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. It is actually the number of times you are exposed and the amount you are exposed which increases the risk.”
Prof Double said most research had been done with farmers who had been found to have an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease if they used chemical pesticides often. Regular and total exposure in a confined space, such as an aircraft, could greatly increase that risk of developing Parkinson’s disease in later life.
“The fact that flight attendants were exposed in a very contained area, have a total exposure and are then left breathing the residual chemicals may have a role to play in their eventual diagnosis,” she said.
Randolph Heynsdyk, 55, from North Richmond spent 21 years as an engineer frame fitter in the RAAF. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2004 and suspects regular exposure to pesticides could be to blame. “I would often be in the cargo bay or the passenger area as the spraying was done,” he said.
It has changed the father of two’s life. “You just freeze and cannot move. You get tired and the medications have terrible side effects.” He recently had surgery to a pacemaker to provide 24-hour stimulation to the brain.
He said passengers and crew had no choice but to breathe it in.“The pesticides are basically sprayed in a sealed container where the same air is being recycled,” he said. ”Once you breathe it in, it’s in.”
“Ian always said he wondered if those sprays would have some sort of effect on him,” said his wife Alfreda, of the spraying Qantas was legally obliged to carry out.“Now he is in a home with Parkinson’s disease.”
“It is common sense. If you have an enclosed space like an aeroplane and you empty two cans of aerosol into it while people are sitting there and then keep the doors closed, something bad is bound to happen.”
“If any of these diseases became established in Australia they could have a devastating effect on our community, as these diseases cause significant numbers of deaths and illness in many other countries.”
Protocols on the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry website explain that, with approval, aircraft can be treated with a residual spray in the hangar. Ground crew are told to wear a mask and protective clothing.
The protocols specify that, for example, a Boeing 747 needs to be sprayed with four 100g cans of insecticide containing a 2 per cent active ingredient of the chemical permathrin – the chemical linked by studies to Parkinson’s disease.