Link between Parkinson’s disease and insecticide sprays on long haul flights
Thursday, 12th December 2013 – 1:30 pm
Turner Freeman Lawyers partner providing Q & A on the 2GB Chris Smith Afternoon Show
Topic: The link between Parkinson’s disease and insecticide sprays used on long haul flights
Turner Freeman partner recently been approached by Brett Vollus, a former Qantas flight attended who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressively degenerative neurological disorder that severely affects a person’s ability to control his/her body movements. He, and other flight attendants fear they could have been put at risk of long-term brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease by regular exposure to insecticides sprayed on long-haul flights.
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Chris: I have an interesting case to discuss and I have with me here from Turner Freeman is Tanya Segolov about a former Qantas flight attendant who is suing the Australian Government after he developed Parkinson’s disease. Now the actual legal case hasn’t been lodged yet, we’re not up to that but I understand that there has been almost an inundation from other flight attendants who work for Qantas as they investigate whether possibly they can be included in this case.
Chris: Now Brett Vollus said his Parkinson’s disease was caused from long-term exposure to the insecticides sprays that were used in long-haul flights in air craft cabins in Australia. We all remember the spray we use to cop before we got out of the cabin and headed down into customs.
Chris: Thank you Tanya for coming in today.
Chris: Is it that time of the year when everyone wants things done before Christmas day, and then you say to them hang on we’re breaking for Christmas probably on the 20th of December, so there’s all roads leading to the one day.
Tanya: Yes incredibly hectic but most of us are back early in January it’s been a long time since the courts closed and you couldn’t find a judge in January. Most courts have duty judges sitting so if anything’s urgent things can be dealt with. So it’s really a week or two that people are off. But there is this incredible panic that every single case has to be finished by the 20th of December.
Chris: Exactly. Council’s are finding this out with building approvals.
Chris: Brett Vollus, tell us did he come to you?
Tanya: He did come to me. It’s a very interesting case in fact his suspicion was sparked when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and his neurologist took a history form him and asked him what he did. When he said he was a long-haul flight attendant with Qantas. His neurologist said to him “What’s going on over there?”. I have a large number of long-haul flight attendants on my books. And that’s sparked something in my client that to investigate. And he started to ask around other flight attendants why do flight attendants have Parkinson’s above what the average should be for that colewort. And what he discovered very quickly was the link between insecticides and Parkinson’s which is a well known link..
Chris: It’s a well-known link is it?
Tanya: It’s been reported in the medical literature for decades and it’s mainly been in relations to farmers and exposure to sprays on farms. And they started to have some studies about flight attendants and what those studies have shown that and what we know in totally is an increase in numbers amongst not only flight attendants, pilots, flight engineers, people working on airplanes where they were spraying the insecticides.
Chris: Why did we spray it by the way? Was it a way to get rid of overseas mosquitoes that were on board?
Tanya: Yes and it is still sprayed now but it’s no longer sprayed while passengers are on board. It’s sprayed now before anybody gets on the plane now. It is part of a World Health Organisation requirement. We signed up for the treaty so we are required to spray it to carry out protection measures. But what the Australian and New Zealand governments did for a long period of time ’til the end of the 90s early 2000s was they mandated that the spray happened at the top of decent with the crew flight attendants a can in each hands went through spraying while the air condition is turned on. So people are inhaling the spray. So when you look at Brett, he did this once a week, once a fortnight for over 10 years. So whilst most people have 4 or 5 recollection of being on the plane when it’s being sprayed he is doing this repeatedly.
Chris: So now since you gathered some momentum in terms of media and publicity for the case, how many flight attendants have contracted you?
Tanya: I have had in access of a dozen contact me in the last 2 days. I know the daily telegraph also had a large number of people contact them and I expect people to continually contact us because I don’t think people who had the diagnosis ever made the connection between the work and the diagnosis.
Chris: So who do you sue?
Tanya: Well in this case we are looking at suing is the Commonwealth Government because they were the ones who not only mandating the spray, they mandated the method of spraying. And it was always open to them to have the residual spraying of which is now in operation whereby the spraying happens in the hanger not by the crew, by the ground-staff properly protected wearing masks and suits. And therefore you limit the airborne exposure.
Chris: Do you have to prove or is it not up to you to prove that this was a case of neglect or a case of recklessness?
Tanya: We have to prove negligence. So we have to prove that the Commonwealth knew of the dangers, risk of injury to this cohort of people or should have not. Should have carried out investigation to see what the long term effects to people who repeatedly exposed to this substance.
Chris: Ok so those people who are listening and thing they might be in the same boat – so to speak – they contact Turner Freeman and they should try to navigate their way through to you Tanya Segolov.
Chris: So you haven’t launched any legal action yet.
Tanya: No we are still waiting to receive some documents from the freedom of information acts. We think the link is established and we think we should be able to bring a claim but we really need to see the documents about the processes and procedures about what they knew and what research they carried out.
Chris: Ok this is interesting. Richard is raising a question on the open line about customs officers quickly.
Richard: Yes I was 32 years in the customs services. Customs officers regularly were forced to be aboard airfreight coming into Australia. Planes coming into Australia, airports, and along with quarantine officers. And they consistently exposed us board aircraft and once the aircraft has landed or prior to departure. And it follows along a cover-up in the Customs and Border Protection service on asbestos poisoning of customs officers searching ships over a number of years. And that has been covered up by the Commonwealth. I don’t expect any help from the customs agency as they’ll be ducking and weaving left right and centre on this.
Chris: You may want to contact Tanya.
Tanya: I think anybody who has had exposure to the insecticides and we can show that link may possibly. It’s worth investigating that claim. And I think airlines are very interesting in that they are in an enclosed environment and there’s no escaping that. So if you have a repeated exposure in an enclosed environment to a known toxic substance that has been linked for decades and decades to Parkinson’s disease its worth having a look.
Chris: This is the afternoon program. We have extended our legal matters segment we had some callers I want to get to and some very interesting emails on this issue that is being handles by Tanya Segolov from Turner Freeman over the connection between Parkinson’s disease and the flight attendant spraying these insecticides for many decades. Sounds like some of these insecticides are still being sprayed and I’ll get to those emails in a second.
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Chris: An email from Julian to answer your question about spraying, the aircraft are residually sprayed and if upon inspection into Australia a certificate has expired the cabin will be sprayed. What do you know about that Tanya.
Tanya: That is true. That is discretion among the ground staff. If this discretion is how the spraying to be done. And residual spray refers to before the passengers get on the aircraft. If that’s expired in terms of the hours there are some questions as to it wasn’t carried out correctly or if there is some extra concern if there is a particular bug or a particular disease that they worried about. There is discretion for further spraying.
Chris: So unlike in the situations and scenarios you are referring to with case involving Mr Vollus these are sporadic spraying.
Tanya: As I understand it the vast majority of sprayings coming into Australia is done residual spraying which is before people come to Australia. That is not to say people won’t be spraying going into some foreign countries and still require spraying in the cabin.
Tanya: Interestingly the US banned spraying on flight in coming into the US in 1979 when the centre of us disease control said or determined that the risk to the passengers and the crew from the spraying is greater than any benefit carried out from the spray. And in the Clinton administration lobbied very hard such as Australia to relax the requirements that their American airline coming in would have to spray. And they actually went to the measures where the airline advises passengers prior to the flights. This is a flight that you will be required to be sprayed.
Chris: Adam says in January this year, on a Jetstar flight from Honolulu and on approach to Sydney the cabin crew walked up and down the aisle spraying aerosol cans. The crew themselves were wearing masks.
Tanya: It’s good to know that at least now they are offered some form of protection. Of course when my client was carrying out this spraying there was no formal protection. I think we also need to differentiate like with all thing there is a dose reaction. So as a passenger only going to have contact with this infrequently. It may cause any short term irritation but any long term effects are likely to be less. What we are talking about is long term frequent exposure.