As we began our descent into San Jose, Costa Rica the pursor announced that they would be coming through the cabin to spray a non-toxic insecticide approved by the World Health Organization. The announcment was quick, carefully timed and totally unexpected.
Determined to prevent this from happening I coralled two of the three cabin crew members in the forward galley, doing my best to engage them in conversation as long as possible. Although the dialogue was terse at first it did not take long for one of the crew members to admit that she personally was not comfortable with the proceedure. It was however a requirement. Assuring her that I understood her position I made it clear that I would not consent to being subjected to the spray nor would many other passengers accept their rights and health being compromised.
Well into our descent now the pursor arrived which put all three potential sprayers in one place. Being sure to block their access to the cabin I began the conversation again with the woman in charge. She quickly aknowledged my concern and carefully suggested her agreement with my position but insisted that without the spraying we would be impounded on arrival.
Like a skidding car or impending orgasm confrontational situations have a defining moment at which point one must make a total commitment to regaining control or give oneself over to the outcome. Until this point I had intended to just argue my point however it now was clear that a more physical approach may be required to prevent this from happening.
Slowly and carefully I restated my concern this time making it clear that I would not allow the spraying to take place. The pursor and I were fully engaged, both of us firm and both of us totally compassionate for the other. She spoke first.
The bottles would be checked on arrival and if not emptied we would be quarantined. She would not spray near my seat. I told her that was unacceptable. A heady moment passed.
Perhaps I would not be arrested I thought. Although these days any physical resistance is sure to be considered a serious threat regardless of the circumstances. I asked the crew if they remembered the Stewartesses that contracted cancer from spraying cabins in the sixties and seventies. So what if the W.H.O approved it, did they know what was in the spray?
Pyrethrum is the most widely used botanical insecticide in the United States. The active ingredient, pyrethrin, is extracted from a chrysanthemum plant, grown primarily in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ecuador.
Most insects are highly susceptible to pyrethrin at very low concentrations. The compound acts rapidly on insects, causing immediate knock down. Flying insects drop almost immediately after exposure. Fast knock down and insect death don’t, however, always go hand in hand; many insects recover after the initial knockdown phase.
Pyrethrins and synthetic derivatives called pyrethroids have low-to-moderate toxicity for humans and other mammals and are now a widely used alternative to organophosphates. However, they are known to provoke serious asthma and allergy attacks in susceptible people. Also, pyrethrin products usually contain piperonyl butoxide, an additive whose safety has been brought into question by recent studies that showed liver cancer in both mice and rats exposed to the substance.
The bathroom was an option. The spray would be sucked up by the suction of the toilet and contained within the closet. An agreement perhaps. The choice was now mine. Return to my seat and vacation and trust that we have come to an understanding or, stand firm until we land and take up residence in a Costa Rican holding tank.
Compassionate eyes all around. I returned to my seat and numerous queries by the passangers. What happend? Are they spraying? What did you say?
Hand on the release of my seat belt, I watched the crew carefully for the remainder of the flight. One came by to record my seat number although she pretended not to. I did not smell anything.