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• So-called “chemtrails” are not real, according to atmospheric chemists and geochemists.
• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is not aware of any deliberate release of chemicals or biological agents into the atmosphere, and the U.S. Air Force says the theory is a hoax.
A conspiracy theory about the cloud-like plumes that trail behind airplanes as they fly has persisted for more than two decades and is still spreading via social media.
In a TikTok video shared Jan. 27 on Facebook, a speaker says, "Since 2000, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have been spraying the entire United States sky with the toxic brew of chemicals and other biologic agents."
A text overlay on the TikTok video says, "Wake up! You may wanna pay attention to this."
The TikTok video shows footage of Ilya Sandra Perlingieri, speaking in 2010 at a conference at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. In the video, Perlingieri also claimed that military and some commercial jets "have been fitted with huge barrels of at least 49 different kinds of documented chemical poisons" and are emitting pathogenic mold, fungi and weaponized viruses.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The examples cited in the post are part of a conspiracy theory that claims that the condensation trails behind aircrafts are "chemtrails."
Some people believe that chemtrails are a "secret, large-scale atmospheric spraying program," said a study published in 2016 by the Carnegie Institution for Science, University of California Irvine and the nonprofit organization Near Zero.
But chemtrails are not real, said atmospheric chemists and geochemists surveyed in 2016 by the three organizations.
The 2016 study said that "well-understood physical and chemical processes" debunk the alleged evidence for chemtrails. The alleged evidence also could be explained by typical airplane contrail formation and poor data sampling, researchers said.
Contrail is a shortened term for condensation trails, which are formed by the combination of high humidity and low temperatures "that often exists at aircraft cruise altitudes," according to the Air Force, which has called the chemtrails conspiracy theory "a hoax."
The Air Force said contrails are composed primarily of water (in the form of ice crystals) and do not pose health risks to humans.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also debunked the chemtrails conspiracy theory. The agency says it is not aware of any deliberate release of chemicals or biological agents into the atmosphere.
People who spread the conspiracy theory cite varying alleged purposes for the chemtrails, including weather modification, chemical or biological weapons testing and manipulating stock prices by damaging crops. In the TikTok clip, Perlingieri mentioned weather modification, and that theory also has been embraced by Alex Jones of InfoWars, who is known for spreading misinformation.
A 1996 research paper from Air University called "Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025" seems to have inspired the chemtrails hoax. The paper was about the "hypothetical harnessing of weather for military objectives," according to National Geographic U.K.
But that paper did not "reflect current military policy, practice or capability," the Air Force said. "The Air Force's policy is to observe and forecast the weather."
In a TikTok video shared on Facebook, a speaker says, "Since 2000, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have been spraying the entire United States sky with the toxic brew of chemicals and other biologic agents."
The claim is part of a conspiracy theory about "chemtrails," which are not real, according to atmospheric chemists and geochemists.
The EPA is not aware of any deliberate release of chemicals or biological agents into the atmosphere, and the Air Force says the theory is a hoax.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire!
Facebook post, Jan. 27, 2022
National Geographic UK, "Hot topic: should I worry about chemtrails?" April 8, 2019
PolitiFact, "Alex Jones," accessed Feb. 2, 2022
The Carnegie Institution for Science, "‘Chemtrails’ Not Real, Say Leading Atmospheric Science Expert," Aug. 12, 2016
U.S. Air Force, Contrails fact sheet, July 2014
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Information on Contrails from Aircraft," accessed Feb. 2, 2022
Vice, "Chemtrails conspiracy theorists are sending death threats to climate scientists," Nov. 22, 2017
YouTube, Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, "Secretly Exposing Americans to Chemicals — Dr. Ilya Sandra Perlingieri," Jan. 15, 2010
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