Flights see planes infiltrated by cosmic radiation. This form of ionising radiation comes from exploding stars outside the solar system. Only a very small amount of cosmic radiation reaches the earth but, when flying at altitude, passengers and crewmembers are exposed to higher levels. Long-haul – particularly at northerly altitudes – sees fliers most exposed on a flight. This is due to the earth’s atmosphere being thinnest over the poles (and thickest over the equator).
On a seven-hour flight from London to New York, passengers and crew receive the same amount of radiation as if they were receiving a chest X-ray.
Because of the risk of higher exposure to comic radiation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies airline crew members as radiation workers.
In fact, staff who regularly work on high altitude flights are exposed to more radiation than workers in nuclear power plants.
So should passengers be concerned about radiation if they fly regularly in planes?
According to the Health Physics Society (HPS), which specialises in radiation safety, someone would have to spend more than 5,000 hours per year in a plane, or five times as many hours as pilots are allowed to fly, before they would be at risk of radiation.
“For ordinary travellers like you and your children taking a few trips per year, the cosmic radiation exposure in an aircraft should be of no concern,” HPS said.
In the UK the average background radiation dose is 2.2 millisieverts (mSv) – a measure of the absorption of radiation by the human body – per annum.
The average passenger is exposed to about 0.01 millisieverts per year.
No more than 50 millisieverts in a year is advised by the Health Physics Society in one year or no more than 100 millisieverts over an entire lifetime from natural sources of radiation.
According to the Health Physics Society, cancer and other health effects have not been observed consistently at doses less than 100 mSv because the risk is so low.
If travellers want to check their radiation risk from flying, US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offers an online calculator to determine flight dose from galactic radiation.
A study released last year revealed flight attendants are more at risk of developing cancer.
Breast cancer was found to affect 3.4 per cent of flight attendants, compared with 2.3 per cent of other women. Cancers of the skin, uterus, cervix, the digestive tract and thyroid gland were also all found to be more common in cabin crew.
Plane stewards are routinely exposed to several known and suspected carcinogens, including altitude-based radiation.
They also suffer disruption to the body clock through irregular and anti-social shift patterns and poor air quality.
In all, 5,366 attendants working on domestic and international flights in the US were examined. Researchers said the findings are particularly worrying considering the relative good health of the flight attendants included in the tests.
Published at Sat, 26 Jan 2019 04:01:00 +0000