Radiation in High Altitudes: Do Flight Attendants Need Radiation Monitors?

As planes fly longer distances and higher altitudes, flight attendants (FA) and pilots are exposed to more radiation. According to a study by the Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire, the annual dose of flight crew and pilots increased from 2.0 mSv in 2015 to 2.2 mSv in 2019. This is double the specified exposure criteria for being classified as a radiation worker, and in Australia requires monitoring.

One might think nuclear power plant workers have the most occupational exposure. However, according to NASA researchers, a pilot with routine long haul flights might even be more exposed than a nuclear power plant worker.

Cosmic Radiation on Health

The higher you fly, the higher the level of radiation. That is why pilots and flight attendants are classified as radiation workers. In every flight, they get an extra dose of radiation, particularly cosmic radiation or cosmic rays. These high-energy particles come from outer space and are blocked by the atmosphere, making us non-frequent fliers safer.

Adding to previous studies that linked radiation to increased cancer rates, the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study compared cancer prevalence in flight attendants compared to the general population. The findings among 5,366 FAs showed an increased incidence of cancer like melanoma and breast cancer. 

For airline workers, the exposure might be affecting their health in the long term, along with disrupted sleep patterns and possibly low air quality in the cabin.

Ways To Lessen Radiation Exposure

There are ways for airline crews to lessen their exposure: 

  • changing routes or flying at lower altitudes
  • rotating staff frequently

Some flights take the polar route. This is when planes fly over the Poles, the shortest route between two far locations. However, it’s also on a higher latitude. How does this affect radiation exposure? 

The Earth’s magnetic field or shielding, which protects us from radiation, is weaker over the Poles. The higher the latitude, the more radiation you receive.

That is why it’s advisable to rotate staff frequently, not only on polar routes but also on other long-haul flights. Pregnant staff, in particular, need to limit their trips. As recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the radiation dose throughout pregnancy should be limited to 1 mSv.

Monitoring Radiation in the Aviation and Airlines Industry

Classified as radiation workers, pilots and flight attendants have the right to know the exposure that they’re getting. The European Union, for example, requires airlines to monitor the radiation doses of their staff. 

As a proactive approach, SensaWeb acknowledges the need for radiation monitoring in the aviation and airlines industry. More data can aid more studies, increasing our knowledge on the long-term effects of radiation on our health. This also adds assurance to staff, making them feel more comfortable in their workplace. In 2021, SensaWeb joined 10 global start-ups for the ATI Boeing Accelerator Program, where CEO Simon Turner introduced its automated real-time radiation monitoring services.

SensaWeb provides real time radiation monitoring in real simple data visualisation. Connect with us here or through our email address: info@sensaweb.com.au. You can also call us at +61 415 409 467.

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