As a Flight Attendant with an erratic schedule I am always conscious about keeping healthy. The new cry out there by the general public is the use of body scanners that emit radiation doses. What people really don’t know is the health risk that flying itself gives. Flying gives you more radiation exposure than the body scanners ever will. Two minutes flying at 30,000 feet will give you as much radiation as a body scan! And by the time you are at a normal cruising altitude of 39,000 feet the total radiation is much greater than what it is at sea level. Flying in the upper thinner portion of the atmosphere increases your radiation exposure and doubles with every 6,000 feet of altitude!
For people who don’t fly that much I don’t think this is a concern and remember you can always opt out of the body scanner which is your right. But this can put you at the mercy of a full body pat down, which can be a very unpleasant experience. But for Frequent Flyers and Flight Crews who fly commercial airlines at high altitudes, we are subjected to higher than normal radiation levels from the sun and cosmic rays. And in the event of a solar flare radiation is even worse. This raises a real health risk because we are exposed to more radiation than any other occupation out there!
It is amazing to me why our employers do not educate us about this risk. European carriers make it mandatory that Flight Crews be educated about cosmic radiation. And also I wonder why we are not monitored as most health professionals who frequently deliver x-rays and cancer treatments. It only takes about six or seven trips from New York to Narita Japan to exceed the general public limits. That is more than any health professional gets that delivers x-rays!
Everyone is exposed to some radiation every day. Cosmic radiation which comes from the sun is a form of Ionizing radiation; charged particles that go through our bodies all the time which unbalance us. But we are protected by most of them because the earth’s atmosphere absorbs much of this and deflects them before they reach us. So the higher you are the less atmosphere to protect you. And too much exposure can lead to tissue and genetic damage that cause cancer and other diseases.
We are all aware that the sun’s ultraviolet radiation can damage skin cells which may lead to skin cancers, but at a high energy it becomes ionizing radiation which can lead to chemical reactions inside cells and break DNA chains which mutate the cells and become cancerous. If it occurs in a sperm or egg it can result in birth defects which is why pregnant women should never be subjected to x-rays.
There is a tremendous amount of evidence that female flight attendants have higher rates of breast cancer then the rest of the population. We also must take into consideration that our life style of constantly crossing time zones can throw off our hormones, messes with our serotonin and dopamine which can also play a big part in causing cancer.
Luckily for most flight personnel, we don’t have to go through the body scanners because who wants that additional dose of radiation… But our Frequent Flyers are not so lucky. Although the machines they say are a very low level and not like an X-ray at all, experts claim the machines are not harmful. I believe it’s still too early to tell.
But although we are not going through the body scanners we are still at a higher risk. Robert Barish who is a physicist and author of “The Invisible Passenger: Radiation Risks For People Who Fly” says crewmembers are exposing themselves to more radiation than almost any other occupation out there.
So how much flying is too much?
There are two organizations “The U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements” and the “International Commission on Radiological Protection”. They both have established the radiation tolerance for air crews and the general public. A week’s worth of natural background radiation is about 2.4 mSv a year. The group goes on to …