Radiation Exposure in Air Travel

Air travel has evolved into probably the most popular way of transport. Being fast and comfortable and with many cheap-flight companies occurring it is the one hard to compete with. It is often reported that air travel is the safest in terms of deaths per passenger mile. [1] However, there are some downsides to traveling by plane and one of them is radiation exposure in air travel.

Basics:

While travelling by plane passengers are exposed to cosmic radiation. Cosmic radiation consists of energetic charged particles, such as protons and Helium ions, moving through space. The amount, or intensity, of cosmic radiation depends on altitude and latitude, as well as the stage of the solar cycle.[2]

Radiation Exposure in Air Travel:

The public’s No. 1 concern regarding radiation is that it may cause cancer. The probability of exposure to ionizing radiation causing cancer depends on both the dose rate and the sensitivity of the organism. Air travelers are exposed to two main sources of radiation: cosmic radiation during flight and radiation from scanners while undergoing security clearance. Statistically, the risk posed by exposure to radiation from passing through BSX and MWS scanners in airports and during commercial flight is exceedingly low. The dose received during air travel is estimated at approximately 0.005 mSv/hr; thus, the dose received during a six-hour flight would be approximately 20 μSv, which is 200 to 400 times greater than a dose received during a BSX scan. For every 1 million people who travel by air, an estimated 600 additional cancers would occur as a result of exposure to the higher levels of radiation during flight. [3]
Informing passengers about radiation could help them understand it better as well as improve their safety. The Federal Aviation Administration has provided instructional material on radiation exposure during air travel, supported research on radiation effects, and developed computer programs (CARI) for estimating the galactic radiation in the atmosphere.[4]

Conclusion:

Even though flying by plane does expose passengers to some dose of radiation, compared to every-day dose of radiation people are exposed to, the ‘air travel’ radiation does not have alarming effects. Annual doses to crew members, on and off the job, ranged from almost identical to about twice the average annual effective dose of natural background radiation received by a member of the US population.[5]

References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_safety#Air_safety_topics
[2] http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/radiation/comsic-cosmique-eng.php
[3] http://www.minnesotamedicine.com/Default.aspx?tabid=3777
[4] “Guidelines and Technical Information Provided by the US Federal Aviation Administration to Promote Radiation Safety for Air Carrier Crew Members” by: W. Friedberg, K. Copeland, F.E. Duke, K. O’Brien III and E.B. Darden Jr.
[5] “Guidelines and Technical Information Provided by the US Federal Aviation Administration to Promote Radiation Safety for Air Carrier Crew Members” by: W. Friedberg, K. Copeland, F.E. Duke, K. O’Brien III and E.B. Darden Jr.


Josip

AUTHOR: Josip Ivanovic

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