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Airplane Radiation Risks

Airplane Radiation: A Growing Concern

Airplane RadiationConventional wisdom says that airplane radiation is a moderate risk factor due to the fact that at higher altitudes, there is less protection from cosmic rays. Airplane radiation was an acceptable risk for occasional passengers and even frequent fliers.


Lately however, stratospheric radioactivity levels have risen, due to airborne dust particles of Plutonium-239, Cesium-137 and Uranium are raising new concerns about airplane radiation. The video below documents Geiger counter readings for 45 minutes of flight time on a trip from San Francisco to Honolulu. The video itself is quite boring, but it does indicate airplane radiation levels peak at 0.256mR/h which is more than a year’s allotment per hour. Means that on a typical 5-hour flight a person might receive 5 times the yearly safe level of background radiation. If it is a round trip, that would be 10 times the yearly safe level. If a person makes a total of 2 5-hour round trip flights with these measurements, they will have absorbed the maximum allowable yearly dose for radiation workers. So what does this mean?

Airplane Radiation & Stochastic Effects

airplane radiationTo really understand the impact of airplane radiation, one needs to understand what is meant by the term, “stochastic effects.” Stochastic is a fancy word for effects where chance plays a role. Rather than saying that airplane radiation definitely will or will not cause cancer, given the somewhat random variables involved with atomic decay, it is more accurate to state cancer risk in terms of odds, sort of like the concept of a “dead man’s hand” in cards. (Legend has it that “two black Aces, two black eights and the Queen of clubs” are “a dead man’s hand” and a predictor of imminent death for the person holding the cards). Odds are 1 in 2,598,960 that a person would be dealt that hand. Pretty slim odds. The flip side is that the more poker a person plays, the more likely they will be dealt that hand.

Airplane Radiation Risks For Frequent Fliers

It turns out that airplane radiation risks do indeed add up. Statistically, airline pilots and stewardesses turn out to have a higher incidence of certain cancers. Pilots are more likely to get colon, rectal, prostate and brain cancers, while flight attendants are twice as likely to suffer breast cancer. Unfortunately, the figures have not been revised in light of the increased levels of airplane radiation after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. The latency period for cancer may be 5 to 20 years. Traditionally, the risks for the casual flyer have not been great, but with increased levels of radioactive particles this may no longer be true.

The following clinical study may shed some light on airplane radiation risks. A carefully conducted study showed a 1.3% rise in cancer mortality among radiation workers: “A 15-Country collaborative cohort study was conducted to provide direct estimates of cancer risk following protracted low doses of ionizing radiation. Analyses included 407,391 nuclear industry workers monitored individually for external radiation and 5.2 million person-years of follow-up. A significant association was seen between radiation dose and all-cause mortality [excess relative risk (ERR) 0.42 per Sv, 90% CI 0.07, 0.79; 18,993 deaths]. This was mainly attributable to a dose-related increase in all cancer mortality (ERR/Sv 0.97, 90% CI 0.28, 1.77; 5233 deaths).” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17388693

Airplane Radiation: Cesium-137

Cesium-137 Column from http://zardoz.nilu.no/

So simply as a ballpark figure with regard to airplane radiation, if we assume that each round trip flight exposes a person to about half the yearly allowable dose for radiation workers, then one might expect that 30 flights would be approximately equivalent to the 15 years examined in the study, possibly resulting in a 1.3% increase in cancer risk. Based on that estimate, the casual air traveler still faces little risk, but the frequent flier faces a real risk for exposure.

One might imagine a business traveler making a round-trip flight every two weeks for 5 years. This would result in 4 times the exposure that the radiation workers faced in 15 years and would likely make airplane radiation a cause for concern.

Mitigating Airplane Radiation

It turns out that the primary risk for airplane radiation is one of inhaling microscopic radioactive dust particles that are pumped in to freshen the cabin air. Although this air is filtered, many of the particles are too small and pass right through. The good news is that the risks can be solved through the use of a HEPA respirator mask.


    Resonance – Beings Of Frequency (Documentary)

    This hour and a half documentary addresses the question of Electromagnetic Field Resonance and how EMF pollution can be shown to have adverse effects on migratory birds, sleep patterns and a host of other health consequences.

    It shows how mainstream science misses critical issues by examining the relatively narrow subject of the degree to which the brain is “cooked” by microwave cell phone emissions while disregarding the subtler issues of magnetic resonance.

    While many people may have difficulty finding the time to watch the entire documentary, it is quite worthwhile in terms of fully understanding the full impact of living in the electromagnetic frequency “soup” of the modern world, beyond the “cell phones cause brain cancer” debate.

    14,000 Infant Deaths From Fukushima Fallout?

    Medical Journal Article: 14,000 U.S. Deaths Tied to Fukushima Reactor Disaster Fallout

    [Original Press Release Below]

    Impact Seen As Roughly Comparable to Radiation-Related Deaths After Chernobyl; Infants Are Hardest Hit, With Continuing Research Showing Even Higher Possible Death Count.

    WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — An estimated 14,000 excess deaths in the United States are linked to the radioactive fallout from the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan, according to a major new article in the December 2011 edition of the International Journal of Health Services.   This is the first peer-reviewed study published in a medical journal documenting the health hazards of Fukushima.

    Authors Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman note that their estimate of 14,000 excess U.S. deaths in the 14 weeks after the Fukushima meltdowns is comparable to the 16,500 excess deaths in the 17 weeks after the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986.  The rise in reported deaths after Fukushima was largest among U.S. infants under age one.  The 2010-2011 increase for infant deaths in the spring was 1.8 percent, compared to a decrease of 8.37 percent in the preceding 14 weeks.

    The IJHS article will be published Tuesday and will be available online as of 11 a.m. EST at http://www.radiation.org.

    Just six days after the disastrous meltdowns struck four reactors at Fukushima on March 11, scientists detected the plume of toxic fallout had arrived over American shores.  Subsequent measurements by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found levels of radiation in air, water, and milk hundreds of times above normal across the U.S.  The highest detected levels of Iodine-131 in precipitation in the U.S. were as follows (normal is about 2 picocuries I-131 per liter of water):  Boise, ID (390);Kansas City (200); Salt Lake City (190); Jacksonville, FL (150); Olympia, WA (125); and Boston, MA (92).

    Epidemiologist Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, said: “This study of Fukushima health hazards is the first to be published in a scientific journal.  It raises concerns, and strongly suggests that health studies continue, to understand the true impact of Fukushima in Japan and around the world.  Findings are important to the current debate of whether to build new reactors, and how long to keep aging ones in operation.”

    Mangano is executive director, Radiation and Public Health Project, and the author of 27 peer-reviewed medical journal articles and letters.

    Internist and toxicologist Janette Sherman, MD, said: “Based on our continuing research, the actual death count here may be as high as 18,000, with influenza and pneumonia, which were up five-fold in the period in question as a cause of death. Deaths are seen across all ages, but we continue to find that infants are hardest hit because their tissues are rapidly multiplying, they have undeveloped immune systems, and the doses of radioisotopes are proportionally greater than for adults.”

    Dr. Sherman is an adjunct professor, Western Michigan University, and contributing editor of “Chernobyl – Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment” published by the NY Academy of Sciences in 2009, and author of “Chemical Exposure and Disease and Life’s Delicate Balance – Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer.”

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues weekly reports on numbers of deaths for 122 U.S. cities with a population over 100,000, or about 25-30 percent of the U.S.  In the 14 weeks after Fukushima fallout arrived in the U.S. (March 20 to June 25), deaths reported to the CDC rose 4.46 percent from the same period in 2010, compared to just 2.34 percent in the 14 weeks prior.  Estimated excess deaths during this period for the entire U.S. are about 14,000.

    EDITOR’S NOTE:  A streaming audio replay of a related news event will be available on the Web at http://www.radiation.org  as of 4 p.m. EST/2100 GMT on December 19, 2011. Embargoed copies of the medical journal article are available by contactingAilis Aaron Wolf, (703) 276-3265 or aawolf@hastingsgroup.com.