Click here for basic information on cosmic and solar radiation
2018 update: Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that U.S. Flight Attendants have a higher prevalence of every cancer they studied, especially breast cancer, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer. More details posted below.
Collectively, airline crews are classified as the highest-exposed radiation workers in the US. The two main sources of radiation are “cosmic” (from other stars) and “solar” (from our sun). Exposure to these forms of radiation is not much of an issue on the surface of the earth because the atmosphere serves as a protective layer. But inflight, you have less of that protective layer above you, so your exposure to the radiation is higher. In Europe, airlines must monitor crews’ radiation doses and ensure protections for female crews who choose to report their pregnancy. But in the US, there are no rules to protect crews from over-exposure. For that reason, it is important to educate yourself on inflight radiation basics, especially as they relate to pregnancy. To that end, check out this page and also AFA’s reproductive health webpage. One key message is if you are pregnant, check for solar storms before you fly. Also, we recommend that all crewmembers check out the second edition of “The Invisible Passenger: Radiation Risks for Those Who Fly.” It’s very readable and packed with information - essential reading for crews! AFA members receive a 20% discount – just enter AMPAFA in the “discount” box right before you click “send order.”
A future app may enable crews and passengers to monitor their inflight radiation dose in real time, based on detailed data collected during 258 high-latitude flights…
raised over backscatter (X-ray) security scanners: When you walk through a backscatter security scanner, it feels like you
are walking between two tall freezers, not to be confused with a millimeter
wave unit in which you stand in a glass booth and are not exposed to X-rays.
There are conflicting reports over whether you should be concerned about the
radiation dose delivered by the backscatter security scanners being installed
at a growing number of airports, especially if you are pregnant, trying to get
pregnant, over 65 or traveling with children. The
Cancer risk for flight attendants: Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that U.S. Flight Attendants have a higher prevalence of every cancer they studied, especially breast cancer, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer. Flight attendants are a healthy worker group with smoking and obesity rates far below the national average, so their cancer rates should be lower, not higher. The researchers could not define why the cancer rates are higher but they identified workplace cancer risks for flight attendants that are consistent with those higher rates. Neither the FAA nor OSHA have properly addressed workplace health risks for flight attendants, which include radiation, fatigue, and chemical exposures. Link to full text of study above. Also, see AFA-CWA President statement online. Historically, cancer research has found an increase in breast cancer risk for female flight attendants and malignant melanoma for all flight attendants. Some studies note increased risk of cancers of the prostate, brain, and bone. Read about the importance of screening tests to detect any cancer early. For more information, see the Komen Breast Cancer Site, the American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute.
Pregnant or planning to be? Visit our Reproductive Health webpage to assist you and your doctor in deciding when and how much to fly, as well as what benefits may be available.
AFA activity and hot topics
2016 Information on benefits that may be available during pregnancy (Also, visit our reproductive health webpage.)
and solar radiation: facts for flight attendants Updated information bulletin on the potential
health risks associated with exposure and the regulatory situation in the US
and beyond. Association of Flight Attendants-CWA,
2008 Information on how to identify solar particle events Check this website before going to the airport. If the green line is above "10 to the zero" on the left side of the graph, it is recommended that pregnant women postpone travel. To help you interpret the graph that you see on your computer screen, here is an example of a graph with no Solar Particle Event (SPE) and here is one with a SPE of health significance. The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center will also notify you of these solar events for free by email. This is especially important information if you are pregnant. Register as a user, then click on "aviation", "subscribe", "solar radiation events", and then check the following five boxes: (1) WARNING: proton event 10 MeV > 10 PFU expected; (2) ALERT: proton event 10 MeV, exceeded 100 PFU; (3) ALERT: proton event 10 MeV, exceeded 1,000 PFU; (4) ALERT: proton event 10 MeV, exceeded 10,000 PFU; and (5) ALERT: proton event 10 MeV, exceeded 100,000 PFU
May 2006 AFA submits comments
to the Space Environment Center, asking for assurances of funding to
continue the SEC monitoring and reporting system for solar particle events.
(SEC has since changed its name to the
Apr 2006: Transport Canada updates its recommended radiation protections for crewmembers: Issued as Commercial & Business Aviation Advisory Circular No. 0183R (first published in 2001)
Aug 2005 AFA asks FAA
Administrator to save CARI program Letter to Administrator Blakey that
describes the importance of funding the CARI program that is currently used world wide to track an
individual's dose of galactic radiation during commercial airline flights. (The
FAA responded on
2003 Published assessment of
the health risks associated with radiation exposure of
crewmembers, citing legislation passed in 2000 to compensate nuclear power
plant workers for negative health effects believed to be caused by their radiation
exposure which is about half of what the typical air crewmember gets. (Thanks
Dec 2003 What has the AFA
done to learn more about the potential risks? Association of
Oct 2000 FAA acknowledges that the mother’s belly does not shield her baby from galactic radiation Document published by the US Department of Transportation, Office of Aviation Medicine, DOT/FAA/AM-00/33
Nov 2000 Cancer incidence in California flight attendants Report
issued by the CA Department of Health Services (CADHS) Health Investigation
Branch & CADHS Occupational Health Branch.
Also published as: Reynolds P, Cone J, Layefsky
M, et al. "Cancer incidence in California flight attendants" Cancer
Causes and Control, 13: 317-324 (2002). See also June 2001 Summary of CA
Department of Health Service report on cancer among AFA members
Association of Flight Attendants,
2009 The Invisible Passenger: Radiation Risks for People Who Fly, 2nd Edition (AFA-recommended book) Author Robert J Barish PhD. See discount information at top of this page.
2006 Advisory Circular 120-61A Replaces AC 120.61 and 120.52 that were published in 1994 and 1990, respectively
1998 Summary of article on exposure to in-flight radiation during pregnancy Author DS Geeze
13 May 1996 Legislative protections for European crewmembers
Article 42 of Directive 96/29/EURATOM. Adopted by the Council of the European
19 May 1994. Advisory circular (guidance material) AC No. 120-61 Recommends that the airlines provide crewmembers with educational materials that describe the potential radiation exposures and associated health risks (Has been widely ignored.) US Federal Aviation Administration.
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Download: CDPH_AFA Final Report to BCRP.pdf, Rad.htm, AC12061.pdf, CARI05.pdf, CAstudySum.pdf, AFAwork.pdf, radpack.pdf, FAAmay06.pdf, secmay06.pdf, FAAresp06.pdf, radbasic.pdf, CBAAC06.pdf, SPE.pdf, noSPE.pdf, 12061A.pdf, RadBroch.pdf, spememo.pdf, pregben.pdf, radcan_hist.pdf