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Travel Med Infect Dis. 2008 May;6(3):125-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tmaid.2007.10.003. Epub 2007 Nov 26.

Cosmic radiation in commercial aviation.

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  • 1Aviation Medicine, King's College London, London SE1 1UL, UK.


This paper reviews the current knowledge of cosmic radiation and its applicability to commercial aviation. Galactic cosmic radiation emanates from outside the solar system, while occasionally a disturbance in the suns' atmosphere leads to a surge in radiation particles. Protection is provided by the suns' magnetic field, the earths' magnetic field, and the earths' atmosphere. Dose rates are dependent on the altitude, the geomagnetic latitude and the solar cycle. For occupational exposure to ionising radiation, which includes aircrew, the International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends maximum mean body effective dose limits of 20mSv/yr (averaged over 5 years, with a maximum in any 1 year of 50mSv). Radiation doses can be measured during flight or may be calculated using a computer-modelling program such as CARI, EPCARD, SIEVERT or PCAIRE. Mean ambient equivalent dose rates are consistently reported in the region of 4-5microSv/h for long-haul pilots and 1-3microSv/h for short-haul, giving an annual mean effective exposure of the order 2-3mSv for long-haul and 1-2mSv for short-haul pilots. Epidemiological studies of flight crew have not shown conclusive evidence for any increase in cancer mortality or cancer incidence directly attributable to ionising radiation exposure. Whilst there is no level of radiation exposure below which effects do not occur, current evidence indicates that the probability of airline crew or passengers suffering adverse health effects as a result of exposure to cosmic radiation is very low.

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