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Why Do Pilots Face Radiation Risks?

The Scary "R- Word: Radiation
 
It ends up that pilots have some potential health concerns beyond odd sleep schedules and noise exposure. Pilots and air crewmembers are exposed to levels of cosmic radiation that are higher than people on the ground. Cosmic radiation is a phenomenon that occurs at greater levels as altitude above the earth increases. Death due to cancer, from damage to one"s DNA, is the main worry from radiation effects.
 
How Much Is Too Much?
 
Current studies indicate that there have been no known adverse effects for any exposure below 100 millisieverts. According to the FAA, the usual exposure for an airline pilot is only 3 to 5 millisieverts per year. However, because research is scant in this area, it is unknown if this elevated exposure is enough to cause unknown health risks. Further complicating the matter is the unpredictable nature of solar flares: these particles are occasionally high enough in concentration to increase the radiation dose at higher altitudes.
 
Special Concerns for the Female Pilot
 
The greatest concern is for pregnant pilots, because the developing fetus may be absorbing the radiation at an increased rate. The pregnant pilot is urged to modify her schedule in consultation with her obstetrician. In general, the best way to mitigate radiation risk is to accept flight schedules that involve lower latitudes, shorter trips, and lower altitudes. Upon confirming pregnancy, the pilot should calculate her radiation level to ensure that it does not exceed 1 millisievert until after the baby is born. The FAA currently has a computer software program (CARI-5E) that allows pilots to estimate radiation exposure. Some women choose to take more office assignments until after childbirth to alleviate concerns, but the reality is that a pilot"s cosmic radiation level is a smaller risk to an unborn child than if she were to smoke or use alcohol.

By Michelle Simmons
Get Pilot Jobs, Contributing Editor

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