“Coffee, Tea, or Me,” or Cancer?

Commercial Airliner In Flight | Photo by pond5.com

You might remember that not too long ago there was serious concern over the possibility that cell phones could cause cancer. The phones produce electromagnetic radiation that produces radio frequency energy. After serious research here are some of the official results as posted on cancer.gov “The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that the IARC classification means that there could be some cancer risk associated with radiofrequency energy, but the evidence isn’t strong enough to be considered causal and needs to be investigated further.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified cell phone use as ” possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

Cell Phones & Cancer
Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer? | Image by Youtube

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that “…the majority of epidemiologlic studies have failed to show a relationship between exposure to radio frequency energy from cell phones and health problems.” That according to cancer.gov. Continuing from the site: “The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that no scientific evidence definitively answers whether cell phone use causes cancer.” And “The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) concludes that no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer of other illnesses.”

US Food and Drug Administration | Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll through Fierce PharmaCall)

So, for the time being at least, it is relatively safe to use your cell phone without fear. As Forest Gump said “That’s one less thing.” There is another area of research that is, however, quite disturbing.

Stewardess Graduation Picture (old) | Photo by Northwest Orient Airlines

The title of this column article is a reference to the old joking line about airline stewardess (now flight attendants, and males are now included). The stewardess would ask passengers if they wanted something to drink, coffee or tea, and the joke was that they were offering themselves to the male passengers. I added the word cancer to that line because new research has shown a higher incidence of cancer in flight crew personnel than the average population.

Flight Crew
American Airlines Plane and Flight Crew | Photo by Americanairlines.com

The (CDC) reports “The aircrew may be more likely to get skin cancer and the female flight attendants may be more likely to get breast cancer than the general population.” They go on too say “Aircrew are exposed to elevated levels of cosmic ionizing radiation and circadian rhythm disruption from traveling across time zones and working when others would normally be asleep. Some studies suggest that circadian rhythm disruption may also cause cancer.

Harvard University researchers have discovered that cosmic rays may be the cause of cancer in airline flight crews. An article published July 9, 2018 in Spaceweather.com titled “Cosmic Radiation Detected on Commercial Flights Over the South Pacific” was written by Dr. Tony Phillips. The article explains that “High energy particles from space hitting the top of Earth’s atmosphere create a spray of secondary radiation that penetrates the walls above about 20,000 feet.”

Radiation Chart
Radiation Data Chart | Image by Spaceweather.com

The researchers collected data from 3 weather balloon flights and 5 airplane flights in New Zealand. Quoting the article: “We have some new data pertinent to this topic. On June 19th, Spaceweather.com and students of Earth and Sky Calculus flew from California to New Zealand launch a series of space weather balloons. Naturally, we took our radiation sensors onboard the aircraft.” Radiation in the passenger compartment jumped 25-fold just minutes after takeoff and remained that way for the 13-hour flight until they landed in Brisbane. Quoting the article again “peak dose rates were almost 40 times greater than on the ground below. In total, we absorbed a whole body dose approximately equal to a panoramic dental x-ray.”

Neutron Chambers
Neutron Chambers | Photo by Spaceweather.com

The researchers used what are called bubble chambers to measure three types of radiation. They are neutrons, X-rays , and gamma-Rays. I won’t go into the exact technical details of the measurements they took because they are just too complex to understand. Here is what they called the bad news. “Cosmic rays at aviation altitudes are a cocktail of different things: e.g., neutrons, protons, pions, electrons, X-rays, and gamma-rays spanning a wide range of energies. Our sensors sample only three ingredients of that cocktail (neutrons, X-rays, and gamma-rays) at relatively low energies tropical of medical X-rays and airport security devices. This means our data are only the tip of the iceberg. Flight crew and passengers absorb even more radiation than we can detect.

Measuring devices
Devices For Measuring X-Rays and Gamma-Rays | Photo by Spaceweather.com

The research mainly deals with the airline crew, but business people and others also can be traveling many more hours at flight level in airplanes and are exposed to more radiation.

As the research continues hopefully we will learn more about the radiation effects in flight and ways to protect humans from them.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].



Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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