Radiation Exposure of Aviation Crewmembers and Cancer

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Crewmembers are exposed to galactic cosmic radiation on every flight and occasionally to solar protons on polar flights. Data are presented showing that the proton occasions are seven times more frequent than generally believed. Crewmembers are also exposed to neutrons and gamma rays from the sun and to gamma rays from terrestrial thunderstorms. Solar neutrons and gamma rays (1) expose the daylight side of Earth, (2) are most intense at lower latitudes, (3) may be as or more frequent than solar protons, and (4) have relativistic energies. The U.S. agency responsible for crewmember safety only considers the galactic component with respect to its recommended 20 mSv y−1 limit, but it has an estimate for a thunderstorm dose of 30 mSv. In view of overlooked sources, possible over-limit doses, and lack of dosimetry, dose reconstructions are needed. However, using the agency dose estimates and the compensation procedure for U.S. nuclear weapon workers, the probability of crewmember cancers can be at least as likely as not. Ways to improve the quality of dose estimates are suggested, and a worker’s compensation program specific to aviation crewmembers is recommended.

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