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Cancer at 41,000 Feet: An Insider Tells All

Exclusive YOWUSA.COM Tell-all Interview With an Aviation Expert

YOWUSA.COM, 9-January-04
Dave Wright

Foreword by Marshall Masters

Cancer at 41,000 Feet: An Insider Tells All This article initiates what will be a lengthy series of articles by YOWUSA.COM to examine the health risks posed by modern commercial air travel.  While many so called experts assure us that our concerns are much ado about nothing, the fact is that flight-related health problems are changing in direct response to the way the industry itself is being managed — and for the worse. 

To understand why this is happening does not mean getting the ‘right' answers.  Rather, to truly understand it, you need to know the ‘right' questions.  That is, if you're ready to peel back the misleading subterfuge of simplistic answers.

This Is Not Much Ado About Nothing

The airline industry is presently going through a painful self-examination of the health risks associated with present day commercial flights, especially the long-haul international flights.  Why, because air crews are experiencing dramatically elevated flight-related health problems.

These include skin cancer of the nose for pilots and breast cancer amongst senior cabin attendants with over five years of seniority.  Likewise , passengers are also exposed to elevated health risks such as deep vein thrombosis, a sudden death problem for passengers and air crews alike.

After several months of examining this issue, we at YOWUSA.COM have seen the evidence of very real human suffering that is both immediate and real.

If this human tragedy could be compared to bottom of clear water pond, then the lily pads which clutter the surface and obscure our view of the bottom are the scientific pundits who debate this issue at arm's length.

  • Is galactic radiation causing more pilots and attendants to have skin and brain cancer?
  • Are the unborn infants really at-risk when their mother's fly? 
  • Should deep vein thrombosis be regarded as an acceptable risk for air crews and passengers alike?
  • Is all this human suffering necessary, in order to prevent the commercial airline industry from becoming another taxpayer-subsidized transportation system like Amtrak?

On one hand we see a great deal of expert hand-wringing and precautions about  scaring the traveling public with a perception the commercial aviation has become dangerous to our health.  The bulk of it comes of ‘knowledgeable' American sources.

On the other, we see Virgin Atlantic Airways, taking a brave, proactive stance on this issue. As a result of their high moral sense of duty to their passengers and air crews they are leading the world's air carriers with a timely and professional examination of this vital issue.

The difference between the two points of view is dramatic.  American ‘experts' are looking around, under, over, to the left of, to the right of and just straight through the real people who are suffering real problems today.  In their eagerness to foster a confusing debate about air travel-related health issues, the best we can hope for from these American ‘experts' is another go-nowhere global warming Kyoto treaty and a general consensus that there is no consensus.

Well, YOWUSA.COM is not buying into another technomuddle full of ‘right' sounding answers and signifying nothing.  Like Virgin Atlantic Airways, we SEE THEM and we shall  never lose sight of THEM — those who have, are and will suffer.

When we say "technomuddle" what do we mean?  Is there a clear example?  Yes, and to illustrate the kind of reporting you receive during this series let's take a quick look at the published findings of the FAA.  In this report, two flights are mentioned. Athens, Greece to New York, USA and Houston, Texas to Austin, Texas.

FAA, October 2000
Galactic Cosmic Radiation Exposure of Pregnant Aircrew Members II

Consider A crewmember who declares pregnancy after 1 month and continues working 80 airborne hours per month on the long, high-altitude flight from Athens to New York city. The monthly dose to the conceptus would be about 0.57 millisievert, which would exceed the recommended monthly limit of 0.5 millisievert

The questions this document fails to address:

  1. Which airlines flew the routes that were studied?
  2. Who approved the use of the specific route to be studied?
  3. What time of day (or night) was the study done?
  4. Why were the flights from Athens, Greece to New York, USA and Houston, Texas to Austin, Texas used only for the "Galactic Cosmic Radiation Exposure of Pregnant Aircrew members II" report for the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the public when there are many more flights that keep the aircraft in the "radiation zone" for longer periods of time?

Mentioned in this report is "Table 2-Effective Doses of Galactic Radiation Received on Air-Carrier Flights" which shows  a flight from London to Dallas/Ft. Worth TXthatkeeps the aircraft in the solar radiation alert region for a total of 9.7 hours while the Athens to New York flight keeps the aircraft in the alert region for a total time of approximately 4.7 hours.

Solar Radiation Alert Regions

After reading the reports, another set of questions come to mind.

  1. Since the "Galactic Cosmic Radiation Exposure of Pregnant Aircrew members II" study was done, why hasn't there a study been done for adult men, non-pregnant women, and children?
  2. Since the "Galactic Cosmic Radiation Exposure of Pregnant Aircrew members II" report was published in 1990 why hasn't there been another report been accomplished addressing the increased solar activity we're experiencing during the extended solar maximum?
  3. Why wasn't a study done on other altitudes instead of just 41,000 feet?
  4. The computer programs CARI-6 and CARI-LF3 were created by CAMI FAA and were used in calculating radiation doses in flight crews in flight during the year of 1998.  Why hasn't CAMI updated these programs to reflect the increased solar activity during the solar maximum?

If the FAA were to respond that this report has been updated, they would be correct, but only in that the data gathering programs (and not the data gathered) and help files have been updated.  Not the reports!  We're still looking at information that is years old and published before our sun started on this latest frenzy of activity.

Where Do We Balance of Money and Lives?

The stakes are high for the airline industry (and the governments that tax their operations and customers) and so the first inclination is to avoid a scare that would devastate the industry.  But then again, wasn't this the very kind of thinking that cost NASA two space shuttle flight crews?  Was this the kind of thinking that send the Titanic on its maiden voyage with barely half the number of life boats needed to ensure the survival of all the souls onboard?

Likewise, are government and industry leaders now employing the same "cost-effective" rational by shoving more commercial flights into higher altitudes and closer together and thereby exposing all souls on board to unnecessary health risks?  And are they intentionally short-changing the flying public in terms of the fresh air and leg room they need to stay healthy to reduce their costs of pushing ever smaller coach seats across our oceans?

In the meantime, those of who love those rock-bottom airfares and can do without the re-heated lasagna to save a buck are flying on a wing and prayer.  Yes, we're the ones driving the capitalistic process whereby economic expediency oversteps its bounds and stealthily robs us of our safety — all in the name of the almighty dollar.   Not only the ones the airlines and governments put into their own pockets, but the ones we save thinking that we're more the clever for it.

Will It Take a Titanic-like
Catastrophe to Wake Us Up?

After an airlines crashes, the families of the passengers who died, ask "how did this happen?"  The hope is to spare future, unknown others the same grief and anguish they feel with the tragic loss of their own loved ones.  In doing so, if future similar accidents can be prevented, then the loss they feel will not be without meaning.

For those who work inside aviation, the loss of the air crew is every bit as painful, yet it is part of their lives too.  A risk they acknowledged and assumed with their first steps, just as the wife of policeman wonders if her husband will come home in one piece that night.  Yet, the public never sees the wife's anguish.  They only see the husband's authoritative presence and rationalize the risk as something that only "comes with the turf."

What air travelers must understand is that flight crews are not devil-may-care policemen and their quietly-suffering wives.  Rather, they are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine and they're dying.  Understanding the "why" of it all will bring you to a subtle blend of nature, technology and the arrogance of humankind.

If you're interested in not only knowing the "why," but also in knowing how to question it; then we invite you to follow this series, beginning with a tell-all aviation insider interview by Dave Wright.

Marshall Masters

Cancer at 41,000 Feet:  An Insider Tells All

Jet Airliner CockpitExclusive YOWUSA.COM Tell-all
Interview With an Aviation Expert

YOWUSA.COM, 9-January-2004
Dave Wright

For decades, flight crews and the flying public has spoken in whispers about the possible health effects of the solar radiation the received on the high-altitude flights common to air travel these days.  Meanwhile, news stories about skin and brain cancers amongst flight crews and deep vein thrombosis deaths amongst passengers are have been reported with all the impact of a speed bump. 

In this article, an aerospace industry insider with 30 years of experience reveals the real threats.  After reading this revealing tell-all interview, you might decide to take the train the next time you need to travel.

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