Airplanes, Airports, and Radiation

Cosmic Radiation

Cosmic Radiation while Flying
Planes fly at high altitudes which allow for less atmospheric protection from cosmic rays.

Cosmic radiation is a natural factor that we are exposed to every day. This type of radiation originates from the sun’s highly charged sub-atomic particles, which travel through space and shower the Earth. Fortunately, we have multiple layers in the atmosphere which weed out a majority of these radiated particles.  This however does not apply to air travel. Planes fly above a great portion of these protective atmospheric layers, and so are they bombarded with solar radiation. The amount of radiation someone might be exposed to while flying depends on how close to or far away from the Equator you are, how long the flight lasts, and how high of an altitude the plane travels. International flights usually fly higher and for longer periods of time. For an average domestic flight, the amount of radiation a person is exposed to is equivalent to almost half of the radiation in a chest x-ray.



Security Screenings

Traditional X-ray Image
When an x-rays create an image on the body's inside, this means that radiation is passing through and being absorbed by the body's tissues.

A few people in this world are nutcases who are compelled to blow up others. And so, because of these few people, everyone must pay the price by being unnecessarily exposed to radiation. The new screening technology at airports is called the Z Backscatter X-ray system. Overall, it works a bit differently than the x-ray scan your luggage goes through. The traditional x-ray scan is called the dual-energy X-ray system, which sends out a beam of radiation that passes and is absorbed through the contents of your luggage. This is the same type of x-ray you would get at a hospital. The x-ray beam passes through your body’s tissues, allowing medical professionals to see inside of you.  The Z Backscatter system, on the other hand, produces an x-ray beam that is “scattered” when it hits molecules with less protons, while molecules with a larger number of protons tend to absorb more of the x-ray beam. This means that organic material (which has fewer protons) scatter the beam more than absorbing it, essentially allowing an airport security to create an almost 3 –D image of an individual.

Backscatter X-ray Image
Since the beam from a Z Backscatter X-ray is "scattered" once it hits molecules with low proton levels (oraganic substances), less radiation pass through the body's tissues, which creates a 3-D like image.

Supposedly the risk to radiation exposure is low with the backscatter system. Concerning the danger of the new x-ray scanning at airports, Environmental Protection Agency unreassuringly states, “The risk from the backscatter x-ray is low, and increases the chance of catching a threat to airport security.” It is estimated that a person undergoing a backscatter scan receives approximately 0.005 millirems of radiation. (Milirems, or mrem, is a unit of absorbed radiation.) During a 3 hour domestic flight, a person can be exposed to 1 mrem, and it is estimated that someone would have to go through the backscatter x-ray about 200 times to equal the amount of radiation absorbed during the 3 hour flight.

Despite the fact that the backscatter system may involve absorbing low doses of radiation, you’re still being exposed to radiation! There are countless other ways you are exposed to radiation each day, and the backscatter system is just adding to what is already built up in your body! And since there is no way to avoid airport security scans or the cosmic radiation you are exposed to during a flight, you can protect yourself from any radiation exposure by taking zeolite before, during, and after flights. Zeolite pulls radiation right out of your cells, and safely carries it out of your body.


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