There is an interesting science story out this week that could raise legal issues as to risk of radiation for airline passengers. A new study at the Florida Institute of Technology, University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Florida found that passengers could be exposed to a radiation dose equal to that from 400 chest X-rays if their airplane is near the start of a lightning discharge or related phenomena known as a terrestrial gamma ray flash.
These bursts of radiation only extend a few hundred feet in the clouds, but they are high in radiation. Airliners are known to routinely pass through lightening storms and a plane is actually struck by lightning once or twice a year.
One of the sources for radiation that was studied was “terrestrial gamma-ray flashes,” or TGFs. TGFs originate within thunderstorms at the same altitudes used by jet airliners. The range for high radiation levels can extend to the size of a football field around the discharges. They can reach 10 rem — considered the maximum safe radiation exposure over a person’s lifetime (equal to 400 chest X-rays, three CAT scans or 7,500 hours of flight time in normal conditions).
If confirmed in later studies, this could present some interesting problems for personal liability in defining the injury. Exposure does not mean certain cancer, but it is clearly raising the chances for such harm.
For the full story, click here.