Flight Attendant Union Thanks Scientists for Identifying Job-Related Cancer Risks

Washington, DC (June 25, 2018) — The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson released the following statement on new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health that found U.S. Flight Attendants have a higher prevalence of every cancer they studied, especially breast cancer, melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer:

"Flight Attendant health risks including radiation exposure, disruption to sleep cycle, fatigue, oil-contaminated cabin air, spraying of pesticides, and exposure to second-hand smoke have been central to our union's work for decades to improve Flight Attendant’s working conditions in a way that protects their health. In each case defining the problem is critical to providing good information to Flight Attendants and achieving results that mitigate or eliminate these health risks.

"We applaud the scientists and researchers involved in the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study along with all of the Flight Attendants who responded to our union's call to participate. The study results help define the problems so that we can continue to promote and push for solutions to address these occupational health issues.

"On average, and absent job-related hazards, we expect Flight Attendants to have better health and lower rates of disease than people in the general population. This is true for many work groups, but especially so for Flight Attendants who have much lower rates of obesity and smoking, for example, than is average. However, the lack of appropriate workplace regulations to protect Flight Attendants from chemical and other hazards in the cabin puts them at higher risk. We hear about what seem to be large numbers of our flying partners battling cancer. Little attention has been paid to job-related cancer risks for Flight Attendants. The Harvard study shines light on this issue. Job-related cancer risk factors identified in the study include exposure to ionizing radiation, jet lag, pesticides, and other onboard chemicals.

"We will use the results to encourage airlines, airline manufacturers, and regulators to prevent exposures and change working conditions to reduce risk. At a minimum, Flight Attendants need more education on the risks of radiation exposure, especially during pregnancy, along with the potential dangers of interrupted sleep patterns and job tenure, which the study also suggests could explain the higher-than-expected prevalence of certain cancers. We will immediately inform Flight Attendants of the results in order to raise awareness to improve early cancer detection and treatment.

"We again urge OSHA and the FAA to mandate preventative workplace protections for Flight Attendants. Even after securing coverage from a number of OSHA workplace health and safety standards in 2014, health and safety protections in the aircraft cabin are in need of improvement. Neither OSHA nor the FAA require airlines to educate Flight Attendants about onboard radiation exposure or offer protections during pregnancy, cabin air can be contaminated, and cabin crew fatigue is prevalent. The study confirms that Flight Attendants are at higher risk of certain cancers and it identifies relevant occupational hazards that are consistent with such risk. That is unacceptable and we won't stop working to fix it."


The Association of Flight Attendants is the Flight Attendant union. Focused 100 percent on Flight Attendant issues, AFA has been the leader in advancing the Flight Attendant profession for 72 years. Serving as the voice for Flight Attendants in the workplace, in the aviation industry, in the media and on Capitol Hill, AFA has transformed the Flight Attendant profession by raising wages, benefits and working conditions. Nearly 50,000 Flight Attendants come together to form AFA, part of the 700,000-member strong Communications Workers of America (CWA), AFL-CIO. Visit us at www.afacwa.org.

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