Journal of occupational and environmental hygiene

Modeling flight attendants' exposure to secondhand smoke in commercial aircraft: historical trends from 1955 to 1989.

PMID 25587876


Flight attendants were exposed to elevated levels of secondhand smoke (SHS) in commercial aircraft when smoking was allowed on planes. During flight attendants' working years, their occupational SHS exposure was influenced by various factors, including the prevalence of active smokers on planes, fliers' smoking behaviors, airplane flight load factors, and ventilation systems. These factors have likely changed over the past six decades and would affect SHS concentrations in commercial aircraft. However, changes in flight attendants' exposure to SHS have not been examined in the literature. This study estimates the magnitude of the changes and the historic trends of flight attendants' SHS exposure in U.S. domestic commercial aircraft by integrating historical changes of contributing factors. Mass balance models were developed and evaluated to estimate flight attendants' exposure to SHS in passenger cabins, as indicated by two commonly used tracers (airborne nicotine and particulate matter (PM)). Monte Carlo simulations integrating historical trends and distributions of influence factors were used to simulate 10,000 flight attendants' exposure to SHS on commercial flights from 1955 to 1989. These models indicate that annual mean SHS PM concentrations to which flight attendants were exposed in passenger cabins steadily decreased from approximately 265 μg/m(3) in 1955 and 1960 to 93 μg/m(3) by 1989, and airborne nicotine exposure among flight attendants also decreased from 11.1 μg/m(3) in 1955 to 6.5 μg/m(3) in 1989. Using duration of employment as an indicator of flight attendants' cumulative occupational exposure to SHS in epidemiological studies would inaccurately assess their lifetime exposures and thus bias the relationship between the exposure and health effects. This historical trend should be considered in future epidemiological studies.