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Health risks of X-ray airport scanners questioned

Posted November 4, 2011
Updated November 8, 2011

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— Questions are being raised about the safety of X-ray body scanners at some airports across the country, after an article this week suggesting that anywhere from six to 100 passers each year could get cancer from the machines.

"ProPublica" reported in a Nov. 1 article that the Transportation Security Administration has repeatedly said the scanners are safe, even though most research shows that "even low doses of ionizing radiation – the kind beamed directly at the body by the X-ray scanners – increase the risk of cancer."

According to a TSA spokesman, 38 airports have the full-body scanners that use X-rays. The closest one is in Charlotte.

"Any time you are dealing with radiation, you always want to keep your dose and exposure as low as you can," said Dr. Thomas Presson with Wake Radiology.

Presson says radiation can cause cancer, but the dose from the X-ray scanners is much less than the radiation a person would be exposed to during an X-ray at a doctor's office or even flying.

"If you're worried about your dose from the backscatter scan, you should be more worried about your dose from flying – a lot more worried," he said. "The dose you receive from one backscatter scan would be equal to about two to four minutes of in-flight time," he said.

To put it in perspective, Presson said a person would have to go through the full-body X-ray scanner 1,000 times to equal the radiation from one traditional X-ray.

The full-body scanners at Raleigh-Durham International Airport use a different type of technology – called millimeter wave technology – that bounces electromagnetic waves off the body to identify items that are concealed underneath clothing. There is no X-ray or radiation involved.

According to the TSA, the machines at RDU emit one in 10,000 times less energy as a cellphone does when someone uses it to make a phone call.

8 Comments

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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Nov 9, 2011

    Don't like it? Don't fly. It's not a Constitutional right.

    I'd think that anyone who likes "less government" or liberty would understand that we need to take responsibility for our personal decisions.

  • dcatz Nov 9, 2011

    kmengineer08, I will not "get over it". Some of us are willing to stand up for our rights and to put an end to government tyranny. I have the right to engage in commerce with an airline without being subjected to invasive and unwarranted probes of my body.

    The TSA is nothing but the US equivalent of the Gestapo. Their job is to invent enemies in every corner so that they can justify their continued existence.

    And the TSA is not content to leave it at airports. They have already moved out onto highways; it won't be long before you are strip searched just for traveling on the interstate.

  • kmengineer08 Nov 8, 2011

    All I have to say is, to all you infrequent fliers get over it either accept the security procedures or don't fly and to all those who fly regularly I say you probably have a valid claim and there should be a program for frequent flyers that would reduce the security requirements.

  • smegma Nov 8, 2011

    well isn't this article just a few several months late. i never go through this garbage microwave machine.

  • schooldoctor Nov 7, 2011

    Remember the good old days, thank a terrorist!

  • OmegaBaby Nov 7, 2011

    Comparing this to X-rays or radiation received while flying is COMPLETELY misleading. Those kinds of radiation pass through your body, usually not interacting with it at all. And the exposure levels are spread out over your entire body.

    On the other hand, these backscatter machines use radiation that highly interacts with and bounces off of skin. The overall exposure level may be lower, but it's concentrated on a much smaller part of your body. So you're probably not going to get internal cancers from this, but I wouldn't be surprised to see an increase in skin cancers.

  • Henry Bourne Nov 4, 2011

    Propaganda piece.

    And cancer or no cancer, it still violates the 4th Amendment.

  • usmcgirl87 Nov 4, 2011

    Invasion of privacy all I am saying