Health risks of X-ray airport scanners questioned
Posted November 4, 2011
Updated November 8, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.