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Radiation Concerns About Airport X-ray Scanners

New airport security scanners, also known as naked scanners, are causing quite a bit of controversy relating to people's privacy. Though they'd been talked about before, these scanners rose to prominence following the Underwear Bomber's attempt to blow up a plane on Christmas day. A lot of people have a huge problem with the fact that these machines look underneath your clothes for weapons, and many raise the very valid point that we don't know who's scanning us or what happens to the images when we've continued on our journey.

However, though these are rational causes for concern, NPR reveals that there is another reason we should be wary of the machines two out of three of us will have to use by the end of 2011. According to scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, about half of these machines will be so-called X-ray back-scatter scanners. The fact that they use low-energy X-rays to scan people is worrying scientists.

"Many people will approach this as, 'Oh, it must be safe, the government has thought about this and I'll just submit to it,'" David Agard, a biochemist and biophysicist at the University of California, San Francisco told NPR. "But there really is no threshold of low dose being OK. Any dose of X-rays produces some potential risk."

"Ionizing radiation such as the X-rays used in these scanners have the potential to induce chromosome damage, and that can lead to cancer," Agard says.

Current calculations estimate that a person would have to pass through one of the machines 5,000 times to equal the 100-microsievert dose of a single chest X-ray. However, Agard and his colleagues think the manufacturer, Rapiscan, and government officials have miscalculated the dose that the scanners deliver to the skin.

The biochemist and biophysicist, along with John Sedat, a molecular biologist; Marc Shuman, a cancer specialist; and Robert Stroud, also a biochemist and biophysicist, wrote to John Holdren the president's science adviser, requesting a more detailed examination of the risks these machines pose to passengers.

The UCSF scientists aren't the only ones who are concerned. One of the experts who helped write the guidelines for the scanners back in 2002 now says he wouldn't have signed off on the report if he had known they were going to be used on so many people. David Brenner, head of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research, is quoted as saying, "There really is no other technology around where we're planning to X-ray such an enormous number of individuals. It's really unprecedented in the radiation world."

Brenner's concerns are not the same as those presented by the UCSF scientists. While the UCSF group is worried about cancer, causing immune-system problems, effects on developing fetuses and sperm cell mutations, Brenner is more concerned with the 5 percent of the population who are especially sensitive to radiation. He argues that one person in 20 has a gene mutation that makes them less able to repair X-ray damage to their DNA.

"I don't know if I'm one of those 5 percent. I don't know if you're one of those 5 percent," Brenner told NPR, "And we don't really have a quick and easy test to find those individuals."

Read the full story here.

Have you been scanned yet? Let us know your thoughts on the experience below!

  • Pico_w
    I don't think I can trust them to handle the photos properly. They can't even control luggages and items! It's really sad how there are still so many reports of lost items in this day and age.
    Reply
  • irish_adam
    i know that they've blurred the faces but i doubt you could even tell who it was anyway so who cares what they do with the pictures? even if one did leak out i doubt very much it could be identified easily so who cares? no ones going ot jack off to those pics are they?
    Reply
  • sandrah
    One more example of people in the media talking out their rears without knowing what they are talking about, seeing as i've worked for two companies that build x-ray security equipment I know what is true about them, and the backscatter x-ray systems that they do use to scan people do cause the low radiation exposure the manufacturers stated, and if someone did in fact have a sensitivity to x-ray radiation then it wouldn't be the body scanner that would cause the problems but the airplane flight itself as you are exposed to significantly higher amounts of radiation from the sun having less atmosphere to protect you when flying as high up as aircrafts do.
    Reply
  • joytech22
    Well would you rather a X-Ray or a hand search? which one is less embarrassing and please if you reply to this directly or quote it, consider that both options will be public (as the X-ray is, the hand would be as well)
    Reply
  • 1. Any radiation can cause cancer, even a medical x-ray. That is why x-rays are only by Dr's orders, not over the counter.
    2. If Megan Fox went through one of these images and it was leaked you bet people would pay good money to get their hands on it.
    3. You only need a GED or equivalent to work for TSA.
    4. A study by the German government found that explosives and weapons can be concealed by someone walking through a naked scanner.
    Reply
  • ta152h
    sandrahOne more example of people in the media talking out their rears without knowing what they are talking about, seeing as i've worked for two companies that build x-ray security equipment I know what is true about them, and the backscatter x-ray systems that they do use to scan people do cause the low radiation exposure the manufacturers stated, and if someone did in fact have a sensitivity to x-ray radiation then it wouldn't be the body scanner that would cause the problems but the airplane flight itself as you are exposed to significantly higher amounts of radiation from the sun having less atmosphere to protect you when flying as high up as aircrafts do.
    You're really quite confused for someone in the X-Ray industry.

    The ozone layer is in the higher end of the atmosphere, not lower. Also, X-Rays are not blocked very well by the atmosphere, and UVA and UVB rays are not nearly as dangerous. But, of course, in an airplane, you have the airplane blocking the rays. People don't generally walk out on the wings, so are better protected in flight than being outside in their yards.

    So, it's a bogus argument. Ionizing radiation is very bad, and can cause cancer, that's a fact. Any changes caused by it are bad, and can lead to health problems. Considering how many people have died from security issues, and how many people will be exposed to this nonsense every year, the cure is probably worse than the disease.
    Reply
  • sandrah - airplanes have UV reflective paint and windows. Even parachuters use UV goggles and sunscreen. Solar wavelengths are much longer than x-ray radiation and therefore exponentially less likely to cause DNA degradation in a cell. Even if you make the completely inaccurate assumption that solar and x-ray radiation are similar in their carcinogenicity you are still way off.

    Why don't you describe the situation where the 5% of the population that is radiation sensitive is going to be OUTSIDE OF THE AIRPLANE at 35,000 feet. Lets hear it.
    Reply
  • skit75
    Why are these even being used on people if there are so many unanswered questions about the long-term effects of this technology? I'm sure the dosage is smaller in these but every other time I have had an X-ray done, I've been given a lead blanket for protecting sensitive areas and the technician(s) leave the room entirely which does little to comfort me in what is to be widespread use of these machines.
    Reply
  • twisted politiks
    That is definitely a concern, as I am not one for radiation. But as far as the "pictures". GROW THE F**K up people. everybody in the entire world either has a penis, or boobs and a vagina. Not that I would back our government in this, but if I need to be scanned, even completely naked, so that I know the plane I'm getting on won't blow up, kill me, and many other passengers, including children, then I'm all for it. Who care's if they can see my genitalia.
    Reply
  • thejerk
    This is why I've gone back to the Interstate system.
    Reply