Are Airport Scanners Safe?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Are the new scanners as safe as TSA claims? My guess is probably not. The fact that they haven't been properly studied, but are being pushed so hard elicits some red flags. TSA and GE have neglected to do the tests that doctors and scientists are demanding. They have disregarded expert questions repeatedly (when these experts have zero to gain and GE has 30 million).

Scientists and doctors (in the fields of biochemistry, biophysics, cancer research, x-ray crystallography and imaging) at UC San Francisco have raised some important concerns that are summarized below.

  • There has not been a meeting of an impartial panel of experts, including medical physicists and radiation biologists, where ALL of the available relevant data is reviewed.
  • The majority of the energy dose is delivered exclusively to the skin, which is dangerously high because it is not dispersed to the entire volume of the body. This is where TSA lied--see the next point.
  • TSA and GE misled the public by only getting indirect radiation testing (which shows the diluted dispersion throughout the body) rather than quantifying the Flux (the dose being deposited to the skin). They avoided the independent safety data so they could falsely claim that "It's like being on an airplane flight for 3 minutes".
  • If determining the Flux data (which is more relevant anyway) would put the whole radiation concern to rest, why hasn't this been done? Why are they avoiding it?
  • The danger to susceptible groups (children, elderly, the immunocompromised, pregnant women, those at risk for testicular and breast cancer) has not been studied sufficiently and specific guidelines have not been released regarding their risk.
  • Any glitch in the hardware or software that stops or slows the scan may cause an intense dose of radiation to a single spot on the skin. Will the TSA agent even notice the glitch? Who oversees it being fixed and ensures it is "safe" to use again?
  • What keeps a TSA agent from raising the dose just a bit to get higher resolution on a certain area they need to see clearly? What if the higher resolution is needed at particularly sensitive anatomy? Is this justified?
TSA has not been honest with the American people. Until the proper testing is done, why should we have to subject ourselves to these risks? (The solution is not to simply get the pat down instead. Groping of sexual areas by strangers doesn't increase our safety since the the likely location to hide things would require internal manual examination by airport staff).

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