What's the Real Radiation Risk of the TSA's Full Body X-Ray Scans?

By Andrew Moseman | November 17, 2010 4:51 pm

TSAIt’s not like this week was the first appearance of the full-body X-ray scanners in American airports. Yet, thanks to the looming holiday travel season, leaked X-ray images that were supposed to be kept private, and high-profile rebellion by pilots’ organizations and disgruntled passengers, anger is rising against the Transportation Security Administration’s new airport rules. Under the policy, those chosen for extra screening face the dilemma of having their naked bodies revealed to TSA scanners or opting out and having agents feel them up in search of explosives.

But behind the outrage at being asked to surrender even more of our dignity just to get on a plane, there’s another full-body scanning issue simmering: the health dangers of radiation.

How much radiation, and where?

This was the main concern of the Allied Pilots Association. Pilots are already exposed to higher levels of radiation than nearly all professionals because they spend so much time at altitude and receive radiation from space; asking them to take an X-ray every time they get on a plane (even one that the TSA says is thousands of times less intense than a hospital chest X-ray) was asking too much. Popular Mechanics posted more details on pilot exposure.

So what about the rest of us, who fly perhaps only a few times per year? Back in May, professors at the University of California, San Francisco, led by John Sedat sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration with a litany of red flags about using back-scatter X-ray with such frequency—mostly that the safety has not be independently proven. The FDA finally replied with a lengthy letter citing study after study that show full-body scanning is safe, the agency says.

The UCSF profs’ main beef is this: We know the risks of medical chest X-rays, for example, which penetrate the skin to make those pictures of our bones. The back-scattering X-rays the TSA uses, however, aren’t like that at all—they penetrate just the clothes and the top layers of skin, and the scanner reads what’s reflected back. Because the full body scanners don’t need to go through your skin, they use less powerful radiation than the X-ray machines in the hospital. That sounds good in theory, but it means the skin absorbs a bigger blast than it would in the hospital, and the professors say we don’t know the effects of that skin exposure well enough to say that it’s safe.

The low-energy rays do a “Compton scatter” off tissue layers just under the skin, possibly exposing some vital areas and leaving the tissues at risk of mutation. When an X-ray Compton scatters, it doesn’t shift an electron to a higher energy level; instead, it hits the electron hard enough to dislodge it from its atom. The authors note that this process is “likely breaking bonds,” which could cause mutations in cells and raise the risk of cancer. [Ars Technica]

FDA, in its response letter, said:

The concern that “the dose to the skin may be dangerously high” is not supported. The recommended limit for annual dose to the skin for the general public is 50,000 µSv. The dose to the skin from one screening would be approximately 0.56 µSv when the effective dose for that same screening would be 0.25 µSv. Therefore the dose to skin for the example screening is at least 89,000 times lower than the annual limit.

Not everybody is convinced by the FDA case. I asked Columbia’s University’s David J. Brenner, who helped draft guidelines for full-body scanners (but now says he wouldn’t have done it if he knew the scanners would be used in such a widespread fashion), and he wrote back, “We know the radiation dose is very low but there are different views about just how low. We do need more independent analyses of the radiation doses involved.”

The meaning of risk

The FDA and the TSA, in all their responses, have repeated that the X-ray exposure and therefore the risk of full-body scanners is minuscule. But minuscule is not “non-existent,” and when you start exposing a large percentage of the flying public to more X-rays, there’s no such thing as completely “safe.”

“They say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays,” [says] Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University school of medicine…. “No exposure to X-ray is considered beneficial. We know X-rays are hazardous but we have a situation at the airports where people are so eager to fly that they will risk their lives in this manner.” [AFP]

Brenner says the most important thing to understand is that there are three levels of risk: the risk for a single trip through the scanner, the risk for pilots and flight attendants who make many trips through the scanner every year, and the risk to the general population when you think of it as a whole. That general population risk is what Love is talking about when he says “someone is going to get skin cancer.” Brenner says it can’t be ignored; here’s his explanation in full:

To illustrate generally what I mean here, suppose some activity involves a very very small cancer risk, say one in ten million (these are not necessarily numbers for airport scanners, just trying to illustrate what a population risk means…). Now suppose 10 people are exposed to that small risk: chances are none of them would get cancer as a result of that activity. Now suppose a billion people are each exposed to that risk of one in ten million: then chances are that some of them (we wouldn’t know which of them) would get cancer as a result of that activity, even though the individual risk is extremely small. So even though the individual risk is very small, the impact on the population may not be small if the exposed population is large.

This is potentially the case with airport X-ray scanners. We know the individual risk is very small, but multiply that by the number of people going through airport security each year in the US (currently about 700 million, maybe one billion a decade from now), then we start to have a concern about the population risk.

Some people more susceptible?

The basic risk of X-ray exposure isn’t the only worry. Back in May, Brenner pointed out that X-ray damage does not hit all passengers equally.

Recent research, Brenner says, indicates that about 5 percent of the population — one person in 20 — is especially sensitive to radiation. These people have gene mutations that make them less able to repair X-ray damage to their DNA. Two examples are the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 mutations associated with breast and ovarian cancer, but scientists believe many more such defects are unknown. “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 says, “And we don’t really have a quick and easy test to find those individuals.” [NPR]

Furthermore, the UCSF researchers write in their letter, older passengers are more susceptible to mutagenic effects of X-rays, and “the risk of radiation emission to children and adolescents does not appears to have been fully evaluated.”

Safer alternative?

There is another way to scan someone that could bypass the X-ray health worries:

Of the 68 airports scanning for explosives, 30 are using millimeter-wave scanners that don’t use X-rays at all; they hit the surface of the body with safer radio waves. If the TSA committed to using only this type of equipment, it could avoid the safety concerns regarding the X-ray full body scanners completely. [Ars Technica]

So why not go all-millimeter-wave? Back in May, Maurine Fanguy of the TSA’s Office of Security Technology explained TSA’s rationale: They don’t want to be dependent upon just one vendor, or to miss out on advances in X-ray technology because they use only millimeter-wave. But to quote Dr. Brenner once more:

From the overall public health point of view, if indeed millimeter wave scanners are just as sensitive for detecting concealed explosives (which I think they are), there is a good argument that they should be being deployed in airports rather than the X-ray scanners.

Related Content:
80beats: Airline Passenger Refuses to Be Groped by Security; Becomes a Folk Hero
80beats: 5 Reasons Body Scanners May Not Solve Our Terrorism Problem
80beats: Body-Scanners in Courthouses Have Stored Thousands of Rather Personal Images
Discoblog: German Activists Protest Body Scanners by Stripping Down
Discoblog: Co-Ed Naked Airport Security: X-Ray Scanners Strip Search Passengers

Image: TSA

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    Is “millimeter wave” a euphemism for microwave?

  • Mike Saunders

    Nope, millimeter wave is 30GHz to 300GHz of frequency. Usually abbreviated mmW. I work in mmW and microwave is considered a lower frequency band. 30GHz is 10mm wavelength, and 300GHz is 1mm wavelength. mmW is also used for ground to ground radar. Atmospheric attenuation is high for these frequencies, but in ground to ground radar you don’t care, since you are usually looking only short distances. Because these are not popular frequencies, regulated bands are not packed on top of each other as they are for microwave.
    Another use for mmW is at 60GHz, the atmosphere loves absorbing this frequency due to resonance in air molecules (I forget which), so the government likes it for point to point clandestine data transmission, and consumer products like it for high bandwidth data rates (because more frequency bandwidth = higher possible data rate) for things like real time HDTV wireless transmission, and you don’t have to worry so much about device to device interference because of the atmospheric absorption.
    I think these scanners are a bit higher, maybe 240GHz? Not really my expertise.

  • J Strickland

    A concern that I have that I have not seen in any of the information that I’ve seen regarding the scanners, is the effect that even small doses of radiation will have on pregnant women. Since women may not even know that they are pregnant at the time they are scanned, you are exposing a new fetus to even the proportedly low levels of radiation you risk the potential birth defects of the exposure.

  • B Miller

    If the x-rays cannot penetrate the skin they won’t be able to reach the fetus inside the pregnant woman, nor will they have an effect on eggs and sperm of men and women of reproductive age.

  • Civil Disobedience

    I’d rather get naked and show off my nuts to some Federal Stormtrooper than be exposed to their barbecue machine.

  • Anonymous Coward

    Terrorists: These scanners cannot look below the skin, so be sure to have your bomb breast implants or anal cavity stick of dynamite ready.

  • kevin

    Some other perhaps important differences you are neglecting between airport backscatter xray and medical xray.

    – One of them is operated by ostensibly trained professionals. The other by guys who beat each other up for making fun of the size of their junk.

    – One is operated in a room with just one or two people around. The other in a crowded place with hundreds of people around, many of them who work there all day long. In one of the recently leaked backscatter videos you can clearly see (in the backscatter image) people milling around in the background. Seems like the xrays are not confined to the nudie-holdup chamber at all, at least in some configurations.

    – Do these machines have oversight that I presume medical equipment has? We know the code that runs these is brand new, written by startup companies, and is going to have bugs. What precautions are there in place to make sure the machines do not overdoes?

  • Big Brother

    Trust me – I’m doing this for your own good.

  • wrichards

    On November 16th, 2010 my fiancé and I needed to fly out of San Jose Ca airport. These are my observations of the x-ray scanners and their physical setups. I have over 20 years of Doctor and x-ray operator experience and what I saw was dangerous and if any other x-ray facility was set up this way would pose a great danger to the public as well as the operators there.
    In this letter I will outline what I saw the dangers of the setup and possible solutions.
    Summary: open x-ray source with no shielding producing scatter radiation is a danger to workers of the unit and anyone passing through it. These dangers include constant micro doses of radiation every time it is used. (SEE ATTACHED PICTURE)
    Those in immediate danger:
    Pilots and Crew– radiation to eyes can cause cataracts and worse, putting a pilots vision in danger and possible “in air” errors. Thyroid exposure and possible cancers.
    TSA workers – there is NO SHIELDING on 2 sides of the pass through unit. Scatter radiation is emitted and exposes everyone around it. End result TSA agents getting un-necessary exposure that could lead to medical complications later as with ANY prolonged x-ray exposure.
    Passengers – micro doses of radiation to sensitive areas of the body i.e.: eyes, thyroid, breast etc. How long will it take for the first law suits to show up where people with cancer blame the screening device for it? Pregnant females? Present/past cancer patients?
    Obvious x-ray precautions are NOT being followed: There are NO SIGNS of x-ray in use, as required by all other x-ray facilities. There is NO information of the amount of radiation emitted. To the person being scanned or the unit itself. There is NO SHIELDING for sensitive areas i.e.: eyes, thyroid, groin etc. which is required by law of ANY x-ray facility. There is NO SHIELDING for the open sides of the unit. Lead shielding is required by ALL facilities to reduce scatter radiation to anyone other than the subject. A simple leaded panel on both sides of the open unit would help with this. The TSA agents are at the greatest risk here.
    All in all it is very obvious to me as a professional x-ray operator that currently these devices are dangerous and NOT compliant with x-ray laws for a facility dealing with the public. If any x-ray facility had a setup like this and an inspector from the department of public health showed up the place would be shutdown due to non-compliance.
    It is my professional opinion that until these safety issues are taken care of that these machines are unsafe for the workers and public.
    Sadly, I see this all as a lobbyists dream. I recently read that these machines are being heavily lobbied and that 100s’ of millions of dollars are spent trying to get these into airports. So I see money as a HUGE factor OTHER than public safety.
    I strongly oppose ANY public source of radiation of any kind as it is all cumulative. This is a very bad idea, and NO AMOUNT of lobbying will undo my knowledge of radiation exposure dangers.
    This whole thing is political for some gain OTHER than for public safety.
    To wrap up:
    Pilots and crew are at risk for cataract and worse. They are already exposed to excess radiation just flying at altitude. X-ray dosimetry badges should be issued and monitored for them.
    TSA agents are not trained well to be around x-ray sources and as such are being dosed beyond ambient radiation levels posing them at risk for health related issues later. X-ray dosimetry badges should be issued and monitored for them as well.
    The public is being irradiated un-necessarily without full disclosure of the dangers and possible latent heath problems including cancer which is x-ray linked. Public disclosure of x-ray dose needs to be released so the public can make an educated choice to use them or not.
    Think about pregnant females, present/past cancer patients etc. X-rays dangers are known and NOT being presented to the public at these stations.
    My experience at the TSA San Jose airport Scanners.
    I arrived about 9:30 AM on Mon Nov 16th. I showed my drivers license to the TSA agent, after I noticed the scanners and metal detectors side by side. The scanners had open sides facing the line. This immediately flagged me as an x-ray source leak by not having shielding over the exposed sides. Having been an x-ray supervisor and operator for 20 years I am very aware of radiation leaks and such. I looked for a physical sign stating “x-ray” or “x-ray in use” or something to that effect. But saw NONE. This flagged me that the public was NOT being told of a public x-ray source being used around them. This is an obvious attempt to play down the use of x-ray exposure to the public and that all was fine and dandy.
    The TSA agent asked me, politely, to go through the scanner, told him that I would rather be patted down than x-rayed. Immediately the TSA agent chuckled and told me it would be in my best interest to go through the scanner. I replied that I was an x-ray supervisor and that I had been exposed for 20 years of rays and that my concerns were real because of my lifetime exposure. He took me to a table where other gloved TSA agents, a rather large SJPD and his dog waited for me. My things were set aside and the TSA agent gave me one more chance to go through the scanner as he snapped his rubber glove on his hand as an obvious attempt to intimidate me. Since I have no shame and nothing to hide I opted for the “pat down.”
    The TSA agent described all the things he was going to do to me, hands in my waist, up my leg for what he called the “grab” etc. The SJPD dog sniffed away, as the TSA agent felt here and there. To me it seemed a bit more than was necessary but again I’m used to being and giving touch to others so it wasn’t bad. After a few minutes the other TSA agents wandered over to another table, I guess my lack of intimidation wasn’t interesting to them anymore. The TSA agent them took his gloves and fed them into a scanner. In a couple seconds he said ok, your clean and can go.
    It took a few minutes to re-compose myself putting back on clothes and such, but all in all was not overly un-pleasant. It wasn’t what I call professional, with the chuckles and attempts to intimidate but…
    To End, I would like to say I am not opposed to TSA doing their job. However I am VERY concerned that the public is in the middle of an obvious political can of worms all the while being irradiated.
    I’m sure there are going to be people, experts from the scanners manufactures’, other doctors on payrolls of this or that, which will testify as to the “safety” of these devices. However, x-ray physics are absolute. Radiation causes cellular changes that can lead to horrific diseases including cancers.
    What’s going to happen in a few years when these cancer cases start coming out? Who is responsible?
    There are a lot of unanswered questions…

  • JimmyJohns

    Wrichards… how do you know if it wasn’t the millimeter wave scanner and not an x-ray?

  • Jill

    But let’s keep in mind that everyone going through the scanners should be getting onto planes. What’s the radiation exposure compared to flying at typical cruising altitudes? I’ve seen a couple of stories that say the scans compare to “a few minutes” of flying. If that’s correct, then to be concerned about the scanners when you’re going to spend up to several hours on a plane seems unreasonable, whether you’re part of the flight crew or a passenger.

  • Jason

    @wrichards, while your experience and remarks are appreciated as a person with xray experience, perhaps it would be advisable for you to fully review the machine:

    This machine has passed inspection by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and while it may not have the required shielding that a medical facility is required to have that may not be the requirement for this machine. Could it be that you are misapplying your experience as an xray technician to another type of machine that is out of your realm of experience?

    According to the manufacture, this machine would require a 1000 scans to equal that of one chest xray. Moreover, a person is exposed to the equivalent of 3 of these scans for every hour of high altitude flight or if they were to eat 2 bananas or 4 grams of Brazil nuts.

    I don’t know what your thoughts are on the Linear No-threshold theory is, but this certainly seems like a very very small exposure risk to take given the potential lives it could save.

    The professionalism needs to be worked on, that I agree with, but please start with your own professionalism and review thoroughly the information which is made public and adjust your opinion accordingly.

  • http://yahoo Breezin

    I won’t reveal my age, but when i was just a kid it was quite common to go to a shoe store and try on a pair of shoes and then go to x-ray scanner and stick your foot under the scanner to see if the shoe fit. You don’t see those machines in the shoe stores any more.

  • Brian

    @ Jill: Yes, that is the crucial point that needs to be touched on. This whole debate is moot if the radiation dose received while flying in the plane is substantially larger than that received from the scanner. Does anyone have numbers on this?

  • http://www.xrayrisk.com Mike Hanley

    http://www.xrayrisk.com has more info on radiation and cancer risk including an online calculator that lets you calculate radiation dose and estimate cancer risk from CT scans, x-rays and procedures. The site also allows users to log-in and track their imaging history.

  • http://www.geoffreylandis.com Geoffrey A. Landis

    kevin wrote: “In one of the recently leaked backscatter videos you can clearly see (in the backscatter image) people milling around in the background. Seems like the xrays are not confined to the nudie-holdup chamber at all, at least in some configurations.”

    If it’s the collection of images that’s been on the internet (of screening of visitors to a courthouse), that was a millimeter wave scanner, not x-ray backscatter.

    The main problem I have with this technology is what happens when machines get old, and malfunction. These machines will get *heavy* usage. If the malfunction rate is only one in a million– well, the figures above tell me that 700,000,000 people go through airport security in the US each year.

  • JCC

    Having read wrichards very enlightening post here, I feel I must chime in with a comment regarding the “professionalism” of some (many?) TSA agents. I am a very frequent business traveler — about 80-90 flights a year. I was flying out of DEN last summer when, to my surprise, an agent requested an examination of my carry-on bag. I was puzzled as to what the problem could be when he held up a cylindrically-shaped bright blue dog toy, which I had purchased for my dog (duh!) and said to his fellow agents with a chuckle “Look, it’s a dog toy!” Let me add that I am a female and I don’t for a minute believe that the concern was that this was a bomb. I shouldn’t have to paint a picture of what other item might be cylindrical and rubber. Some of these folks would not be out of place in a frat house.

  • Tim Dolan (AKA Longwatcher)

    I am looking for more info on exterior affects of the backscatter machines. The TSA agents are within 5 feet of a machine that is designed to recieve reflected radiation.
    Supposedly 2 minutes of at altitude radiation per scan, but the TSA agents are probably getting one of those every 30-60 seconds every day. That is going to add up fast for them.

    While the danger may be minuscule for passengers, has someone actually considered the affect on the TSA agents. I see no studies to that effect.

  • physics PhD

    The radiation dose as well as its interaction with a specific tissue are two factors that determine the damage it can inflict on the tissue. In the case of Compton backscattering (the imaging mechanism used by these machines) the radiation does not penetrate deeply into the body. This means that the radiation damage is confined to a small area near the surface of the body. This actually means the effective dose for those tissues is much higher than for radiation that interacts with a larger volume of the body. The rate of damage per unit of genetic material in the affected region is therefore much higher in this type of exposure. Moreover since the x-ray deposits nearly all of its energy into the electron it hits instead of being gradually attenuated by multiple non ionizing interactions this type of radiation inflicts the maximum potential damage to the volume of tissue irradiated. While a relatively low dose might mitigate the danger from this exposure the truth of this claim is not known. Moreover, since the TSA does not require dosimetry badges or measure cumulative radiation exposure near the machine, we don’t actually know how much radiation these machines are delivering to the subject or those standing nearby… This is potentially a major risk to the health and wellbeing of TSA agents, aviation professionals, as well as the general public.

    Finally, as a scientist I can confidently state that there is no simple or safe answer to a question that hasn’t been properly studied. Where ionizing radiation is concerned, the only “safe” option is to avoid unnecessary exposure. Since there is a non ionizing scanner commercially available to perform the same task, if policy makers determine that these scans are indeed required and the courts hold that they do not violate the 4th ammendment of the constitution, the government has an obligation to either prove these x-ray scans are 100% safe (1 do not damage any tissue systems, 2 prolonged exposure below a certain dose is 100% benign, and 3 always deliver the same radiation dose), or to purchase exclusively the millimeter wavelength imaging equipment which relies on less risky non-ionizing radiation. Since it is a known FACT that ionizing radiation ALWAYS increases the rate of genetic mutation and can be hazardous for certain persons who may or may not be aware of their increased risk, the government will be unable to prove the x-ray based technology is 100% safe and should opt for the millimeter tech instead. QED.

    -But what do I know I’m just a doctor…

  • House

    On a positive note: I heard a free prostate screening is included with each body search!

  • M.E. Burke

    The reality is that those scanners only show the surface of the skin, they cannot show anything that might be hidden in folds of fat or under a breast, they do not show anything hidden in an anus or vagina . . . so basically they are a wast…e of taxpayer money and an intrusion into our privacy. NO ONE should EVER have the right to invade ANYONE’S personal space purporting that they are “Keeping Us Safe” none of this is keeping us safe and I can bet you if the research is done the investors in these scanners will be none other than Donald Rumsfeld or Karl Rove or someone else of that ilk. This whole thing makes the USA look dumber than a box of rocks and the world is laughing its ass off at the stupidity of it all. I signed a petition against this insane inanity and I hope everyone else will at http://www.flyersrights.org

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Boycott-Flying/126801010710392 Mark

    Don’t just “opt out” of naked scanners only to be sexually molested/assaulted, instead. Boycott Flying COMPLETELY, until sanity returns! Please join us: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Boycott-Flying/126801010710392

  • Max

    Scientists prefer not opinions but evidence. Examples for all to witness.

    Google: bromination hexane

    Find a Youtube video of the halogenation of an alkane using UV (ultraviolet) ionizing radiation. (only video example I could find of this Organic 101 lab demo)

    Here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk3ozL74dEs

    At 40 secs the chemical reaction is triggered by a momentary flash of UV, free radicals are formed because of broken molecular bonds, and the process cascades to completion. We know UV can cause skin cancer. Our skin is a hydrocarbon so the chemistry of free radical reaction still applies.

    We are supposed to believe the flash of backscatter X-ray, which is only “skin-deep” yet is far more ionizing than UV, because of a higher frequency, shorter wavelength, more penetrating as it knocks electrons out of stable orbits, is trivially harmless?

    Edison and X-rays (though more potent)

  • M

    @B Miller –

    “If the x-rays cannot penetrate the skin they won’t be able to reach the fetus inside the pregnant woman, nor will they have an effect on eggs and sperm of men and women of reproductive age.”

    You don’t know this.

    Did you read the part about the people that are more susceptible because of, for example, BRCA gene mutations? You don’t know — and neither do the TSA or the FDA, or Congress, for that matter.

    What happened to the 4th Amendment’ s protections against unreasonable search and seizure?

    If nobody flagged the underwear bomber when he paid for a ONE-WAY ticket with CASH, why is it assumed that these machines are a reasonable investment on behalf of a compelling state interest?

    As a WTC survivor — with two parents who are cancer survivors — I’m *really* not buying it.

  • Warren

    Along about 2004 or so I flew from Chicago to Orlando after having gotten to Chicago by other means for a brother’s birthday. I arrived at ORD and was wheel chaired to the TSA check site. When the wheel chair attendant rolled me through to the agent there, the agent asked me if I could stand and I told him I could. He then made me stand up-a rather shaky thing for me-then sit in his chair and take my shoes off. He checked them out, had me empty my pockets and then wanded me all over. Finally after about 15 minutes of this he told me to put my shoes back and go on my way. All this and I am a grey-haired, physically impaired older guy. I asked him if he would like me to strip naked for him, but I couldn’t even get a grin out of him. Had this happened under the current rules he probably would have had me do it!

    I desided that I just didn’t need that sort of garbage just to fly, so I have not flown since, especially as I would probably get arrested for “going off” on any TSA clown that tried any of this stuff with me. Other that one time I haven’t flown since I was in the military in the 1960’s. I came to hate planes then and can most certainly do without them…and the ridiculous nonsense connected with just getting one of them!

  • The Matrix Has You

    Radiation, toxic water & food, vacines with mecury to take 10 years off our lives the minute we come from the womb.
    People, we need to start changing our ways of thinking. Wars have always been about killing us faster and easier. This to me is the silent war against us. World wars isnt nations vs nations, its against humanity, a silent war without the noise and blood. Our whole lives dictators have used our own money to kill us. The way I look at wars is that there was never WWI or WWII . Its just the BS they feed us. WWI started decades ago and never ended, we are still at war today.
    Take all your money out of the bank and start to store it yourself, I bet things will change.
    Start selling all your diamonds to flood the over hyped bs market.

  • Michael

    The TSA is not known for veracity, so there is no basis for accepting the claims that the radiation used is safe. As noted above, if the equipment is not properly maintained by appropriately trained and licensed individuals there is no reason to believe that the equipment is safe. One such mobile unit was discovered to be emitting 600x the amount of radiation that it was supposed to produce. Recently a number of medical devices have been discovered to produce excessive amounts of radiation at levels that were harmful to patients, As one example, a GE CT brain scan system was only discovered to be tremendously out of calibration because a number of patients lost hair in an identical band around their heads. These patients suffered memory loss, and face a significant potential for an increased likelihood of cancer,

    About the scanners:

    The TSA said that they would use extant background terraherz radiation without active sources. This was a lie, the scanners use an active X-Ray source, and individuals are exposed to radiation.

    The TSA said that the scanners could not image beneath underwear (as if underwear has some magic X-Ray absorption quality that outer clothing did not), but of course the scanners can image underneath underwear, even sanitary napkins.

    The TSA said that images could not ever be stored on such machines. Then it was leaked that such a scanner at a court house held 35,000 images. The scanners can store images at the flip of a software switch.

    Why believe anything the TSA claims?

  • Jim_from_Toronto

    In medical X-Ray rooms, precautions are taken to protect the working people from X-Rays using lead screens and other precautions. How are such concerns handled for the safety of our TSA people doing this crucial job?

  • vmvmvm

    TSA says 10sec in XRay machine = 3min of flight. That means 4 hours of flight equals 10min and 20sec in TSA XRay machine. If anybody from machine manufacturers or TSA agents will agree to spend 10min and 20sec in the XRay machine, then I’ll go through this XRay. If they don’t agree, that means they know they are lying. Can any reporters ask TSA top guys to accept this challenge and prove us that these XRay machines are so safe?

  • BCM

    So, who do I sue when I am diagnosed with Cancer? Sure hope that they have insurance for that.

  • iaintnohick

    Science can map the entire human genome, but TSA can’t provide for both our privacy and our safety? Surely, there are better things their $7 billion a year could be used for. Border screening? Real leadership?

  • http://www.aol.com MM

    After reading this article and the responses to it, I think I am more confused than ever! However, there is one conclusion I did come to: I would NOT want to work as a TSA agent near these machines! Literally thousands of people are scanned each day and, during an 8 hour shift, can you imagine the amount of radiation they are exposed to? As wrichards said, I think they should be required to wear a radiation exposure badge to monitor their exposure. I thought EVERY use of radiation had to be monitored?? Lastly, I think the most horrifying news I heard yesterday was that government officials are NOT required to be scanned or patted-down before they fly! What is wrong with this scenario? They make the laws that requires this, but are not subject to them! I am not a paranoid person at all, but this just seems very wrong and suspicious to me! My husband flies frequently for his job; Can’t he be cleared, given an ID card stating such, and not have to be subject to these scans/pat-downs? I guess they believe the politicians and not the hard-working, honorable citizens. Very discouraging!

  • JoJo

    Anyone had an opportunity yet to find out what they are charging for the Happy Ending option? Flying soon and want to make sure I have correct change, assume it will be cash only to keep it under the table.

  • Donna

    MM: and you’re surprised by this? A congresswo/man makes enough money to feed a middle class family four times over and continues to receive that pay upon retirement, for doing nothing. The rules applied to the general populous do not apply to royalty.

  • EAP

    After reading what MM wrote I realized this does affect us and will end up hurting us. THAT’S why the gov’t people don’t have to go through it. If I had any doubts now it is all cleared up. It’s kind of like the “anthrax” scare, how they we’re getting letters from the “terrorists” after 9/11 and yet even before it happened they had all taken the antidote. How can you take something to protect you from something that hasn’t happened yet? I now see how they’re planning to kill us without the public knowing. I rather take long train or bus rides, or take road trips and spend more time with my family. I’ll do a cruise to travel out of the country. I don’t know why what MM wrote even suprised me to be honest. Smh.

  • melissa

    The elephant in the room is flying! If people are extremely worried about the risk of getting cancer, or they’re in the 5% highest risk group, they should not fly at all. The X-ray based body scanners are responsible for a miniscule percentage of the total radiation a passenger will receive. How can people argue the scanners are the issue, when the big source of radiation is sitting in a passenger seat aloft?!

  • ConcernedCitizen

    Sign the Petition sponsored by a U.S. Senator who is against these new invasive TSA procedures.

    As a Senator, he has sponsored legislation against them !!

    Take 5 seconds to sign his Petition:


  • ’53 Korean Vet

    Are these “Qualified” Government “Disclaimers”–the same ones, who “O-Ked DDT” as SAFE-?
    Also, were they the “Ones”–who set the “Radiation-Limits” on Indian Radiation-Badges, who were “mining Uranium-Ore” for the U.S. Govt–and those same Miners had the biggest rates of “Cancer-Deaths” in the Nation-! I say–“It’s all in ‘Who Pays Your Salary’-!”
    Ask any Congress-man, who’s been offered “A Large Political Donation–from the Banks, or
    a Big Union-Boss-!” As George Washington retorted–“Who Can You Trust–Nowdays-!?”
    “Tax-Payers” are “Tired of Being Treated as Suckers-!”

  • GetAClue

    people forget. when you go to a dentist or have a chest xray, that machine is used a couple times a day, 10-15 tops. The machine is also required to be checked and calibrated every 2 years or less.

    At an airport processing 10,000,000 people a year, if there are 20 machines, and 1 in 100 people are scanned, that machine is being used for 5,000 exposures, by someone who is not a radiologist.

    Do you really think that minimum wage TSA worker gives a shit if that xray machine is exceeding its designed output? do you think they even know?

  • http://www.RockyFlatsGear.com Jeff Buske

    Quick points:

    Backsactter delivers intense focused pencil beam of soft (50-60KVp) x-rays head to toe front and back.

    Instantaneous dose is very high.

    Most of the dose delivered in first few cm (skin, breast, testicles, eyes dose 20x body dose).

    Soft X-rays more damaging to DNA than hard medical x-rays used for imaging.

    Pencil beam of x-rays creates more difficult to repair double DNA breaks.

    5% of people have BRAC DNA gene repair defect issue, more prone to cancer.

    Damage to DNA and cells done in a billionth of a second. Damage is cumulative cancer happens years later.

    Average dose low due to sweeping, and old 1940’s REM calculations that discount skin cancer Vs Internal organs.

    New high energy forward scatter airport scanners x-ray generate transmission images (chest x-ray type).

    Have questions about x-rays, radiation shielding, how scanners work drop me a note will try to answer all. We have informative videos on youtube Rockyflatsgear channel.

  • fat albert

    hey hey hey who wants to play

  • Akiko

    Can somebody tell me what kind of radiation is coming from the OLD airport “scanning gates”, the ones that have always been around before the Xray full body scans?

  • http://www.beatsbydre-cuffie.eu Cuffie Dr Dre Beats

    anning gates”, the ones that have always been around before the Xray full body scans?

  • http://www.xraytechniciansalaries.com Pete

    This stuff is scary. I fly a lot and it’s such a pain, I actually try and avoid the USA now when I jet about.


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