Radiation Doses from Full-body Scanners Minimal, Report Says

The x-ray effects of airport full-body security scanners are minimal, says a report by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General (OIG). According to the report, a person would have to travel through the scanners 17,000 per year or 47 times a day in order to reach the annual radiation limit.

These findings refute concerns by scientists stated in July 2011 that the scanners may contribute to an elevated risk in cancer. Employees who operated the scanners also worried that the rate of cancer was rising among their coworkers. However, the ratio of reported cancer was found to be normal for the population, said the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. According to the American Cancer Association, one in two males and one in three females in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes.

The backscatter scanners operate by pointing narrow beam toward subject. X-rays are then backscattered from subject to detectors which receive the backscatter signal or X-ray reflectance. Unlike traditional X-rays, which penetrate the body to detect hard and soft tissues, backscatter senses the radiation that is reflected off of a person’s body. Therefore, the backscatter signal of each point on the body is measured and recorded in the digital computer.

Consumers have long been wary of the full-body scanners that are becoming more and more prevalent as part of the airport security process. Currently, 247 machines are operated in airports across the nation. In addition, to safety concerns, some airline passengers think their rights to privacy are violated by the often detailed images that are produced.

Although the latest study does not put privacy fears to rest, it does affirm what the Transportation Security Agency has been saying for years: that the scans are not dangerous. However, the study also found that TSA operators need more extensive training, with which the TSA agrees.

"From February 2011 to June 2011, the OIG assessed the manner in which TSA inspects, maintains and operates backscatter units used in passenger screening," TSA said in a press release. "The OIG found that TSA was in compliance with standards regarding radiation exposure limits and safety requirements."

Posted by Elizabeth Freed on Feb 29, 2012

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