Journalism in the Public Interest

Coffee, Tea or Cancer? Almost Half of Americans Oppose X-ray Body Scanners

A new Harris poll conducted for ProPublica shows that even if X-ray body scanners would prevent terrorists from smuggling explosives onto planes, 46 percent of Americans still oppose using them because they could cause a few people to eventually develop cancer.

Travelers walk through the concourse at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Even if X-ray body scanners would prevent terrorists from smuggling explosives onto planes, nearly half of Americans still oppose using them because they could cause a few people to eventually develop cancer, according to a new Harris Interactive poll conducted online for ProPublica.

Slightly more than third of Americans supported using the scanners, while almost a fifth were unsure.

The Transportation Security Administration plans to install body scanners, which can detect explosives and other objects hidden under clothing, at nearly every airport security lane in the country by the end of 2014. It's the biggest change to airport security since metal detectors were introduced more than 35 years ago.

The scanners have long faced vocal opposition. Privacy advocates have decried them as a "virtual strip search" because the raw images show genitalia, breasts and buttocks – a concern the TSA addressed by requiring software that makes the images less graphic. But in addition to privacy objections, scientists and some lawmakers oppose one type of scanner because it uses X-rays, which damage DNA and could potentially lead to a few additional cancer cases among the 100 million travelers who fly every year. They say an alternative technology, which uses radio frequency waves, is safer.

Some travelers like Kathy Blomker, a breast cancer survivor from Madison, Wis., have decided to forgo the machines altogether and opt for a physical pat-down instead. "I've had so much radiation that I don't want to subject myself to radiation that I can avoid," she said. "I decided I'm just not ever going to go through one of those machines again. It's just too risky."

After ProPublica published an investigation, reported in conjunction with PBS NewsHour, showing that the X-ray scanners had evaded rigorous safety evaluations, the head of the TSA told Senator Susan Collins that his agency would conduct a new independent safety study. He subsequently backed off that promise, prompting the senator to write the TSA pressing the agency to go ahead with the study and asking it to post larger signs alerting pregnant women that they have the option to have a physical pat-down instead of going through the X-ray scanners.

The TSA has repeatedly touted a series of polls showing strong public support for the scanners. But those polls and surveys – conducted by Gallup, The Wall Street Journal and various travel sites – largely dealt with the privacy issue.

Only one of those polls – by CBS News – asked specifically about X-ray body scanners, finding that 81 percent of Americans thought that such X-ray scanners should be used in airports. But that poll – like all the others – did not mention the risk of cancer.

When confronted with the cancer-terrorism trade-off, however, Americans took a much more negative view of the scanners.

Harris Interactive surveyed 2,198 Americans between Dec. 2 and Dec. 6. (Full survey methodology can be found here.) The international polling firm asked, "If a security scanner existed which would significantly help in preventing terrorists from boarding a plane with powder, plastic, or liquid explosives, do you think the TSA should still use it even if it could cause perhaps six of the 100 million passengers who fly each year to eventually develop cancer"

Forty-six percent said the TSA shouldn't use it, 36 percent said it should, and 18 percent weren't sure.

Asked to comment, TSA spokesman Michael McCarthy said in a statement that the X-Ray scanners are "well within national standards."

"TSA’s top priority is the safety of the traveling public and the use of advanced imaging technology is critical to the detection of both metallic and non-metallic threats," he said. "All results from independent evaluations confirm that these machines are safe for all passengers."

The number of potential cancer cases used in the poll comes from a peer-reviewed research paper written by a radiology and epidemiology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and posted on the TSA's website.

The professor, Rebecca Smith-Bindman, concluded that 'there is no significant threat of radiation from the scans.' But she estimated that among the 750 million security checks of 100 million airline passengers per year, six cancers could result from the X-ray scans. She cautioned that the increase was small considering that the same 100 million people would develop 40 million cancers over the course of their lifetimes.

Another study by David Brenner, director of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research, estimated that as airlines approach a billion boardings per year in the United States, 100 additional cancers per year could result from the scanners.

The TSA uses two types of body scanners to screen travelers for nonmetallic explosives. In the X-ray machine, known as a backscatter, a passenger stands between two large blue boxes and is scanned with an extremely low level of ionizing radiation, a form of energy which strips electrons from atoms and can damage DNA, leading to cancer. In the millimeter-wave machine, a passenger stands inside a round glass booth and is scanned with low-energy electromagnetic waves which don't strip electrons from atoms and have not been linked to cancer.

There is a great deal of uncertainty when performing cancer risk assessments from the very low levels of radiation that the backscatters emit. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration put the risk of a fatal cancer from the machines at one in 400 million. The U.K. Health Protection Agency has put it at one in 166 million.

Some experts say such estimates of population risk create a distorted picture of the danger because humans are constantly exposed to background radiation and already accept risks that increase exposure, such as flying on a plane at cruising altitude.

In the authoritative study on the health risks of low levels of radiation, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the risk of cancer increases with radiation exposure and that there is no level of radiation at which the risk is zero.

Given that risk, Brenner and some in Congress have argued that the TSA should forgo in the X-ray scanners in favor of the millimeter-wave machine.

European officials have gone so far as to prohibit the X-ray body scanners, leaving the millimeter-wave scanner as the only option. But some countries, including Germany, have reported a high rate of false alarms with the millimeter-wave machines.

The TSA has said that keeping two technologies in play creates competition, encouraging the manufacturers of both technologies to improve the detection capabilities, efficiency and cost of the scanners.

Michael, great article ! Have some suggestions for follow up to make it complete…..

I object to primary screening of our bodies by anything without reasonable suspicion, even if it was 100% safe and effective. In the US, citizens have rights and we live with small or large risks every day because of these liberties.

I would urge you to download our INFORMATION KIT under the INFORMATION MENU at so you can include statistics on the threat that the scanners supposedly protect us from. Specifically, in EVERY GLOBAL PLANE FLIGHT EVER since 1963, there has been no working non-metallic bomb brought on board a plane via a passenger concealing it on their body (and the 1963 US dynamite suicide for insurance purposes is unknown how the passenger brought it onboard the plane). My unicorn dust has been just as effective in keeping unicorns off my lawn since November, 2010.

If 6 cancers a year are caused by these machines, you could legitimately argue they will kill more people than prevent fatalities by US domestic flight suicidal airline passengers using non-metallic bombs.

Additionally, you should ask the TSA what is their % of people whose rights are violated a second time after the scanners show an anomaly? I count how many people in scanner lines still get a patdown and have documented 26% and 11% on two trips this year. I have seen a potential move away from full-body pat downs which are the sexual assault pat downs (I don’t use the name “enhanced pat down” as it is doublespeak…you would get arrested for performing a TSA pat-down when done properly according to their SSI classified secret standard operating procedures). I am aware and have one documented case of a Christian Science Monitor contributor who had a “groin anomaly” and was violated by the TSA as they examined his groin in a private room. Nothing was found other than what you might expect.

Michael, it would be good to do a side-by-side comparison to show the threat statistics as well. In the INFORMATION KIT, we also include documented statistics that had a presumably 100% failure rate by scanners in detecting guns that a TSA tester carried through scanners in a February, 2011 test at Dallas/Ft. Worth.

A final statistic to consider is the total scans versus the total working non-metallic bombs detected in actual use. I am sure the TSA will have those statistics available, or a FOIA request if necessary. I suspect the answer is zero as we have seen no identification of the particular threat these scanners are supposed to detect.

In summary, it would be good to include relevant statistics on the specific threat occurence that the scanners are supposed to prevent, along with statistics on their effectiveness in the field (airports), including their reliability based on post-scanner “pat downs” and the number of working non-metallic bombs discovered.

Lou Fiscarelli

Dec. 7, 2011, 10:35 a.m.

By my calculations 6 out of 100 million is something like .000006 PERCENT, a trade off so small it is crazy to be considered.

Unless it’s you or someone you love who’s developed cancer, Lou.

Lou, what odds do you calculate for dying in a terrorist attack, which is what these scanners (and other violations of our rights) claim to defend us against?  Seems about the same order of magnitude to me, so it’s money wasted, and I’m sure you’d rather not be one of those six people.


How many lives per year will be saved by these scanners?  I do not have an answer, because the DHS and TSA have refused to answer that question.  Have you tried to find the answer to this question, or do you not care if there is a reason to be using this level of screening.

It’s the wrong question. It’s not please choose between U.S. x-ray scanners and insecurity. The real question (someone at Harris polls please ask) is:
Why did TSA install potentially harmful x-ray scanners when the security scanners used in Europe do not present a radiation danger, and DO ensure security against terrorist explosives? Why didn’t the TSA buy those scanners? 
Americans get cancer-causing x-ray exposure at the airport. European airports use a different scanner that doesn’t impact the health of travelers—and yet European scanners do provide excellent security against terrorism.  What gives?

Michael Patmas, MD

Dec. 7, 2011, 1:46 p.m.

Medical science confirmed the relationship between ionizing radiation and malignancy soon after nearly all the pioneers of radiology (Curie, Roentgen and others) succumbed to cancer. Hiroshima and Nagasaki confirmed the association. Today, ionizing radiation is the best established environmental carcinogen. Radiation experts maintain that 2-3% of all cancer in the US is caused by ionizing radiation exposure from diagnostic imaging, especially from CAT scans. Since there is reason to believe that all ionizing radiation exposure is additive and irreversible with respect to mutations, mass screening will inevitably increase the risk, especially for frequent fliers. Throughout health care we are striving to reduce ionizing radiation exposure from imaging procedures. These efforts are thwarted every time travelers are radiated.

X-rays are used in medicine to care for people.  The TSA hasn’t provided any evidence that they are a caring organization.  They have a serious PR problem and that is a security risk.

I flight 2 times a week.  I always opt out.  Who needs this extra radiation.  I vote to change to the other!

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

Dec. 7, 2011, 3:25 p.m.

I keep seeing the comparison of these body scans to XXX amount of time in flight in the airplane.

My knowlege of radiation is limited, but I know that radiation cannot pass through many items. We are wrapped in many layers of insulation in flight, including aluminum. From the many medical proceedures I have had done to me, I know there is good reason X-ray techs use those heavy lead aprons and gloves and won’t stay in the room when the X-ray machine is used.

There are many intelligent people that read this website that do have knowlege about radiation. Some have already posted on this article.

My question is, how can in flight time be compared to the body scanners?
Or, is that just more propoganda?

I won’t minimize the health concern.  But I still think it’s a red herring.  The bigger issue is the invasion of privacy.  And the blind obedience to authority.

The scanners are also a billion-dollar boondoggle.  Rapiscan, L-3, Smiths, American Science and Engineering, etc. are raking in huge profits.  That’s the point.  That’s the point of the whole “war on terror.”  It exists to make money for corporations. 

It provides the perfect symbiotic relationship for corrupt government and rapacious industry.  Toss in a willfully ignorant public, happy to hand over their rights at the drop of a hat, and you have the USA today.

Irony of ironies, the strip-search scanners were discussed back in the Bush administration, when the consensus was that Congress & citizens would never put up with them. Michael Chertoff, the head of DHS under Bush, who went through the revolving door to become a lobbyist for Rapiscan, pushed for their implementation right after the hyped-up Crotch episode. Quel coincidence.

Even if it were discovered that there is no health risk from the scanners, they are still wrong.  The millimeter wave scanners don’t use radiation as the x-ray scanners do.  I still wouldn’t go through one.  I’m a free citizen, not a frightened herd animal.

@John Henry Bicycle Lucas. I asked myself the same question a few days ago and went to Wikipedia. My understanding is the following:

Ionizing radiation is radiation that is strong enough to create free radicals, which are atoms stripped of at least an electron. Apparently, free radicals are more chemically interactive which is how they are tied to interfering with normal cellular processes.

Electromagnetic radiation - pure light waves, no particles - can be measure for energy levels. Since energy of the electromagnetic waves is a direct relationship to frequency, then higher frequency wavelengths will have more energy than lower frequency wavelengths. X-Rays are much higher by orders of magnitude than millimeter waves which are used by L3 in their scanners.

The net/net is that when the electromagnetic waves have a total threshold they exceed as measured in electron-volts unit of energy, they are considered “ionizing”.

Cosmic rays are actually particles, not waves, of sufficient energy that cross the same threshold of energy as ionizing radiation which would potentially cause free radicals in your body (or affect your skin, tissues, etc. and dislodge electrons…that is what I interpret).

So, the equivalency is in the energy between cosmic rays (which are really particles like protons) and X-rays. I still wonder if they have equal effects in terms of penetration into the body vs absorbtion of the energy on just your skin. For example, do waves and particle equally absorb the same way in the body?

Michael Patmas, MD

Dec. 7, 2011, 4:06 p.m.

Ionizing radiating radiation is the best established environmental carcinogen. The single largest source of ionizing radiation is the sun; the second is the earth. There’s not much you can do about them. But the third is diagnostic imaging, particularly CAT scans which deliver roughly 300 times the radiation of a standard chest x-ray. No matter the source, all sources of ionizing radiation are additive. The x-rays you get from the sun, the uranium beneath your feet, the radon you breathe, the CAT scan you had for that abdominal pain, those dental x-rays every time you go to the dentist and now the x-ray exposure you get at the airport are all additive and irreversible. There is no question that ionizing radiation causes cancer. 2-3% of all cancer in the US is caused by diagnostic imaging. Increasing the exposure people receive will only increase the incidence of cancer. I personally dont give a hoot about the privacy piece. But I would like to protect my DNA if possible.

For your information, TSA did consult highly educated Professionals and pre-tested the Scanners.

Unfortunately, the safeties of American Citizens popup on top.  They also concluded that, the minor health risk from the scanner is much minimum than the terrorists could cause MAJOR damages.
Fair enough.

...everythings has side effects and risks in this World, but choosing the minimums are the best choice.

...any clues from what you know that doesn’t have side effect and minimum risk? Even Human beings are the minimum and MAJOR risks for Planet Earth and its habitats.

There are foods that help get rid of free radicals, aren’t there? Maybe they should be given out on planes as a result of the X-ray process? That might get those six people down to zero, and flying America will be a little bit healthier!

Priv A C? Oh! You mean;
Privacy? Come On! We born naked it and we will die nake it. Even in between, ....Major safety first.

the hard truth is we are indiscriminately irradiating the masses to weed out the few. we would be much wiser to implement a targeted screening process based on risk factors to identify individuals that represent a higher risk, exactly as the Israelis do…

The Bill Of Rights is not optional.  The TSA must be disbanded.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

Dec. 7, 2011, 9:15 p.m.

@Dr. Patmas, thank you sir, that is informative and directly to the point.
@Jeff, thank you, too, as I know more now than I did.

I do find the current government intrusion into my life as much more than offending my civil rights. This is only one of the intrusions, and it can collectively kill you over a period of time.

I have come to a conclusion.

I am now more afraid of my government than any terrorist attack.
Our lawmakers have totally trashed the Bill of Rights in exchange for a “form of security” that will inevidably take all of our rights from all of us.

The Patriot Act took many of our rights away with one fail swoop.
We have had a very good form of law enforcement in this country in the past that has done a good job for many years while safeguarding our rights as citizens. We no longer seem to have that wherever the federal government alphabet agencies are involved. Our law enforcement system could have been used to do the job that our DHS does, or is supposed to be doing very effectively. Plus, our system of law enforcement as it was would have been a better vanguard of our individual rights as citizens.
Not to mention the fact that DHS is a black hole that our tax dollars are poured into, to do what? Errode our rights as citizens?

I knew when I first heard of the Patriot Act, it was going to lead us down a road that we really do not want to be on. I include Gitmo in this as well.

As I read more and more news stories from all sources, I see that we are currently headed headlong into some kind of police state.

Our every move can now be tracked if we have a cell phone, internet connection, telephone landline. There are computer programs now being developed and used to anticipate our actions. Drones are deployed over areas close to our borders and local police departments are now going to use drones. Even drones capable of tazering someone on the ground.
Capable of having an onboard shotgun and grenade launcher.

I used to laugh at the conspiracy theorist.

Now I find myself watching and listening and reading more news that at any other time in my life to try to figure out what is really going on.

I know bits and pieces of what is going on, and it ain’t good.

I’m with Peter:  The airlines should compensate by giving us healthy snacks and juices that destroy free radicals. 

Besides the fact that I am a little tired of the airlines trying to whack me by offering me a choice between over-salted peanuts and over-salted pretzels, I think the traveling public would come out way ahead as the amount of space that so many of them take up in their (and, too often, your) seat suggests that eating healthy isn’t something they often have an opportunity to do.

Those consequences are deadly (and might yield an aversion to technology that explicitly reveals some of those consequences, to boot).

Smith-Bindman’s words are not comforting at all…....behind her trivial analysis lies her stated reality of a 40% cancer rate for the population in general…...why such casual justifications on a ratio that reflects such a profound loss of life?

security is meant to promote safety at all levels of this analysis…

i only despair with the thought that many members of the so called expert establishment on this issue are of the same ilk…....their energy must be moved 180 degrees away from the paradigm of security to that paradigm of health of which security is a component of not the other way around….

i agree completely with juice as opposed to vodka being pandered to passengers for breakfast…....and other such changes .....

lastly…...what about the tsa workers and their exposure…..two weeks ago while being padding down at a check point i began to speak to my government companion on these issues and he and his supervisor looked at me as though i belonged in an asylum…...

the government has begun their coco-wash incredibly well with energy that could be better used at pursuing the truth !

if courage to do what is right could somehow be altered by these machines lets install them at the entrance to the congress who also need security anyway…...

Lisa, I think you’re absolutely right.  While we bicker about what KIND of invasion of privacy we’ll accept, the TSA (and Homeland Security) is giggling over our collective inability to realize that the “attack” we should be defending ourselves against is the nose of government and industry in our private affairs.

Bush told us that the terrorists hated us for our freedoms, and I guess this is one way of solving the problem…

It was apparently moderated away, but when I first read the article, I posted a link to a Forbes article from last year (“Scanner Vans Allow Drive-By Snooping,” by Andy Greenberg) that…well, the title covers it.  The devices used by the TSA are driving our streets (though we’re not allowed to know where), backscattering whatever local cops think might be interesting.

John, yes, I remember that Forbes article about the scanner vans; I wrote about it at a group blog to which I used to belong but which I left because I got tired of being shouted down by my supposedly liberal, supposedly civil-liberties-loving colleagues every time I wrote about the National Security State or criticized Obama.

They’re all for civil liberties, you see, when The Evil Republicans are in office.  Now that Obama is in charge, all violations are okay.  The more the merrier!

The creeping fascism in this country, obvious to anyone who doesn’t have his head stuck in the sand, continues apace.  The NDAA is yet another enormous red flag.  But the sheeple aren’t paying attention.  (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)

Look all,
the MD is right, this is a misuse of medical devices that belong in facilities where they are tested and checked regularly to prevent mis-operation. Effects of X-rays have been known for years to be cumulative, so heaven help those who have been to the dentist regularly or had a CAT scan.

Let’s kill off the sick and infirm as part of Homeland Security? (Hope they are not your or my relatives).
Unlike general radiation from the sun, these machines are focused primarily on skin surface, so breast tissue is a primary target.

Only last year, mammogram test frequency was drastically reduced, due to findings that showed the TESTS ALONE were causing cancers…in a small number of cases, while not finding nearly as much cancer as promised. (sound familiar?)

Meanwhile, the chosen airport X-Ray machines cannot even detect a hidden gun during testing at Dallas/Ft Worth airport?

Somehow Homeland Security is sucking each American into their Military/Industrial Complex by using these machines on a regular basis on lab rat air travelers.

NO ONE really knows how much damage can be done by regular exposure.
Theorists are aiming way low, as more Doctor’s offices have added machines and more testing (some useless) are being run now then ever before.

Strongest does not equal preferred method, eh?
That machines are already available that use far less physiologically damaging wavelengths, but for some political reason (probably payoffs are involved) the TSA insists on damaging us all with their inane method of choosing the best technology.

We really do not need political bozo’s making highly technical decisions. It may be a good time to emigrate.


cancer= baby


I see we have the obligatory “anything for safety” folks here. 

As for 100%ETH, yes, no kidding there are risks to everything.  That’s the flipping point.  Life entails risk.  The risk of your getting killed in a terrorist attack in this country is so infinitesimal you can barely do a statistical model for it.

You’re more likely to drown in your bathtub. To be struck by lighting. To have a fatal allergic reaction to peanuts.

And how about driving?  Almost 40,000 traffic fatalities in this country EVERY YEAR.  Have you stopped driving?

Nah, didn’t think so.

Quit harping on the ridiculously small chance of being killed by The Terrorists, who you think are, apparently, Hiding Around Every Corner.

People who are afraid of the ordinary risks of everyday life should stay at home cowering under the bed, and let the rest of us fly freely and live our lives in freedom and dignity.

Oh, and news flash—no bombs were brought onto planes on 9/11.  The planes themselves were commandeered, something that won’t happen again because the cockpit doors have been secured and because passengers will no longer silently submit (which is more than I can say for TSA apologists). Those are the only two sensible security things that have happened since all the post-9/11 paranoia and hysteria.

anything for safety folks means to verify any activity of CIA.

or a life without CIA

anybody is hunted, nobody is in freedom

This whole argument is out of context.
You are going to receive MUCH MORE RADIATION from the flight than from the scanner. 

People won’t accept any radiation dose from going through the scanner, but will gladly take much more dose from the increased exposure to cosmic rays received during the flight (gamma, beta, and X-rays, along with the occaisional proton or particle going right through you which impact the whole body, not just the skin). The dose of course will depend on altitude, latitude and time of flight, but is generally orders of magitude more than what the scanner can give.
If you are afraid of getting cancer from the scanner, you should be much more afraid of getting cancer from Mother Nature, who bombards you with radiation whil on the plane.  Enjoy the bus ride…

This argument needs to be put into context.  It is spin city.

Okay, fine, I did mention the six coming down to zero, implying that healthy, free radical destroying foods or drinks could help those who were affected by X-ray machines. But really, healthy eating helps everybody who’s at risk of cancer, and we need to take care of doing all we can to prevent this disease from killing us, including having a good diet and exercising. Especially, as Phil E just pointed out, we get a whole lot so high up in the atmosphere (what, we don’t get that same radiation here on earth?) we get routinely exposed to it just by doing ordinary things. Green tea drinkers, drink up!

Hey Phil,
A lot of frequent fliers are now taking night flights, whenever possible.

All radiation is cumulative, but when X-rays are focused primarily on the skin it is far more serious. This is not general cosmic rays.

And so the question is why add more dangerous X-rays?
What’s the point the TSA is trying to make?
That we are just numbers and not human beings?
That terrorists are around every corner?
As Lisa points out above, the whole concept is stupid, those out to get us will find a different method, it may not even involve airplanes.

Far less physiologically damaging equipment is already available, but the TSA choses the most damaging of their possible choices?

Peter, Forget green tea.
Iodine is the best bet, load up on it, and faasssst.

Are the 6 potential cases of cancer every 100 million every time a person passes through the X-ray scanner on in each passenger life time?

X-ray damage is accumulative no matter how low the dose is. The more we are exposed/travel, the higher the chance.

How many times those 100 million people are exposed on average: 1, 5, 20 times? I’m confused by the numbers. Am I the only one? Thanks.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

Dec. 8, 2011, 8:23 p.m.

Phil E.

Like I said earlier, I am much more afraid of my govenment now than I am any terrorist.

Our government is the ones that built spin city!

What is particularly worrisome is that TSA has been so adamant about refusing to allow independent testing.

What are they afraid this will reveal? And why is TSA so willing to sacrifice passenger privacy and put their health at risk in order to protect private manufacturers’ products and their profits?

There is clearly an implication of corruption in the deployment and use of the scanners which demands further investigation by Congress.

The TSA is a criminal organization which routinely pornographically images, strip-searches, harasses, sexually assaults and rapes the airline passengers. No one will be safe until it is abolished.

Fisher writes: “There is clearly an implication of corruption in the deployment and use of the scanners which demands further investigation by Congress.”

Hell, Congress is complicit.  Members of Congress get enormous bribes—er, I mean contributions—from the war/security industry.  Enormous.  Rapiscan, Smiths, L-3, American Science and Engineering, on and on—they all give gobs of money to our supposed representatives.  And those are the companies that are getting rich off this boondoggle.

Isn’t it a strange twist that in order to properly determine the effects of an invisible electromagnetic energy, known to cause cancers in the human body, anyone would assume that the Govt or even Congress would arrive at the best answer?

This is the same govt that has allowed 77,000 new chemical substances to be emitted into our environment with little or no oversight since the end of WWII, clean air. Apparently there was no such thing as the clean water acts.

This is more or less the same govt that told us to duck under our school desks in the event of a nuclear attack? That allowed spectators to watch the testing “from a safe distance” in the Nevada desert? That more recently told servicemen that handling spent nuclear shell casings in Iraq was completely safe? And there are more…

Complicit is an understatement. We need at least partly-independent sources, unaffected by large profits to be made.

I want test results, random samples, and nothing cleared without oversight by a group with advanced degrees in radiation technology and its effects on the human body.
Not that many are out there…

I think using the excuse of fear of radiation is an excellent excuse to avoid the body scanners, however I believe that the security measures imposed at the checkpoints are the exact opposite of what the founders ever had in mind for our nation. It was Benjamin Franklin who said that those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. When trying to board a plan it’s assumed that you’re guilty of being a terrorist until you travel through the checkpoint and prove you’re innocent; aren’t we looking at this backwards? There are many people who died to give us the rights that we had before September 11th, then many died so we could have those rights taken from us. I for one am for having more rights.

> You are going to receive MUCH MORE RADIATION from the flight than
> from the scanner.

Assuming the scanner is properly calibrated like it all the studies. But how much to you trust the TSA technician to keep all the scanners properly shielded? Then all the numbers come way way down.

Re “X-rays are used in medicine” - yes, they are, and doctors try really hard not to use them except when necessary. (They also ensure that the machine operators are in a different room). It’s a trade-off: a chest X-ray increases your cancer-risk, but if you are about to die from a blocked artery, it’s worth taking the risk.

Imagine how many lives would be saved if the TSA’s budget were diverted to medicare instead.

to people claiming that radiation exposure is cumulative, it isn’t in the same way that lead exposure is cumulative.  certain toxins accumulate in the body, and often accumulate in fatty tissue.  but radiation concerns have to do with atom stability.  when a radioactive particle (they could be thought of as waves too, they aren’t one or the other) of the right energy level collides with an atom in your body, there is a chance that it will eject an electron from the atom, destabilizing the balance between protons, neutrons and electrons.  each time you are exposed to radiation, it is like rolling a many sided die - the number of sides on the die depend on things like the energy of the radiation.  but it is still just a die roll - after the radiation passes through your body, either your atoms remain balanced, or they lose it.  die rolls are not cumulative, lest you fall into the gamblers fallacy. 

when atoms become destabilized they can often upset the electron balance in neighboring atoms, which can affect whatever molecules are made up of destabilized atoms (a DNA molecule, for instance).  once you can conceptualize radiation exposure-mutation risks as a probability, you can then use all our fancy statistics to guess at exposure rates and safe limits, etc.

antioxidants are good at neutralizing oxygen particles (one species of free radical, and a natural byproduct of cellular metabolism) in your body.  they don’t necessarily help with the radicals that are produced due to interactions with gamma or beta radiation.  best treatment is prevention of exposure…

all of us must see everything like a manipulation on decisions to presurise the persons on the earth

the reason means psychopaty: to torture persons cause you trust in well.

well is a religion, a brain washimg

positive doesn’t exist

so who is in a shadow with this inititive? the suprem evil? maybe you’ll find the truth

a team from CIA , with a sick persons who lead them from 2003

Me, I think the argument that no one should be entitled to check you for explosives when you are boarding somebody else’s property and your actions can affect both those who board that aircraft with you and thousands more upon the ground is a bit of a red herring.

I would be somewhat more impressed if individuals putting that argument forth had a demonstrable history of going berserk over the wiretap and other snooping laws enabled by the Patriot Act….

Or at least a history of raising the alarm about the fact that - per the Supreme Court - all a police officer has to do is claim that they smelled the odor of marijuana to justify kicking down the doors of your residence at any time of the day or night:

You cannot prove one way or the other if someone smelled something or anything at any one fleeting instant in time; that makes odor the perfect weapon of fascism - and far, far more dangerous, IMHO, than being searched in consequence of an activity I voluntarily participate in.

@ibSteve2U (clever..)

1) You assert something false in your red herring. No one said don’t check for explosives, we said don’t use illegal means of strip search scanners and sexual assault patdowns. Swabbing someone’s hands for an Explosive Trace Detection is likely to pass muster in a court challenge. Dogs trained to sniff explosives is likely to pass muster in a court challenge. I could argue either way, but that is reality.

I should also add that WORKING bombs have only had metallic parts, which again points to using Metal Detectors. All checked baggage is screened with x-rays these days in US airports, although the cargo carried on passenger planes may or may not be 100% screened, depending on what you read. I haven’t bothered to actively verify this since no one is blowing up passenger planes with cargo bombs, although that is the #1 terrorist method throughout aviation history.

My point is that illegal searches of our bodies for working, non-metallic bombs is as non-existent a threat as you will find…it has not worked successfully since 1962.

2) Those of us who have taken an active interest in the TSA, if we were just average people before, have definitely voiced displeasure with the Patriot Act renewal as we have become aware. You have to forgive most Americans as their primary news outltets don’t give a crap, don’t challenge the government, and never report on the court cases that are stealing many different kinds of rights in our country. I trust from your comments you are very aware of the creeping fascism, as many of us have learned thanks to the TSA actions announced last October, 2010.

The recent NDAA bill even was protested, although I think the current allowed practice to indefinitely detain US citizens in the United States will remain…and the only concession was that they wouldn’t be tried or controlled by the military.

We are with you….

3) Unlike the TSA, the police officers have to show reasonable, articulable suspicion….it is true they might fake smelling marijuana, but if they don’t find any, they are in trouble. If they do, the cops could have lied but got lucky and have found a criminal activity. Of course, in MA and CA, they wouldn’t care as marijuana possession is basically legal in small amounts, or is just a fine. Today’s weed smokers don’t have to go to jail like all the locked up, primarily African-Americans serving ridiculous sentences for non-violent offenses from the 1990s. But, that is another travesty for another article.

The TSA is untrained, government clerks which have never found a working non-metallic bomb on an airline passenger. They have 100% false positives on tens of thousands, if not millions, of passengers and instead have used their illegal searches to circumvent the 4th amendment to find evidence to be used in criminal cases.

On two post 911 occasions my carry on contained weapons that did not get caught at security. I mistakenly brought my keys that had a swiss army knive attached (Logan to Reagan) and just last week in Boston they didn’t detect my pepper spray (which I have a license to carry).  Its a false security that costs money and wastes consumers time. I choose to stand in regular line, and if directed to go through Xray, I choose the patdown strictly for health reasons.

As a young child during the 1950’s an uncle of mine who lived with my immediate family contracted tuberculosis. The protocol at the time required all familly members to have frequent chest X-rays over a 24 month period. The dosage of radiation was much higher in the fifties than used today and with fewer if any precautions. Both my father and a brother eventually developed cancer absent any previous known family history. I will not subject myself to an X-ray today even for what I perceive as a questionable medical reason let alone a body scan at the airport. I wonder in the end how many may die from a terrorist attack as opposed to the increased cancer risk.

lots of good comments. some dumb ones. here’s the bottom line:
1. ionizing radiation causes mutations through a variety of mechanisms
2. the generation of free radicals and electron pertubation is but one type of damage to genetic material. Dimerization is another. There are many more mechanisms by which radiation causes genetic damage
3. Not everyone accepts that all ionizing radiation is additive and irreversible, but most do and the bulk of the evidence suggests that it is the case
4. there are enzymes that can repair some of the damage done to DNA from radiation. eating anti-oxidant rich food will not make up for the damage done by a CAT scan!
5. x-rays, from whatever source, are damaging and increase the risk of cancer. 2-3% of all cancer is caused by imaging studies that expose patients to ionizing radiation
6. we should all strive to reduce our exposure to x-rays
7. terrorism is real. just read Bin Ladin’s “letter to America” for a stark glimpse of what is coming. he may gone. his promise to murder millions of Americans isn’t.
8. TSA is wasting millions of dollars, exposing millions of people to cancer causing x-rays and inconveniencing millions of law abiding travelers to stop a handful of committed terrorists
9 in the name of political correctness, we screen everyone rather than intelligently idenfying and selecting out those who are more likely to be a risk given their profile
10. there is nothing wrong with profiling. law enforcement profiles people to narrow down suspects. politcal parties profile voters to identify those they can sway. businesses profile consumers. marketing is all about profiling. dating services profile would be mates. we all profile.
11. there is a terrorist “profile” and thats what TSA should be using to screen some people more intensively than others.

A Horton [MSc]

Dec. 10, 2011, 3:27 p.m.

Surely the terrorists would be in favour of the US putting scanners in place that could potentially cause cancer to US citizens. The US shouldn’t submit to terrorism. Isn’t it better to have a few false positives that require body searches, than have no false positives and a negative effect on the population they are meant to be protecting.

These machines use very soft, unfiltered x-rays.  The energy is dropped into the skin and external gonads, where the resulting compton electrons cause dna damage.  Where are the studies of melanoma incidence in mice when exposed to this spectrum?  Where are the studies of genetic damage where testicles are exposed to soft x-rays? 

These machines have not been correctly tested yet.  This is not whole body dose, like you get with cosmic rays or medical x-rays.

Hey IMDoc & KBK,
Thanks for the reality check.

So will we be witnessing a further reduction of male sperm counts in exchange for Homeland Security?

Before these extra x-rays, we already have nearly all women over the age of 40 in jeopardy: now predicting 40% of US women are expected to be diagnosed with (primarily) breast cancer during their lifetime.

Strange how much hubris is needed to assume exposing all air travelers to lots of extra doses of skin X-rays would not lead to serious repercussions in the future, all for a handful of terrorist threats.

Oh, I guess health care will cover the damage…
- What about the pain and suffering?
- What about infertility issues?
- What about speeding the demise of the very people the TSA is supposed to be protecting?

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Body Scanners

Body Scanners: Risking Health to Secure Airports

In an effort to detect explosives hidden under clothing, is the TSA jeopardizing passenger safety?

The Story So Far

The Transportation Security Administration is planning to roll out body scanners at nearly every airport security lane in the country by 2014. Right now, it has deployed more than 500, split about evenly between two technologies—one using X-rays and another using radio frequency waves.

Several prominent radiation safety experts have raised concerns about exposing millions of airline passengers to X-rays.

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