Journalism in the Public Interest

Europe Bans X-Ray Body Scanners Used at U.S. Airports

The European Union has prohibited the use of X-ray body scanners, which emit low levels of a type of radiation shown to cause cancer.

Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images file photo

The European Union on Monday prohibited the use of X-ray body scanners in European airports, parting ways with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which has deployed hundreds of the scanners as a way to screen millions of airline passengers for explosives hidden under clothing.

The European Commission, which enforces common policies of the EU's 27 member countries, adopted the rule “in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety.”

As a ProPublica/PBS NewsHour investigation detailed earlier this month, X-ray body scanners use ionizing radiation, a form of energy that has been shown to damage DNA and cause cancer. Although the amount of radiation is extremely low, equivalent to the radiation a person would receive in a few minutes of flying, several research studies have concluded that a small number of cancer cases would result from scanning hundreds of millions of passengers a year.

European countries will be allowed to use an alternative body scanner, on that relies on radio frequency waves, which have not been linked to cancer. The TSA has also deployed hundreds of those machines – known as millimeter-wave scanners – in U.S. airports. But unlike Europe, it has decided to deploy both types of scanners.

The TSA would not comment specifically on the EU’s decision. But in a statement, TSA spokesman Mike McCarthy said, “As one of our many layers of security, TSA deploys the most advanced technology available to provide the best opportunity to detect dangerous items, such as explosives.

“We rigorously test our technology to ensure it meets our high detection and safety standards before it is placed in airports,” he continued. “Since January 2010, advanced imaging technology has detected more than 300 dangerous or illegal items on passengers in U.S. airports nationwide.”

Body scanners have been controversial in the United States since they were first deployed in prisons in the late 1990s and then in airports for tests after 9/11. Most of the controversy has focused on privacy because the machines can produce graphic images. But the manufacturers have since installed privacy filters.

As the TSA began deploying hundreds of body scanners after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009, several scientists began to raise concerns about the health risks of the X-ray scanner, noting that even low levels of radiation would increase the risk of cancer.

As part of our investigation, ProPublica surveyed foreign countries’ security policies and found that only a few nations used the X-ray scanner. The United Kingdom uses them but only for secondary screening, such as when a passenger triggers the metal detector or raises suspicion.

Under the new European Commission policy, the U.K. will be allowed to complete a trial of the X-ray scanners but not to deploy them on a permanent basis when the trial ends, said Helen Kearns, spokeswoman for the European transport commissioner, Siim Kallas.

“These new rules ensure that where this technology is used it will be covered by EU-wide standards on detection capability as well as strict safeguards to protect health and fundamental rights,” Kallas said.

Five-hundred body scanners, split about evenly between the two technologies, are deployed in U.S. airports. The X-ray scanner, or backscatter, which looks like two large blue boxes, is used at major airports, including Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy in New York and Chicago's O’Hare. The millimeter-wave scanner, which looks like a round glass booth, is used in San Francisco, Atlanta and Dallas.

Within three years, the TSA plans to deploy 1,800 backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners, covering nearly every domestic airport security lane. The TSA has not yet released details on the exact breakdown.

Jonathan Eyler-Werve

Nov. 15, 2011, 4:02 p.m.

When properly calibrated, the dosage is pretty minimal. However, there’s lots of reasons to fear that they won’t be regularly inspected and maintained; incorrectly calibrated medical devices have recently injured people, and security devices are much less regulated than medical radiation devices.

OSHA should be independently checking dosage. They aren’t.

I chatted with a TSA screener who said he requested a wearable dosimeter. He didn’t get it.

Will the EU prohibit its much regulated citizenry from passing through the X ray scanners once in the U.S.?

TSA personnel leave quite a bit to be desired with respect to civility.  It would be interesting to know if TSA personnel have intercepted any dangerous characters.

I refuse to go through those scanners and instead opt for the frisk down.  Like the person said above, they might be ok when calibrated, but a simple malfunction and there will be problems.  And the TSA will not maintain them.  We already know that they are incompetant.

Radiation should be saved for when it is needed - it comes with a cancer risk.  PERIOD.  People go to school to become x-ray techs.  The TSA folks did/do not.  Still think it’s a good idea?

The truth appears to be that the scanners were never thoroughly tested to begin with, nor have independent tests been done on them.

Read this article written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Andrew Schneider back in 2010 called “No Proof TSA Scanners Are Safe:”

And the best interview of Professors discussing the scanners and cancer:

www dot you tube dot come and then paste this extension:



Nov. 15, 2011, 4:26 p.m.

So how exactly does the EU determine tht these are unsafe but the US cannot come to the same conclusion? How is this helpful to have just in the US if most of the recent terrorist threats on airlines came from routes originating overseas?

The use of x-rays are only allowed by FDA when deemed medically necessary.  The medical x-ray operators require advanced education and licensing by a state medical board.  Medical x-ray equipment undergoes very strict guidelines and are closely monitored. 

TSA x-rays provide no medical benefit, are operated by high school dropouts and are maintained by the manufacturer without any overview except maybe the TSA supervisor with a GED. 

A cigarette by itself is not bad, it’s the accumulation and damage over time.  Radiation is the same way.  You are exposed to natural sources and that is part of life, to add additional exposure above and beyond that without clear medical benefit is insanity. 

TSA is theater.

I voted for Obama but I really believe he is complicit in this fiasco ... as with other cronyism/donor scams. We really need someone to run against him. If for no other reason than to teach him, and others of his ilk, that they con not pull this crap on us.

I fly about 100 times per year.  I alway opt out.  No need to eradiate me more.  Somebody got rich over selling the TSA these machines.  That is what needs to be found out and exposed like an Xray!


Nov. 15, 2011, 4:37 p.m.

The decision affects the Rapiscan Secure 1000 Backscatter X-ray units.  It does not affect the units using millimeter wave (radio wave) technology.

While some may argue that the individual dose per passenger is not harmful, rarely discussed is the total dose that each person (not passenger) experiences each day, each week, each month, each year.  Since medical exams, like a CT scan, are NOT counted towards an individuals dose rate, then the worse person in the world to be would have to be a flight crew member, who has to pass through multiple backscatter body scanners *each day*, then fly at high altitude, come home, go to the dentist, get a dental x-ray, then in the same month, and then get a CT scan in the same month.  The cumulative scan *for that month* has to exceed the limit set by the FDA, if we were allowed to count medical procedures.

Parse the argument all you want X-ray advocates, but the number of exposures to ionizing radiation is going *up*, not down.  And its your total exposures as a *human being*, in all places, not just the Airport Security Checkpoint, that determine if that lump on the side of your neck is going to kill you or just make you look weird.

Food for thought.

Israel get by just fine without all this expense and hoo-ha.  They do that by using profiling.  Imo we should too.

Infeldel Scum

Nov. 15, 2011, 4:40 p.m.

How were the contracts for the X-Ray equipment let? I bet that someone in the TSA got greased. Every government turd that was involved the TSA purchase probably got kick backs. I bet some Congressmen made big money by buying stock in the X-Ray companies before the vendors were selected. This coverup should be investigated!

I haven’t been inside a Stalinist airport in 2-1/2 years.  Drive everywhere to avoid TSA goons.

Strontium, used in imaging scans, breast scans can set off the TSA scanner, Gadolinium, injected metal for the magnets in the MRI machines, that’s poison, too, esp if it dechelates and it does. see mri side effects or Gadolinium toxicicity as well as nuclear medicine. USA has highest use of this toxic contrast, be lucky if you have healthy kidneys, most don’t know if they do, get your eGFR checked pre MRI/CT contrasted scan, plain scans are ok… avoid contrasted scans. Gadolinium has latent symptoms, nausea/vomiting for months, bone pain,deep/ribs, muscle weakness and contractures, neuro sx, balance and walking, extreme fatigue, eventually, your skin gets sores, that need to be biopsied, they will lie to you. search nephrogenic systemic fibrosis or gadolinium toxicity. We will not be a lifeline for the docs/pharmacy industry as they keep us subclinically sick as they poison us with inhaled, oral or injected, implanted “medications” and eventually that RFID.

Those millimeter wave machines aka microwave ovens are no better for your DNA.  Cellphones are already causing concern, it all adds up over time.

Just say no to TSA scanners.

Finally, someone has come to their senses.These x-rays are bad no matter which way you slice it. Hurray for the EU.

. “Since January 2010, advanced imaging technology has detected more than 300 dangerous or illegal items on passengers in U.S. airports nationwide.”

Key term being “illegal items”...Since having harmless things like a cork-screw keychain is considered illigal on a plane, I would like to see what this list is composed of, and if any items truely were dangerous.

Kudos to Propublica for staying on top of this issue with thorough, investigative reporting!

Maybe next you can investigate the dangers of cell phones?

They’ve detected “more than 300 dangerous or illegal items” items since January 2010. That’s less than 1 per installed scanner, per year; and chances are the vast majority were in the “illegal” category, as opposed to “dangerous”. Considering the hundreds of millions of dollars that this program costs, one has to wonder if travel safety or corporate profit is the true winner here.

Good-for-nothing no more.  Now, good for one thing.

Bomb sniffing dogs do not cause cancer.

Nearly 2 billion passengers go through US airports every year. So catching 300 “dangerous or illegal” items isn’t statistically impactful. Those dangerous or illegal items could range from, as one TSA agent incorrectly confiscated from me, tweezers or to actual dangerous items, like a bomb.

0.0000075%  That is the benefit that having these devices has supposedly created (assuming that all 300 items were undiscoverable through other, traditional means, such as metal detectors). What that means is before you get near 1 quantitative success, you will have had to screen over 10 Million individuals.

Cancer rates are far higher, some studies go as far as to say that that it’s nearly 0.9% in the US, but that stems from medical x-rays, which are much higher.

I’m not denying the fact that one can get far more radiation exposure than is delivered by the x-ray machines in question, even by simply sleeping next to another human being. However, if they use a type of radiation that increases the probability of getting cancer by more than one ten-millionth of a percent, then it’s probably pretty fucking stupid.

Here is the money trail for those interested:

  The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) this week awarded Rapiscan Security Systems a $25.4 million contract using Recovery Act funding for whole body imaging systems that will be deployed at some of the nation’s airports, marking the first production award to any company for the imaging systems.

  Rapiscan’s Secure 1000 system is based on X-Ray technology…

  The award is a surprise considering how recently the agency began the pilot tests of the Secure 1000 at several airports.

  A less surprising choice for the first production award would seemto have been L-3 Communications [LLL], which has sold about 40 of its ProVision millimeter wave-based whole body imagers to TSA beginning in the fall of 2007.

(Don’t feel bad for L-3. They’ve gotten at least $165 million from Uncle Sam for body scanners.)

Rapiscan has a very cozy relationship with the TSA and other government agencies. Just this year, Rapiscan has been awarded an IDIQ (indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity) contract for up to $325 million from the TSA for its checkpoint x-ray baggage inspection system, $35 million for advanced aviation checkpoint x-ray systems, $3.5 million for cargo and vehicle Inspection systems, $9 million for advanced cargo and vehicle inspection technologies, contracts worth up to $12 million for research, $18 million for cargo and people screening systems, $3 Million for Rapiscan Secure 1000 Portable Body Scanner, $25 million for cargo & vehicle inspection systems. Using my old-fashioned arithmetic, the total for the year is approaching half a billion dollars.

A blogger at ultra-liberal Daily Kos also smells something suspicious:

  “Rapiscan’s lobbyists include Susan Carr, a former senior legislative aide to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee. When Defense Daily reported on Price’s appropriations bill last winter, the publication noted “Price likes the budget for its emphasis on filling gaps in aviation security, in particular the whole body imaging systems.”

Very convenient, very cozy! (see Update I below)

Other Rapiscan lobbyists include Peter Kant and Adam C. Emanuel.

Rapiscan also has a financial relationship with former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (now a peddler of whole body imaging).

- source

Remember before 911 knives, tools, liquids and such were legal.  Security did not fail.  Chances are the cleaning crews left the items on the aircraft. 

Since then TSA has accomplished nothing worth shouting about. Sure there are more things to confiscate now, since practically everything purchased outside is banned…be sure to visit the snack bar and convenience stores before your flight!  The we say so but we can’t disclose policy of homeland security means they can crow about whatever they want and the blinded public has nothing to balance out the B.S. 

The government security bureaucracy and the corporate Security Industrial Complex needs to scare you to exist.  We are victims of mass fraud and paying for their abuses with our treasure, liberty and dignity.

“Since January 2010, advanced imaging technology has detected more than 300 dangerous or illegal items on passengers in U.S. airports nationwide.”
What were those items? A list with photos would be good. I don’t trust for a moment what the TSA says.

The EU has made a very wise decison, unlike those morons who run our Department of Homeland Paranoia here in the United States.  Radiation in any form is not healthy and should only be used minimally for legitimate uses such as medical diagnostics, critical weld analysis, etc.  Doctors and radiographic technicians are professionally trained, licensed and regulated to protect themselves, their patients and the public.  The TSA machines are not regulated by the FDA as they are not considered medical equipment!

I hope that the goofs who operate the paranoia machines at London’s Heathrow Airport get the message that x-raying or scanning passengers is no longer permissible.  I haven’t flown over for years due to the inability to opt out of this potentially dangerous and invasive practice which has been proven to do little in terms of providing “security”.

In the US, since its founding, there has not been a single case of the TSA ever catching a “terrorism” suspect, absolutely zero.  All they’ve managed to do is make travelers angry, humiliated and some brought to the verge of tears.  The TSA is a rogue organization whose management cares little about preserving the rights and freedoms of the traveling public and is one of the main reason why Europeans in increasing numbers refuse to visit the US.  The TSA along with their equally moronic airport cops have made visiting the airport something that most people would like to avoid.  These costumed clowns arrest and detain innocent people needlessly and Americans are tired of being treated like sheep, while being forced to pay for this indignity at the same time.

I hope the US will learn from our European cousins the need for courtesy and civility when going through airports and other places.  Americans still have a great deal to learn.

I work with radiation.  The PhD in physics who heads our research team will NOT go through these at airports and usually loudly tries to educate those around him as he asks for his frisk (nasty, but not as likely to kill ya)!  There is a reason that TSA personell are showing up with an ever increasing level of cancer—far above normal.

While Big Sis tries to soothe us with the statement that you get as much radiation flying as in the “death ray machine,”  the difference is that in the plane the radiation is spread evenly over your whole person.  This machine concentrates dangerous levels on the surface of the body.  The government has even admitted that it will cause some cases of cancer but at a low percentage.  If it is me and I die from it or am very ill that is 100% as far as I’m concerned.

I try to slip through into the lines using the metal detectors, but this last couple of times they stopped sending people to that machine right when I got there.  The first frisk was done sensitively and kindly—I’m a Caucasian grandmother and hardly fit the profile they refuse to pay attention to—.  The second one hit the crotch area twice and hard—she was out to prove I should go through the machine the next time.  The one I had in Canada was not bad at all (US Customs).

Please don’t be the one for whom the risk becomes 100% for you.  If all of us prefer to be frisked it will soon end the machines.

Learn the facts

Nov. 15, 2011, 6:10 p.m.

The U.S. already got enough radiation from Japan’s 3 nuclear meltdowns.

Learn more at:

This is not spam.  People deserve to learn the facts.

I am a radiologic technologist and I refuse to be irradiated by a TSA agent with no training or understanding of what they are doing to the human body when applying ionizing radiation. It is a non essential risk. They stand in front of these open, non-shielded x-ray machines all day with no dosimeter badge! Enjoy your cataracts, skin cancers, lymphoma, leukemia…... Glad the EU gives a damn about the public’s exposure to these machines.

No thank you TSA, I opt out!

I recently attended a city hall disscussion about the implementation of body scanners at the airport here in Austin, TX. They handed out a flyer entitled, “21 Reasons Scientists Oppose the Use of Body Scanners.” Very enlightening. These machines have false-alarmed on body sweat, and in one study a woman was able to sneak a gun through five of these scanners in a row!
It’s an unreasonable search without a warrant provided upon probable cause and on top of that they are ineffective.
Imagine what would happen if one of these machines malfunctioned. It’s possible that someone could be literally doused in radiation. This is good news, but it leaves much to be desired in the way of civil liberties.

....and I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the firms that make the x-ray scanners lobbied super hard just before the scanners were determined to be a necessity.

Kudos to the EU.

I wonder if the TSA is going to threaten Europe to not let any of its planes travel to or from the European Union, like they did when the TSA strong-armed Texas legislators who aimed to stop the sex organ grabbing molesting pat downs for which air travelers have become so accustomed to in the name of security.

The backscatter / millimeter-wave x-ray technology separates your DNA, leaving gaps in it… which can cause a lot more than cancer.

I opted out of the scanner recently. The pat down was okay, not something I was happy about, but better than any dose of radiation.

What few folks are even speaking of is the fact that the failed Xmas day bombing was actually brought to us by the folks in the U.S. State Dept, who escorted the bomber onto the airplane.

Google Kurt Haskell, American attorney who witnessed the staged entire event.

All this security is bogus, little more than security theater.

When will folks finally understand the entire war on terror is made-up, beginning with the obvious demolitions of the Twin-Towers and the missile attack on the Pentagon, to the wars overseas and the police-state buildup here in our country, all designed to steal away our liberties in the name of protecting us.

Wake the hell up!

At least the EU is coming to its senses. Neither the millimeter wave (MMW) nor the backscatter x-ray devices have been independently tested and privacy concerns abound. The MMW scanners produce the same image but TSA has added a software overlay to hide the image shown to the public. The scanners had privacy software and were using it in Europe in 2009 but TSA spent an additional $42 million to install existing software that they could have been supplied originally at no cost.

Also, the privacy software is only available on the MMW ProVision units not on the more revealing Rapi-Scan x-ray units The Rapi-Scan units will continue to produce the naked image and potentially pose a cancer risk, particularly if malfunctioning and left in service.

The naked images will still be in the system and will remain susceptible to storing and reproduction. The EPIC lawsuit revealed that TSA had stored over two thousand these images and TSA admitted that was true but insisted that these were “volunteers”. Likely the passengers who used the scanners voluntarily during the testing phase in 2008 and 2009. Consequently there are thousands of passenger scan images stored in computers TSA without their consent.

When the scanners went into service in November TSA said the images were cartoonish and could be on the cover of Readers Digest. In August Denver TSA area director Pat Ahlstrom, said the scans ” were graphic, no doubt about it,” So the TSA story about these being “chalk outlines” was a lie used to pacify travelers and conceal the fact they were being digitally strip searched.

Privacy issues aside, neither system has been demonstrated to be more effective than the metal detectors, which still are the predominant weapons detection used in airports. In most airports equipped with scanners, they are only used on 25% of passengers, the rest are sent to the walk through metal detectors (WTMD). After a year of testing, Germany refused to use either system because of the high number of false positives and detection failures.

Even the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has challenged the validity of the TSA and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who participated in the original testing, disputed TSA’s claim that they deemed these safe. NIST indicated that operators could be harmed by prolonged exposure to x-ray radiation and recommended that anyone working near the scanners wear a dosimeter and be checked for radiation exposure. When AFGE asked that screeners be allowed to wear Union supplied dosimeters TSA refused to permit their use.

It is disturbing that a government agency would sacrifice passenger privacy and put their health at risk to protect private manufacturers’ profits. There is clearly an implication of corruption in the deployment of the scanners which bears further investigation by Congress.

There must be at least one more type in use as neither a blue box or a glass booth describes what I was deceived into at Boise. I walked into it because it looked like a metal detector, which was being used adjacent to it. But it had a humped floor to it and the yellow boxes for feet. It was then that my exit was blocked and I was x-rayed without consent.

Barry Schmittou

Nov. 15, 2011, 8:32 p.m.

TSA is now inspecting trucks at weigh stations on Tennessee’s interstates.

The following TV news story is titled :

“Tennessee Becomes First State To Fight Terrorism Statewide”

Please paste :

Truckers said they had to wait two to three hours, I would imagine there were terrible traffic back ups on the interstate near the weigh stations.

A TSA Big Shot said :

“Somebody sees something somewhere and we want them to be responsible citizens, report that and let us work it through our processes”

To see how the governments protection of corporate crimes, including Wachovia laundering $378 billion for Mexican Drug cartels and no one was prosecuted, please paste :

When we say Government Money, it is really all of our money coming out of our pockets.  Comments here have been real good.
I had read about a month ago that TSA had Ordered a few hundred more new ones that would NOT show specifics of private be added to the collection.  Cost was at least $170,000.00 each if I remember correctly and at least another 4 to 500 ordered.  USA so darn broke, credit downgraded and more could come. Gov’t. keeps on spending spending spending and shuffling all around, Feds print money that really means nothing but debt.  SO you think US Gov’t. cares at all about radiation at the airport????  Email or write All the darn Congressmen with some facts you read here…keep it up..response will come eventually if many do it.

Two days ago I was able to take a pair of 12” long pointed metal knitting needles onto a plane in my carryon—I even asked if it was OK before I went through security. But I still can’t carry on a full tube of toothpaste.

These theatrics of security are costing US taxpayers billions of dollars and posing ongoing health risks to workers and travelers. Time to get on the horn to Congress and the White House and let them know that this is unacceptable.

Glad to see the EU is bringing some common sense to bear on this overwrought security boondoggle.

Meanwhile, Americans who travel from one part of America to another by plane are subjected to degrading pat downs and naked body scans that by no means has been proven medically safe.

Because some bad men attacked us ten years ago, we created a nanny security state in which poorly trained bottom rung employees of a vast security apparatus are given god-like powers over those poor schlubs who find themselves in need of a plane ride.

Nothing degrades this nation more than the cowardly ways in which we responded to a one-day flurry of terror. Out of fear of terrorism, we opened the doors wide to fascism.

DHS is nothing more than a conduit through which Congress shovels money to security contractors and the military-industrial complex.

Look who are smarters?

Does the EU also fondle the jewels?

Jonathan Eyler-Werve, according to the radiologists at John Hopkins institute the radiation is still dangerous and can give skin cancer simply because all the radiation is concentrated to the skin layer rather than spread through the body.

Michael chernof was former head of TSA. He worked for company that sold the x ray machines to the TSA. He now runs a lobbying firm with same company as a client.

See a pattern forming.

Good decision by EU!,

See, you guys’ problem is you’re too daggone lazy to become a part of the 1%.  If you weren’t, you could use NetJets’ or Blue Star Jets’ services and leave all of these issues for the plebes to worry about.

Johnny English

Nov. 16, 2011, 9:29 a.m.

The last time I flew through London Heathrow T5 I was selected for the backscatter X-ray and they refused any alternate screening method. There was no way to fly unless I subjected to the X-ray.

I’m glad this ruling has passed. I’ll be printing a copy of the EU notice to put inside my passport.

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.

More »

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