Journalism in the Public Interest

TSA to Conduct New Study of X-Ray Body Scanners

The head of the TSA testified today that the agency will perform a new, independent study on the safety of X-ray body scanners after senators at a hearing raised questions about a ProPublica investigation.


Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole prepares to testify during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Nov. 2, 2011. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

The head of the Transportation Security Administration testified today that the agency will perform a new, independent study on the safety of X-ray body scanners after lawmakers raised questions about a ProPublica investigation at a Senate hearing on aviation security.

The story, researched in conjunction with the PBS NewsHour, reported that while the radiation emitted from the machines is extremely low, scientific studies have concluded that they could still increase the risk of cancer. It also reported that the Food and Drug Administration went against the advice of a 1998 expert panel, which recommended the agency set a mandatory federal safety standard for the machines. Several members of that panel said they were concerned about widespread use of X-ray scanners, including in airports.

The TSA uses two types of body scanners to search for explosives -- an X-ray machine that uses ionizing radiation, a form of energy that has been shown to damage DNA, and a millimeter-wave machine that uses radiofrequency technology, which has not been linked to cancer.

Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the homeland security committee, recommended that the Department of Homeland Security independently evaluate the health effects of the X-ray scanners and "establish a goal of using radiation-free screening technology."

Questioned about the story by Sen. Joe Lieberman, TSA Administrator John Pistole said that the agency has already conducted several independent studies showing that the radiation is equivalent to the dose received in about three minutes of flying at typical cruising altitude.

"But that being said, I am concerned that there is a perception that they are not as safe as they could be," Pistole said. "And since we are using a different technology, that being the millimeter-wave scanner, that does not have that same perspective, I will take that back and we will conduct an independent study to address that."

In recent years, the TSA has commissioned tests of the X-ray machines, also known as backscatters, by the Food and Drug Administration and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. In addition, survey teams from the Army Public Health Command visit airports to check the machines. The TSA says the results have all confirmed that the backscatters don't pose a significant risk to public health.

But David Brenner, director of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research, said in a recent interview that while the dose is low, the chances of someone getting cancer increase as TSA puts millions of airline passengers through the machines.

"Why would we want to put ourselves in this uncertain situation where potentially we're going to have some cancer cases?" he asked. "It makes me think, really, why don't we use millimeter waves when we don't have so much uncertainty?"

Robin Kane, the TSA's assistant administrator for screening technology, told ProPublica and PBS that the health risk is small compared to the security benefit. Having both technologies is important, he added, to improve detection capabilities and find the most cost-effective solution.

Jack Sheepman

Nov. 2, 2011, 9:47 p.m.

They want to give the public cancer. One of the stated goals of the elites is to reduce the population and the cancer industry is a huge money maker for the system. Opt out of the scanners or don’t fly.

Where's the Common Sense

Nov. 3, 2011, 2:37 a.m.

The millimeter wave is a new and untested technology that works similar to a microwave.

So, your choices are skin cancer from the backscatter or microwaved from the millimeter?

From the beginning, there were only a few really looking out for us:

"No Proof Scanners are Safe"

Nov. 3, 2011, 2:48 a.m.

Will this study be conducted as poorly as the first study?

I remember reading a 2010 article by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Andrew Schneider, called “No Proof TSA Scanners are Safe,” that said when they interviewed the companies that the TSA claimed tested the scanners:

[...]”...AOL News found that none of the groups was doing any routine testing of operating scanners in airports…”

AND this:

“The TSA also frequently cites a study it commissioned by the noted Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. But the Hopkins work did nothing to ensure the consistent safety of those exposed to the radiation from the scanners.”[...]

Excellent Video

Nov. 3, 2011, 3:03 a.m.

Watch this excellent interview of Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry, Dr. John Sedat, and Professor of Physics, Dr. Peter Rez, who share their concerns about the body scanners and cancer, and also the mechanics of the scanner machines:

and then cut and paste this extension:  watch?v=eS0UxXDNs4w

Oh, yes, by all means trust the people we say we don’t trust with verifying their assertions.  Make sure to give them privacy so they don’t sue.

I suppose it would be too much to suggest that they foot the bill for a public investigation.  I mean, Congress is way too busy trying to shut down dissent through copyright infringement (the Stop Online Privacy Act).

I guess if the terrorists do hate us because we’re free, someone might as well suggest being less free, right?

“The head of the Transportation Security Administration testified today that the agency will perform a new, independent study on the safety of X-ray body scanners….”

If the TSA performs the study, please tell me how the study is independent. *facepalm*


Nov. 3, 2011, 2:51 p.m.

For those intent on making a profit while reducing the population and creating jobs this SCANNING SCAM is a win win situation.
I’d love it if someone were to check out how many members of Congress,  lobbyists and pro-scanning politicians submit to ‘security’  scanning every time they fly - I bet they have a legal waiver!
New cancer patients will need medical care and more machines to scan and ‘treat” their avoidable cancer.

In comparison to 9/11, every year we allow more innocent people to die in drunk driving crashes, or from not wearing seatbelts, or from gun “accidents” or from preventable disease. For these large causes of preventable death and mutilation we do little in terms of intervention. How safe our highways would be if we spent the homeland security budget on making them safer! How much better our health care and hospitals! We have been buffaloed into making a bad economic choice by criminal terrorists, aided and abetted by Homeland Security bureaucrats and the military industrial complex, building their own petty kingdoms.

The actual skin dose is 20x of the “whole body” dose breast. Skin testicles will receive a significant exposure.  Comparing cosmic rays at altitude to collimated soft x-rays focused at the skin is inaccurate. 
Learn more about radiation and protection:

I am in my 80’s, travel in a wheelchair, had a stage 3 breast cancer - I have been hassled and hurt by TSA - one time they went up and down my badly swollen arm (result of chemotherapy), which is covered by a suppression sleeve, looking for “explosives”, I was told.
I am a snowbird, traveling 2 times a year NY/FL and I will refuse to go through an X-Ray machine - I don’t care if they arrest me.
Furthermore, I have a son, who lives far away and cannot travel, I won’t ever see him again, going through this treatment with all grandmas is just too much.

They say the radiation is a small amount, but they do not tell you that you can subject to this for several times. I was subject to this radiation for 4 times from July 2011 until October 2011, My skin is exhibiting weird things. About 10 days after the last exposure my body emits heat in unusual way, I could not hold the steering wheel, my palm would heat up like your skin was recovering from burn injury. My forehead had big bumps like peas under the skin, I developed blisters on the forehead and on the back of the head. My arms have blood pimples, my finger tips hurt when I grab anything as if they have touched fire. This is apart from the rash I got immediately after exposure. And so far I do not know what will come next and when these issues will come to an end.

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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