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.

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Mike H

Nov. 16, 2011, 12:18 p.m.

Let me fix the article’s abstracts for you:

</b>The European Union has prohibited the use of X-ray body scanners, which emits ionizing radiation at a level so low it has never been demonstrated to cause cancer.</b>

You are welcome

Sharon B.

Nov. 16, 2011, 2:02 p.m.

Thanks above for the clear differentiation between targeting surface skin radiation vs radiation spread over the entire body. Add to this, I just learned that women can be way more susceptible to damaging rays, have greater possibility of cysts developing into breast cancer.

Nevermind what happens to our brains, especially those of heavy cell phone users.

Frequent flyers may want to think hard about this:
Europe does not allow corporate powers to run their show. Decisions tend to be in favor of human safety, no GMO’s allowed, tough stand on cosmetic ingredients and more. Yes, it is socialist, and the euro is being shaken to its core, but people usually make decisions in favor of human life, unlike the way the FDA is feeding big Pharma.

Perhaps the only way to make US Congress act in a meaningful manner here is use (collective) two feet and do the right thing - Opt out! Keep TSA agents busy with pat downs.


Nov. 16, 2011, 7:47 p.m.

I’ve read that a backscatter scan is equivalent to a CAT scan! or about 50 normal x-rays! I’ll be opting out. I’ve been Rolfed so I’ve survived some very deep massage strokes!

Joan Boudreaux

Nov. 16, 2011, 7:47 p.m.

These are the people who have profited from the TSA: (information from Wikipedia)  :Full-body scanner lobbyists

Former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has been criticized for heavily promoting full-body scanners while not always fully disclosing that he is a lobbyist for one of the companies that makes the machines.[115][116] Other full-body scanner lobbyists with Government connections include:[117]

  former TSA deputy administration Tom Blank
  former assistant administrator for policy at the TSA, Chad Wolf
  Kevin Patrick Kelly, “a former top staffer to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who sits on the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee”
  Former Senator Al D’Amato


Nov. 16, 2011, 8:31 p.m.

There is no calibration procedure. It doesn’t exist! Google the FDAs responses on the subject. That’s the ruse. If only they were properly calibrated! Well, currently they can’t be as no one knows how to do it. TSA won’t pursue the issue because no other Agency or standards body will provide a method. I’m sure they’ll make something up soon and attribute it to some organization no one has ever heard of. Take the groping, it definitely doesn’t cause cancer.

Sharon B.

Nov. 16, 2011, 8:33 p.m.

Yo Bob,
I’d hate to think that is true! It would be totally irresponsible for anyone to be exposed to that just to board a plane.

You may want to review comments pertaining to this earlier article, as it is clear people working in this field are listing the backscatter machines as scanning with far less invasive strength than current full body “micro wave” machines.

Read comments for yourself, at the address below:


Nov. 17, 2011, 12:59 a.m.

Correction:  Radiofrequencies (RF) have been linked with cancer—-The IARC committee of experts, part of the World Health Organization, designated RF (in addition to ELF) as a possible carcinogen recently.

A number of researchers have discovered biological effects from even low levels of RF.  Several scientists think precaution is warranted even with these scanners.


Nov. 17, 2011, 1:07 a.m.

One more question…when they say 300 dangerous or illegal items have been detected nationwide in the past 10 months—-does that mean things that would not have been detected by a metal detector? 

How many of those items and the people carrying them were considered imminent threats to the safety of the plane’s inhabitants?


Nov. 17, 2011, 6:45 a.m.

There is no point trying to go against the TSA or the US Government. You can’t win.  The only solution is the opt for a personal search, and avoid travelling to the USA as much as you can.
Do not use the US as a stepping stone for other destinations.


Nov. 17, 2011, 11:40 a.m.

Germany was testing naked scanners at the Hamburg airport, as a completely voluntary thing. The result? Incredibly many false positives as well as false negatives, making this technology’s not much better than chance, and much less safe than the old metal detectors.

Sharon B.

Nov. 17, 2011, 5:44 p.m.

Trained dogs are best at seeking out the nervous traveler, the sick, malcontents, ones aiming to do harm better than any scanner, far less expensive, all they want to do is please!
For the large number of hapless victims of human neglect currently being euthanized, consider giving them key jobs helping to detect contraband.

Bet they could find way more than 300 items in 10 months…and save this country millions upon millions in dangerous technology at the same time. They do not need any electrical energy…and do not emit dangerous RF, micro waves or X-rays, and they have great teeth!


Nov. 17, 2011, 10:16 p.m.


Sharon B.

Nov. 18, 2011, 10:54 a.m.

It now appears WOMEN of any age should not consider passing through these full body x-ray scanners. Just OPT OUT!

John Smith

Nov. 18, 2011, 12:06 p.m.

You know what else kills you? Driving down the highway. not from car accidents, but just inhaling that air. walking the streets of a city and breathing that city air. using computers. using cell phones. all radiation. mercury fillings in your teeth. radiation from being in a plane high in the atmosphere. drinking water after medicated people poop and that water gets recycled and you ingest a few molecules of viagra every day. crap injected into your chicken. pesticides in your broccoli. X-rays at an airport, if you fly a dozen times per year, are the least you should be worried about. imagine you had zero emissions from cars in your town. imagine your water and food were pure. a few x-rays are nothing.


Nov. 18, 2011, 12:20 p.m.

John Smith - You are right - we will probably no die from X-rays at the airport, but they have a better chance of killing you than being killed by terrorists in the US.

Remember, US is not Afghanistan - There have been no airplanes bombed in the US in more than 40 years.

Just as supposedly every passenger is at some risk of terrorist attack, if every passenger were also subject to a backscatter screening, then the actual risk of deaths by cancer means the machines are “deadlier than the terrorists.” (-Bruce Schneier)

Sharon B.

Nov. 18, 2011, 1:33 p.m.

Who is talking killing?
The problem is many women have cysts in their breast tissue, that are well-known to easily convert to cancerous cysts by too many or unnecessary or extra X-rays…and it is not just these high tech body scans…there is the dentist’s office, mammograms.
All these are cumulative.
And I suppose you’d prefer watching your significant other, parent or offspring in torture with a horrible protocol for treating this?
Read the news, eh?
Idiot men.


Nov. 18, 2011, 2:52 p.m.

Ahhh…security screenings are “sexism”?

Interesting ploy.  But again an alternative - physical pat-down - is readily available.


Nov. 18, 2011, 3:01 p.m.

I’d note that Europe’s banning of these machines does add weight to the argument that their safety should be carefully examined.  Why?  Europe’s population is not nearly as afflicted with the inhibitions of America’s population (something you’re well aware of if you’ve traveled to any beaches in Europe, South America, or the Caribbean that are frequented by Europeans), and so this action on Europe’s part wouldn’t reflect political pressure brought to bear by those who fear the exposure of their faults or attributes for one reason or another.

Which, I suspect, is a primary driver for many of those who so vociferously object to the security measures one must now endure for the public safety and the security of the United States of America.

Sharon B.

Nov. 18, 2011, 4:10 p.m.

Apparently, the word “cumulative” does not mean anything to readers.
So lets start a new breast cancer epidemic, 10 to 15 years out?


Nov. 18, 2011, 4:48 p.m.

The word “cumulative” certainly mustn’t mean anything to “frequent fliers”, who voluntarily increase their exposure simply by spending their lives at higher altitudes. 

To quote Air and Space magazine (a Smithsonian museum publication, but you’ll have to web search for the entire article as ProPublica’s moderation prevents me from just sending you there via a link…just copy/paste the first sentence of the below quote into a search engine and you should find it readily enough):

Begin quote:

“Two organizations—the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and its global equivalent, the International Commission on Radiological Protection—have established the radiation tolerance limits for air crews, the general public, and fetuses.  A single, long international flight will expose you to a week’s worth of natural background radiation. That’s far from a health concern, even for pregnant women. But aviation workers can easily exceed the groups’ recommended limits. For example, a pregnant flight attendant working a London-to-Chicago route for just 100 hours (about 12 trips) would exceed the safe exposure for her fetus. For air crews, the limit is 20 millisieverts (mSV) a year. (For scale, a person at ground level gets about 2.4 mSv of natural background radiation a year.)”

End quote

Were I to choose such a lifestyle, I would certainly choose physical pat-downs instead of examination by machine for each and every flight - and so limit the risk I voluntarily imposed upon myself.

Sharon B.

Nov. 18, 2011, 5:17 p.m.

Several issues are wrapped up here:
At issue is why the FDA would allow such machines to be used extensively outside of a medical arena; whereas other, less politically connected but way less physiologically damaging technology (and far less expensive) is already available. (at a lower price too).
The second issue is Not “Star-Trek” level equipment:
    If these machines only facilitated the TSA agents in finding 300 items since March 2011, it appears any technology is a smoke screen to make passengers feel safe, whereas effectiveness of using technology may lie elsewhere.
Absolutely, all frequent flyers, and especially all women should opt out of these x-ray machines!
And the FDA might consider abdicating their role in deciding these issues to NASA or some other high-tech agency with more technical background and far better equipped to decide these things properly, not with so many political overtones (or underlying attachments).

As it stands, the FDA is way too busy yanking most new drugs off the market, as many are not performing as promised, and killing or maiming way more Americans than ever intended.


Nov. 18, 2011, 5:48 p.m.

@Sharon B.:  I think it a mistake to insist that transferring responsibility for ascertaining the safety of these devices to another agency would in any way, shape, or form alleviate the potential for political or financial influence.

If you recall the Bush Administration became famous for insisting that all government agencies stay “on message” - even to the extent of censoring NOAA data of anything that supported anthropomorphic climate change.

We are, in fact, in something of a hiatus as regards the influence of “Business-with-a-capital-B” upon government decisions regarding the public safety; when the Republicans hold the White House, the likelihood of the public safety being subordinated to the greed of a handful of prominent corporations or CEOs soars dramatically - as one might conclude from the fact that, as you noted, the FDA is now having to go back and revoke drug certifications.

If you want independent analysis of safety, you have to have entities which are independent of political influence performing the analysis…that is, said agencies cannot have “appointed” leaders or be reliant for funding upon a Congress that prefers supping upon the teat of Corporate America to representative democracy.


Nov. 18, 2011, 6:10 p.m.

I think something else people should bear in mind when thinking of Chertoff’s possible influence is the way corruption works in modern American government:  When you see a former Federal official get a lucrative lobbying job or a symbolic corporate position - or start hauling in unbelievable “speaking fees” - it isn’t for what they can do.

It is typically for what they have already done.

You see, it is illegal to make payoffs to sitting public officials…both the payer and the payee might be held - shudder - accountable.  But payment for “services rendered” after that individual leaves office???  lolllll…let the good times roll…


Nov. 18, 2011, 6:26 p.m.

(Note:  Which in no way excludes payment before an official is elected or appointed….e.g., perhaps your future approach to public service might benefit from a short stint as a CEO…or if a family member were to undertake the awesome and arduous responsibilities of being a board member for a large corporation…etc.)


Nov. 18, 2011, 9:28 p.m.

Yes, Chertoff is an Israeli citizen(a wealthy one now). Case closed. If our Lobbyists, government was not constantly making enemies for us, we probably would have less to fear, This American spent the majority of his life in a much more free environment. The more enemies they create, the more confined we will find ourselves.

Oh, skip the radiation(groping is uncomfortable but safer) as there is no published standard for calibrating these devices period. If you disagree, post the link.
Hej! Mark

Sharon B.

Nov. 19, 2011, 10:07 a.m.

What is highly unpleasant to notice that, in most cases, the mediocrity of decisions being made by so called “bureaucrats”, with little or no insight to its impact on present or future generations.

Apparently, America is no longer safe for us, our pets and the grandkids, eh?

Don’t even have to wonder why health care costs are skyrocketing. It is being caused by people who are deluded enough to think they are governing. They are, instead, responding to the money trail.

This is outlined in the very first comment posted to this article.
It is all in corporate lobbying, which is getting worse despite the current admin’s intention.

Sharon B.

Nov. 19, 2011, 3:01 p.m.

If you want independent analysis of safety, you have to have entities which are independent of political influence performing the analysis…that is, said agencies cannot have “appointed” leaders or be reliant for funding upon a Congress that prefers supping upon the teat of Corporate America to representative democracy.

ibsteve2u: Yes, good luck finding this!!

One reason healthcare costs are skyrocketing is that doctors have installed X-ray equipment in their offices and need to justify their existence. People now have test upon test, as Doctors’ are being compensated for using them…and it is sucking the Medicare system dry.
Meanwhile, anyone remembering Nagasaki or Hiroshima knows that some Japanese survived. They eat a lot of seaweed, tend to ingest a lot (10x?) more iodine than anyone in the US.
So this X-ray thing is troubling, especially after last year’s fiasco pertaining to excessive mammograms. It is well known that some women were developing breast cancer from excessive testing, which, women were basically forced by insurance carriers to get…or they might lose their coverage. Talk about a Gestapo state!
The systems are breaking. We are but lab rats to national security?
Independent testing would be nice, but I prefer testing by someone, anyone, with a wide enough view to understand more of the future ramifications of their decisions. And be willing to stand by them, even if it means stepping down in technology for a safer alternative.
The sad part is the FDA and TSA are playing with fire, and they do not even acknowledge it.  Doubt they even are aware one reason healthcare has gone sky high is from all this extra (or excessive) X-ray, CAT scan and MRI testing.
Cumulative indeed!

Your Real Name

Nov. 21, 2011, 12:40 p.m.

The amount of radiation emitted by these devices is irrelevant because any increase in exposure to X-rays increases the incidence rate of ionizing radation-induced cancers and other diseases across a population.


Nov. 21, 2011, 1:29 p.m.

We have gethered so much highly valuable information and knowledge but who is capable to get those money hungry businessmen identified and out of our financial system manipulation in North-America?
Here is the root of the issue, we are dicussing about.


Nov. 21, 2011, 3:20 p.m.

@“Your Name Here”:  Here’s hoping you’re equally vehement when the Republicans try to dismantle the EPA so as to enable increased releases of carcinogens into the environment…

Gayle Greene

Nov. 23, 2011, 9:52 p.m.

Don’t walk through them.  Trained technicians make mistakes with radiological equipment—and you’re going to trust minimum-wage TSA workers?  Claims are again and again made for the safety of radiation equipment that are disproved within subsequent years—that is pretty much its grim history.  I wrote a book about this.

I fly twice a week.  I get called a “female opt out” and patted down, or up.  I make loud noises about this being an unsafe technology, unsafe for us and for the people who work it. I don’t need more radiation exposure, and neither do you.  Don’t be a guinea pig.

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This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
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