Full-Body Scanners At Airports Raise New Safety Concerns: Harmful X-Ray Radiation Can Cause Cancer

May 17, 2010, By Intermaggio

NPR released a report this morning outlining new concerns being raised by scientists about x-ray machines already deployed in some 23 major airports in the US. After the underwear bomber incident last Christmas, President Barack Obama has pushed for these full body scanners to be deployed into airports as quickly as possible, despite health and privacy concerns.

When the machines are fully deployed, the goal is to full body scan 2/3 of airport passengers before they pass through security. The latest concerns about these machines are not privacy-related, but safety-related. About 50% of these machines use “Backscatter X-Ray Technology” to perform a full body scan. That’s where the problem lies- those machines use low-level radiation to perform x-rays.

“Ionizing radiation such as the X-rays used in these scanners have the potential to induce chromosome damage, and that can lead to cancer,” says David Agard, a biochemist and biophysicist at University of California, San Francisco. “There really is no threshold of low dose being OK. Any dose of X-rays produces some potential risk.”

About 1 in 20 people are extremely sensitive to radiation, and may develop cancer after exposure to these machines. The long-term effects of such a large-scale operation are largely unknown, because this will be the very first time such a large scale x-ray operation is performed.

What are your thoughts on these scanners? Are they good, evil, or just necessary? Should the people have more say in the technology that keeps us safe?

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