TSA To Retest Radiation Recorded From Full-Body Scanners

Posted Mar 12th 2011 11:00 AMUpdated Mar 16th 2011 11:04 AM


tsa full-body scanner

Photo, L-3 Communications

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is blaming math mistakes for elevated radiation levels recorded on some full-body scanners during routine maintenance at airports around the country.

Still, the controversial full-body scanners will be retested out of "an abundance of caution to reassure the public," TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball said. The tests will be finished by the end of the month, and the results will be released "as they are completed," according to the agency's website.

The move comes as the TSA – under pressure from lawmakers – released the results from required testing that happens on a regular basis for all its X-ray equipment. The TSA insisted the elevated levels were due to math errors and that the machines, used for screening passengers at airport security, were safe.

The TSA released more than 300 reports, and approximately one-third had errors of some type, also including missing information.

As a result, the agency is requiring retesting, retraining of contractors, more internal oversight and has asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to take another look at the data.

The TSA said in the future it will be posting reports online for all 4,550 X-ray machines – body scanners and those used for both checked and carry-on baggage – nationwide, which Kimball called a "significant step toward transparency."

Back in 2008, a report by the CDC found that the TSA had bungled the detection of radiation emitted from baggage X-ray machines and in fact the machines had radiation levels well beyond what regulations allowed. The review also found that the TSA's machines did not have all of the required safety features in place.

Lawmakers have been calling on the TSA to ensure the safety of full-body scanners to travelers' health. Scientists have also questioned whether the scanners pose a cancer risk.

U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) released a statement yesterday saying that the TSA's latest findings are "unacceptable."

The agency, Collins wrote, "has repeatedly assured me that the machines that emit radiation do not pose a health risk. Nonetheless, if TSA contractors reporting on the radiation levels have done such a poor job, how can airline passengers and crew have confidence in the data used by the TSA to reassure the public?"

She said the records released Friday "included gross errors about radiation emissions. That is completely unacceptable when it comes to monitoring radiation."

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz told USA Today that he was as troubled by the information posted by the TSA. Chaffetz (R-Utah) chairs a House oversight subcommittee on national security and has sponsored legislation to limit the use of full-body scans.

Chaffetz called the TSA's record-keeping haphazard and the agency's oversight paltry, telling the newspaper, "It is totally unacceptable to be bumbling such critical tasks."

He added, "These people are supposed to be protecting us against terrorists."

(Fran Golden contributed to this report.)

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THey can argue about safety all they want...already there is a higher rate of thyroid cancer among women, and mammograms and dental x-rays are discussed as one possible contribution. Why am I gonna submit to yet ANOTHER xray, when chances are EXCELLENT, that full body scan is not as safe as the idiot TSA agency touts it to be.

I will opt out of all scanner screenings. And it is such a farce as they select who gets to go through scott free, and who gets selected for scanning or pat down!

Privatize airports screeners and abolish the Department of Homeland Security and it's little minions!

March 16 2011 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What sort of people are we dealing with when they'd rather irradiate the American population than offend a Muslim? Note to TSA and to America: It's the MUSLIMS! THE MUSLIMS!

March 16 2011 at 4:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I commend our lawmakers for wanting the TSA to be held accountable. But I am sure that the head of the TSA, which is the same person that owns a major interest in the company that makes the machines, will find nothing excessive.

March 16 2011 at 2:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Retraining inspectors translates to:
Here are the limits for the results. Fill in with a value between the low and high limit so that we don't alert anyone to the real number which is expected to be higher than is safe or acceptable.

March 16 2011 at 2:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I commend our lawmakers who are asking for more details on the radiation that comes from these machines. In addition to this radiation passengers and crews are exposed to radiation simply by flying. The radiation exposer adds up in your system. I flew as a stewardess/flight attendant for over 33 years. You would not believe the number of flight crew members I know of who have either died of cancer or are fighting it. When I started flying 31,000 feet was a comon altitude for jets now they are flying at over 40,000 levels even on short hauls. The higher you go the more radiation exposure. When you combine these two factors, that's a lot of exposure.

March 16 2011 at 2:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yeah, they'll test all the machines for excessive radiation and then they'll report that everything is ok. Remember the TSA is the same government that told us in Nam that Agent Orange wouldn't hurt us. Bah, Humbug.

March 16 2011 at 1:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Alfred Schrader

But here is a worse nightmare they are not telling you. High energy particles can
knock an atom free from the DNA strand in a cell. If this occurs in a tissue cell, it can grow out of control & split into similar out of control cells until it's a tumor the size of a basketball. But worse, if an atom is dis-lodged from the DNA in a sperm cell or egg cell, the off spring could be horribly disfigured. The point I'm trying to make: These scanners are not the answer. More work has to be done to find a safe system....Al-

March 16 2011 at 1:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I always go for the "pat down" rather than the scan. These scanners have not been in use long enough to know the effect on the body many years from now.

March 16 2011 at 12:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The photo in the article is misleading - only a handful of airports use the generic outline software. The actual images the screeners see are much more graphic. Nobody should have to have their genitals examined via photograph or touch for the purpose of boarding an airplane. Stand up for your rights.

I encourage anyone who hasn't seen full coverage to visit EPIC at http://epic.org/privacy/airtravel/backscatter/.

March 16 2011 at 12:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It does not matter what the rads are on these machines - being stripped searched just to fly is a 4th amendment violation. The end. You can't see or touch someone's genitals without a warrant. How is it in America these people with no creditials get to these positions. John - is such a poor lawyer that he is not familiar with the Consititution or such a bad American he has no reverence for it. People are suing him, EPIC - an agency is suing him - both on grounds of 4th amendment violations, Individual states are creating laws to ensure the Consitution that is being ignored by this guy, gets upheld. One would think he would say to himself,"hmmm John, I wonder if touching people's genitals or strip searching them is a 4th amendment violation." Even Bush had the sense (finally) to get Michael Brown out of New Orleans. Where is Obama? I refuse to fly anymore.

March 13 2011 at 10:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Sharon's comment