New Health Study Finds Airport Scanners Safe

by Libby Zay 
Posted Mar 29th 2011 12:30 PMUpdated Mar 29th 2011 01:09 PM



Rebecca Dolan, AOL

A new health study released yesterday by University of California researchers shows the radiation emitted from the controversial full-body airport scanners does not pose a significant health threat to air travelers, researchers say.

"The doses delivered by the airport backscatter scanners is truly very low, and individuals should not fear going through the scanners based on exposure to the radiation," study co-author Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a professor of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, tells HealthDay News.

Other scientists, however, have expressed concern full-body airport scanners do pose a cancer risk. Dr. David Brenner, chief of the center for radiological research at New York's Columbia University, says the risk of radiation has been "underestimated." Brenner claims that while an individual's risk is "very low," there is statistically a cause for concern due to the large number of travelers undergoing scans.

"If all 800 million people who use airports every year were screened with X-rays then the very small individual risk multiplied by the large number of screened people might imply a potential public health or societal risk," Brenner tells Australia's Herald Sun. "The population risk has the potential to be significant."

According to the new research, passengers would need to pass through full-body airport scanners 50 times to receive the same amount of radiation delivered by a dental X-ray. It would take 1,000 scans to obtain the dose delivered by a chest X-ray, or 4,000 body scans to achieve the same radiation dose from one mammogram, the study demonstrates.

Smith-Bindman and study co-author Pratik Mehta, of the University of California, Berkeley, say the image revealed by backscatter scanners actually come from radiation reflected off the body. In contrast, medical imaging machines transmit radiation through the body.

The Transportation Security Administration now operates over 450 scanners at 78 airports throughout the U.S., a number that is supposed to more than double by the end of the year.

For the study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Smith-Bindman and Mehta looked at three groups: all fliers, frequent fliers (meaning those who fly 60 or more hours a week) and 5-year-old girls who fly weekly, because children are more sensitive to radiation.

The team assumed all passengers would undergo full body scan on each trip, with 100 million passengers taking 750 million flights in a year. Among passengers on all these flights, the researchers estimated that six cancers could develop over a lifetime from scanner radiation. But according to the researchers, some 40 million cancers would result from other causes on the same fliers.

As for the most at-risk group, the hypothetical 5-year-old girls making one-round trip a week, airport scanners might cause one additional breast cancer over their lifetimes, but 250,000 breast cancers would result from other causes in this group, according to the researchers.

"Based on what is known about the scanners, passengers should not fear going through the scans for health reasons, as the risks are truly trivial. If individuals feel vulnerable and are worried about the radiation emitted by the scans, they might reconsider flying altogether since most of the small, but real, radiation risk they will receive will come from the flight and not from the exceedingly small exposures from the scans," write Smith-Bindman and Mehta in their report.

Earlier this month, the TSA announced that full-body airport scanners would be retested out of "an abundance of caution to reassure the public." The results should be released by the end of the month.

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I wonder how the airport radiation scanners are working in Japan

April 18 2011 at 2:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I wonder how the airport radiation scanners are holding up in Japan ?

April 18 2011 at 2:22 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Bill Gast

I don wanna do this anymore--take my name off the roll call sheet

March 30 2011 at 1:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Radiation is cumulative though, from xrays, mammograms, dental pictures(taken many times because they are profitable) hospital/space food, supermarket food(pray they dont forget to put the label on the package)to nuclear powerplant leaks, mishandled nuclear waste which by the way is used to irradiate your fruits, spices, and meats, to radioactive fertilizers which is one reason cigarettes kill(im sure thats a surprise to most people)... and we wonder why cancer is on the rise? The answer is simple, we have waste product, put it in the consumers food and then you make money. Same bs with flouride in your toothpaste along with making the hole bigger so more comes out on your brush, flouride in your poland spring water, your tap water, sprayed chemicals outside, just continue to spread radiation and poison knowing the US government admitted to experimental testing radiation on pregnant women and babies... The information thats secret today affecting your life only waiting to be disclosed 10 20 50 years later... if ever.

Other poisonings include switching to flourescent bulbs that have mercury, like opening a window will clean your house when one breaks, LOL. Everytime a lightbulb falls a man reverts to his ape form. Then you can ask how many monkeys does it take to screw in a lightbulb.

March 29 2011 at 8:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Larry W. Bruce

Thanks to Japan and their lack of being prepared for a nuclear emergency, we are being exposed to more radiation in our water, food, dairy products, foreign imports, on our ocean beaches and in rainfall and snow fall than any airport x-ray security machine.

March 29 2011 at 8:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Most of the news I've heard about these scanners is clearly pushing an agenda, and it seems to be funded by lobby groups on multiple sides of the issue: politicians, scanner manufacturers, agency fearmongers, etc. We can't believe the research one way or the other, and so we, as Americans are forced to use our heads and hearts to address this issue in our own personal way. For me, I choose not to go through them - partly because of the what-if factor (what if they ARE actually irradiating all my special bits moreso than the "independent" research would suggest), and partly because of what one of America's greatest patriots once said (paraphrased), "He who trades liberty for security deserves neither".

As a side note, the last couple times that I've traveled, I've noticed something worth commenting on. At my local airport, where the scanners are currently used only "randomly", I've noticed a very lopsided ratio of young girls and attractive women being asked to pass through the scanners. Random selection by a bunch of bored TSA guys?? hmmmm...

March 29 2011 at 8:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
GI Joe

This study is pure BS! Let me assure you that the Government doesn't give a damn about any of you and will gladly lie to you to further its objectives! The Government protects itself. You (contrary to popular belief) are NOT the Government. The Government is an soulless entity dedicated toward preserving itself; you are just a pawn in the game!!!

March 29 2011 at 7:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lisa Barrett, Long Beach, California

I have had oral radiation as a medical treatment that kept me radioactive for many months, plus due to a severely fractured leg, have had repeated xrays of that leg, have also had a T Scan of the abdomen, over the years chest x rays and dental xrays - The moral is, I have had more than enough radiation. I should not have to absorb more just to ride public transportation. Most logical people have issues about this, be it medical concerns or invasion of privacy concerns, or both. But, what do we do to stop it? I want it stopped. I do not think any of us law abiding citizens should be subjected to this. Someone tell us, how do we as a nation get this police state tactic removed. The innocent are suffering daily because of a criminal few.

March 29 2011 at 7:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Honestly America's freedom only seems to apply to spying on people all the time. "They" the enforcers identities are mostly unknown but everything about you is most certainly obtainable online for 50$ And now at your local airport. No need for a P.I. anymore lol.

From a glance over with the naked eye to metal detectors and wands, to patdowns, to cameras to complement satellights, to chips in your passport and in your human body(yes actually advertised on tv to help track your kids if they run off like a dog), to radioactive body scans, the doctor's name is published while the supporters remain a vague group of people the group that profits off selling the machines and the government that gets stronger because it has the all seeing eye. Like cattle led to slaughter, grow up, fk each other, produce offspring then die and repeat. I hope 2012 ends the cycle with a great fire. The flood has already been used.

March 29 2011 at 7:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

SCREW YOU TSA!!!!! First you eye rape people in revealing scans, now your releasing scanners that may cause cancer???!!! I dont know if you realize cancer isnt the sniffles, its life-threatening. MAYBE YOU SHOULD THOROUGHLY TEST THIS EQUIPMENT BEFORE YOU LET PEOPLE USE IT!!!!!!! The TSA is letting me down, they need to get their stuff together.

March 29 2011 at 7:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply