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Airport Scanners Appear Safe, Study Finds
Date:3/28/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 28 (HealthDay News) -- Radiation from the full-body scanners increasingly used to screen U.S. airline passengers is not a significant health threat, University of California researchers report.

Health concerns have arisen since the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) installed full-body scanners as a counter-terrorism tactic. The TSA now operates 486 scanners in 78 U.S. airports, and it plans to have about 1,000 in use by the end of the year, the researchers say. Backscatter X-ray devices are the more common -- and more controversial -- of the two types of scanning devices.

"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," said study co-author Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a professor in residence in the departments of radiology, epidemiology/biostatistics, and obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

"Despite being ionizing radiation, the doses are not that different than the doses we are exposed to every day from daily living," she added. The scanner emits about three to nine minutes of the radiation received through normal daily living, the study found.

The study supports other recent reports that found frequent fliers will not be subject to excessive radiation. Compared with medical imaging devices, the authors say a passenger would need 50 airport scans to receive the radiation delivered by a dental X-ray or 1,000 scans to obtain the radiation provided by a chest X-ray. Four thousand body scans would achieve the dose delivered by one mammogram, and 20,000 scans would be comparable to a pelvic and abdominal CT scan, say Smith-Bindman and study co-author Pratik Mehta, of the University of California, Berkeley.

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