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Airport Full Body Scanners Pose No Health Threat: Experts
Date:1/8/2010

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The extent of penetration from backscatter systems is pretty shallow, explained another expert, David A. Schauer, executive director of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements. "With backscatter systems, the X-rays do not penetrate to depths much beyond the surface of the individual, so they are useful for imaging objects hidden under clothing, but are not useful for detecting objects hidden in body cavities."

Richard Morin, a medical physicist at the Mayo Clinic, said the real issue for passengers might be privacy, not safety.

"From a radiation standpoint there has been no evidence that there is really any untoward effect from the use of this device [backscatter scanner], so I would not be concerned about it from a radiation dose standpoint -- the issues of personal privacy are a different thing," he said.

The health effects of the more common millimeter-wave scanners are largely unknown, and at least one expert believes a safety study is warranted.

"I am very interested in performing a National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements study on the use of millimeter-wave security screening systems," said Thomas S. Tenforde, council president.

"I think it would be helpful to convene an expert panel to prepare a concise summary of the health and safety issues associated with the use of this type of security screening system," he said.

Forty millimeter-wave scanners are operating at 19 airports, according to the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), which says the machines produce 10,000 times less energy than a cell phone. "We, and all objects around us, generate millimeter wave energy, and we are exposed to it every single day," the agency reported.

The TSA also plans to buy 150 backscatter scanners.

Passengers, meanwhile, have the right to refuse a full body scan. But if they do so, they will be patted-down by a TSA agent, the agency says
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