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Not Even Experts Agree on Safety of Airport Scanners
Date:3/17/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 17 (HealthDay News) -- Long-term health dangers from the type of airport body scanners that emit radiation are tiny, experts say, but disagreement lingers over the collective cancer risks because of the sheer mass of travelers who pass through them every year.

In a pair of competing articles in the April issue of Radiology, radiation experts David J. Brenner and David A. Schauer debate the benefits and potential hazards posed by backscatter X-ray scanners, which are used to screen up to a billion travelers annually at airport security checkpoints in the United States.

Another type of scanner, which uses millimeter wave technology, does not emit ionizing radiation and has no proven health effects, which Brenner and Schauer agree is the ideal. But U.S. airports use a mix of both scanner types, with the only alternative being the controversial full-body pat-down.

The makers of the backscatter scanners, Rapiscan Systems, have said that the devices emit a dose of radiation equivalent to 1/1000 of a dental X-ray.

"The individual risks are obviously extremely small," said Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University in New York City. "A good analogy ... is that it's like a lottery. You buy a ticket, and the chances of winning are minuscule -- but that doesn't mean no one will win the lottery."

"So we won't know who it is who gets these radiation-induced cancers," he added, "but it's going to be someone."

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration started using advanced imaging technology as an extra security precaution in 2007, expanding it to a primary measure in early 2010 after the unsuccessful attempt by a passenger to blow up a plane with explosive powder.

Schauer, executive director of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, contends that adding up trivial risks ove
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