5 Things You Should Know About TSA Scanners and Radiology

With more and more TSA scanners that can scan your whole body in an instant, there have been many questions. While the issue of civil liberties remains a valid one, it’s a good time to go over the safety concerns, and in particular, the radiation used in the scanners. To help give you a better idea, here are five things everyone should know about TSA scanners.

1. More than one type - Not all TSA body scanners are created equal – there are actually two different kinds. The first uses millimeter wave technology which uses low level radio waves and RF energy to make images. The second uses backscatter technology, which is more like the radiation found in traditional x-rays. However, the amount used in one scan is equivalent to the radiation exposed to within a few minutes of flying, or 10 microRems.

2. How they are different - The radiation from these scanners mentioned above is compared to the background radiation found on planes, which can be misleading. In order to make the images, radiation emitted by the scanners is absorbed by the skin intentionally, rather than just being in the background.  It is because of this that concerns have arisen about whether or not the scanners could be harmful to those over 65 or who are susceptible to skin or breast cancer.

3. Dangers of multiple scans - For those who go through these scanners on a regular basis, there can be serious health concerns. Pilots are such a group and are asked to go through the body scanners each time they fly a plane. In fear of the danger of being exposed to this radiation, the largest independent pilot union urged their members to boycott the machines and cited the dangers of excessive radiation exposure as the cause.

4. Cancer concerns - There is also a rising concern about the incidence of cancer among the agents who regularly work with the body scanners, in particular the ones that use backscatter technology. The agents themselves can be exposed to the radiation from the scanners many times per day.  The Daily Mail reports on both the worker’s claims and the TSA’s counterclaims.

5. The current state - While there are many opinions on both sides, we thought two pieces of information stood out concerning this issue.  The first is a letter from several professors at The University of California San Francisco urging President Barack Obama to reconsider the use of these scanners.  The second is a bill from Senator Susan Collins which would require that an independent study be done on the backscatter scanners to ensure their safety.  The European Union has already planned to prohibit these kinds of scanners at their airports.

About the Author
Casey Roberts is a student and also writes for Radiology Assistant which helps students find the right radiology degree.

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Published: January 9, 2012