Safety Update – Airport Security X-Ray Machines to Get Independent Review

The debate over the safety of X-ray machines in U.S. airports – body scanners that use backscatter X-ray technology at security checkpoints to determine if banned items are hidden on a traveler’s person – has raged for years now, with little to show for it beyond TSA assurances that the machines are safe. Now, however, the TSA has agreed to an independent study on the safety of these scanners.

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Study to Look at Health, Safety Standard Compliance

As the investigative journalism site ProPublica reports, “the National Academy of Sciences will convene a committee to review previous studies to determine if the dose from the scanners complies with existing health and safety standards and to evaluate the TSA’s methods for testing and maintaining the machines.” When this will happen isn’t mentioned.

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Europe Bans X-Ray Scanners

The TSA has long maintained these machines are safe, though they have always given travelers the option of bypassing them; the alternative is an ‘enhanced’ pat-down. That apparently isn’t good enough for the 27-nation members of the European Union which banned the use of airport X-ray machines back in late 2011; the EU cited health and safety concerns. Similar worries have been raised in the U.S. by groups like Opt Out, which staged a Thanksgiving protest calling on passengers to refuse X-ray screenings.

TSA Removes Some X-Ray Machines

Back in October, the TSA acknowledged it had removed all of its X-ray machines from New York’s LaGuardia Airport and JFK but claimed it was done simply as a matter of efficiency – to speed up long security lines. Passengers in those airports are now screened by a scanning machines that use millimeter wave technology instead of X-rays. The wave technology machines – which have never raised health concerns – are used in many airports across the country.

The TSA has never quite made it clear why it employs the two different types of scan machines, beyond saying they are always on the look-out for “new technologies that help ensure travel remains safe and secure by staying ahead of evolving threats.”


Published: December 31, 2012