FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Radiated at the Airport

by JOHN LaFORGE

Holiday flyers take note: The federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been quietly removing its admittedly cancer-causing full-body X-ray scanners known as “backscatter” machines from seven large US airports. About 280 are still in use at about 40 airports.

Public opposition and criticism from health scientists, the ACLU and Congress have pressured the TSA to either get rid of the machines or make them less invasive. The X-ray systems are being replaced with “millimeter-wave” technology — machines that use radio waves similar to cell phones — at Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare, Orlando, Logan International in Boston, and Kennedy and LaGuardia in New York City.

Jay Stanley with the American Civil Liberties Union told the Associated Press that the scanners “continue to be surrounded by health questions.” The ACLU’s gripe with the machines is that the X-ray images of passengers’ naked bodies are an invasive assault on privacy. The millimeter wave machines produce a stock image with software that alerts the TSA to any potential weapons or explosives.

Other critics raised health questions, especially regarding children, infants, fetuses and pregnant women, all of whom are more vulnerable to radiation than the “”Reference Man” used often to quantify radiation risk. In December 2010, routine maintenance of the machines showed they were emitting more than 10 times the radiation expected. The TSA said then that the results were due to a mathematical error and that all the machines are safe.

Michael Grabell in the October Mother Jones reports, as I noted last year in these pages, that prominent scientists have accused the TSA of “unnecessarily endangering the public” because of the availability of the alternative (and even cheaper) millimeter wave technology.

“Why would we want to put ourselves in this uncertain situation where potentially we’re going to have some cancer cases?” David Brenner, the director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research said to ProPublica last year.

Prominent Scientists Raising Alarms

Scientists at the Univ. of California, San Francisco and Arizona State Univ. have raised profound questions — as yet unanswered by TSA or Rapiscan, the machines’ manufacturers — about the health effects of backscatter scanners which bounce X-rays off travelers’ bodies.

Dr. John Sedat, an emeritus professor in biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF co-signed a letter to the White House last year that criticized the veracity of safety tests done on the machines. He charged that “the risk of radiation emission to children and adolescents does not appear to have been fully evaluated.” Sedat’s letter also raised alarming concerns about pregnant women and fetuses.

The TSA did not say the change was the start of a complete phase-out of the scanners and is currently moving the contraptions to smaller US airports. As the safety of millimeter-wave systems has not been established, cautious passengers may still want to opt for the old fashioned “pat down.”

One year ago, the European Union took the advice of Brenner and Sedat and banned the use of X-ray body scanners in European airports. The EU opted for the precautionary ban on the X-ray machines, “In order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety.”

The case of the backscatter X-ray machines being removed from Orlando, Florida is interesting, and recalls the adage about the squeaky wheel. The Orlando Sun reported last January that Broward County officials had repeatedly raised health and safety questions about the X-ray machines. The county wrote letters to the TSA asking its opinion of the European Union ban, and Broward Aviation Director Kent George also asked if TSA had conducted “recent studies” on the scanner and “its effects on the health/safety of the frequent traveler.”

“I think it’s potentially a real danger to the public,” Dr. Edward Dauer, head of radiology at Florida Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, told the Orlando Sun.

The TSA did not say the limited changes were the start of a complete phase-out of the scanners, and it is currently moving the contraptions to smaller US airports. We can watch for them at say Duluth and Minneapolis.

As the safety of millimeter-wave scanners has not been well-established, cautious passengers, especially women, children and infants, may still want to opt for the old fashioned “pat down.”

John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch and edits its Quarterly newsletter.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail