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
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail