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.

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
Binoy Kampmark
The War on Plastic
Cindy Sheehan – Rick Sterling
Peace Should Be Integral to the Women’s March
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
No Foreign Bases!
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Across the Boer Heartland to Pretoria
Joe Emersberger
What’s Going On in Ecuador? An Interview With Wladimir Iza
Clark T. Scott
1918, 1968, 2018: From Debs to Trump
Cesar Chelala
Women Pay a Grievous Price in Congo’s Conflict
Michael Welton
Secondly
Robert Koehler
The Wisdom of Mass Salvation
Seth Sandronsky
Misreading Edu-Reform 
Ann Garrison
Full-Spectrum Arrogance: US Bases Span the Globe
Louis Proyect
Morality Tales on the American Malaise: the Films of Rick Alverson
David Yearsley
Winston and Paddington: Marianelli’s Musical Bears
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail