You’ve made it to the airport on time. You check the monitors and find your gate number. Now just one last thing: It’s time for the big decision.
You can step into the scanner, or you can be taken aside for the security pat-down.
The idea of a thorough pat-down from a complete stranger is pretty unappealing. But at least you know what you’re getting into.
The same CANNOT be said for the full-body scan, which remains an unknown health risk. And it looks like "unknown" is the way the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) wants it to stay…
It’s been months since Congress asked TSA officials to release radiation inspection reports for airport scanner x-ray equipment.
Congress is still waiting. And congressmen are steaming, calling the delay "inexcusable." After all, there’s only the health of thousands of airline passengers at stake here.
A TSA spokesperson claims the agency is reviewing the reports to make sure they don’t contain "sensitive security or privacy-protected information."
No surprise there. TSA is part of the massive bureaucracy of the notoriously secretive Department Homeland Security (DHS). So keeping details under wraps is what they do best.
The result is what one TSA risk analyst calls a "culture of stupidity."
Wow! That’s VERY reassuring.
Here’s a good sample of that stupidity: According to the TSA, the radiation dose from the x-ray scan is "tiny–equivalent to what a person receives during two minutes inside an airplane at cruising altitude."
Just one thing–I’m sure the guys at TSA are well aware that "radiation" isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of science.
The radiation we’re exposed to at high altitudes is cosmic ionizing radiation. The health risk is minimal unless you’re a pilot or another member of an aircrew, in which case you’re constantly exposed.
Stepping into the unknown
But the radiation from the full body scanner is something else entirely. It’s called terahertz wave radiation (THz). According to a Los Alamos National Laboratory study, THz waves "unzip" DNA, creating "bubbles" in DNA’s double strand that may interfere with gene expression and DNA replication.
And you can sum up all that in three words: increased cancer risk.
That would be bad enough, but there’s a lot more going on here…
- According to physics professor Peter Rez, the THz radiation dose in full-body scanners is 10 times higher than DHS claims.
- A radiological researcher at Columbia University told USA Today that one billion full-body scans per year in the U.S., "may profoundly change the potential public health consequences."
- Radiation doses to the skin may be dangerously high, according to University of California at San Francisco scientists. A doctor in the department of biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins Medical School agrees, stating that, "statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays."
- And then sometimes things go wrong. The UCSF scientists add that if the scanner software fails, passengers could receive "severe burns, if not worse."
- Finally, the human element adds risk. A couple of years ago, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation found that baggage x-ray machines sometimes emitted excessive radiation which went undetected by TSA employees. In some cases, scanners had missing or disabled safety features.
So what about it, TSA? Is there something in that delayed inspection report you’d rather not share with everyone?
About half of the TSA’s full-body scanners are x-ray machines. The other half use electromagnetic wave technology. So when you’re asked to step forward to the scanner, stop and ask what type of scanning device is used.
If the answer is "x-ray," maybe a pat-down won’t be such a bad alternative. Not for your health, anyway.
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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