Never Mind the Nudity, Are the Full-Body Scanners Safe?

11/24/2010 12:08 PM |

radioactive man

Just in time to freak you out (even more) on the way to the airport, I just thought I’d raise a few more concerns about the new TSA full-body scanners, mainly because I haven’t been seeing this angle covered much. So. I was listening online to the great Harry Shearer news/humor show Le Show (which the idiots at WNYC don’t run, for some reason, because we need to hear Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me twice a weekend) and Mr. Shearer, always on the lookout for under-the-radar news, read aloud a letter from a “group of concerned scientists” from the University of California at San Francisco regarding the new full-body scanning machines. It’s pretty scary stuff:

Transcribed from the audio by my worn and bloody fingers:

We are writing to call your attention to serious concerns about the potential health risks of the recently adopted whole body back-scatter x-ray airport security scanners. This is an urgent situation.

Our overriding concern is the extent to which the safety of this scanning device has been adequately demonstrated. This can only be determined by a meeting of an impartial panel of experts that would include medical physicists and radiation biologists.

An important consideration is that a large fraction of the population will be subject to the new x-ray scanners and be at potential risk. This raises a number of red flags. The physics of these x-rays is very telling. They are Compton-scattering off outer-molecule bonding electrons and thus inelastic, likely breaking bonds. Unlike other scanners, these new devices operate at relatively low-beam energies; the majority of their energy is delivered to the skin and the underlying tissue thus, while the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high.

They go on to highlight concerns from cancer specialists about various segments of the population susceptible to this kind of radiation: the elderly, children, women with a predisposition to cancerous mutagenesis (do you know if you are?), and men with testicles (seriously: “because of the proximity of the testicles to the skin, this tissue is at risk for sperm mutagenesis.”) Also, because we’re talking about a device that takes just a few seconds to scan an entire person, the x-ray beam is necessarily very powerful, so if a glitch were to occur and, say, the scan froze for a few seconds on a single part of the body, the radiation dose to that area would be waaay high.

Oh. And pilots are being strongly advised by their unions not to take the scans and just submit to the full-body grope, BECAUSE TOO MUCH RADIATION IS DANGEROUS.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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