Wings Magazine

U.S. TSA to study health effects of full body scanners

Dec. 19, 2012, Washington, D.C. - The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has contracted out a study into the health impacts of radiation emitted by backscatter airport scanning machines.

December 19, 2012  By Carey Fredericks

A notice posted by the Government Services Administration (GSA) says the National Academy of Sciences will issue a report on “whether exposures comply with applicable health and safety standards” and whether TSA’s screening process is “appropriate to prevent overexposures of travelers and operators to ionizing radiation.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has written a bill to require an independent study into the machines, saying, “While TSA has told the public that the amount of radiation emitted from these machines is small, passengers and some scientific experts have raised questions about the impact of repeated exposure to this radiation.”

The TSA responded by saying, “Administrator [John] Pistole has made a commitment to conduct the study and TSA is following through on that commitment.” The TSA has dismissed the amount of radiation emitted as “negligible” and points to numerous studies on its website finding that the backscatter machines are safe.

TSA recently removed 91 of the machines and replaced them with newer millimeter-wave machines, which scientists believe pose fewer radiation risks. The TSA said it plans to eventually redeploy the removed backscatter machines, although officials said last month the machines are still in storage in a Texas warehouse.


ProPublica reported a year ago that as many as 100 air travelers each year could develop cancer from using the machines. The machines have also courted controversy because of the detailed images they display.


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