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Dec. 21, 2010

Airport X-ray Screeners: Who’s Checking The Machines?

by Ira Flatow

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A few weeks ago, I blogged about my experiences with airport luggage screeners who wanted to wear radiation badges but were discouraged from doing so. It’s really the only way of knowing just how much cumulative radiation a person is exposed to during a day, a week, a month. I was not accusing any manufacturer of creating unsafe scanners. I was just saying that it is standard practice to wear the badges in the radiation industry, even on a voluntary basis.
 
Now comes word from an investigation by AOL News that according to their study, there is “no proof” that the TSA scanners, the ones you walk through, are safe. Here is a bit from the blog by Andrew Schneider:
 
The problem is that the TSA offers no proof that anyone is checking to see if the machines are “working properly.”
 
The TSA ticks off a litany of groups that it says are involved with determining and ensuring the safety of the controversial devices, including:
 
The Food and Drug Administration
The U.S. Army Public Health Command
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
The Health Physics Society
 
However, AOL News has found that those organizations say they have no responsibility for the continuing safety of the alternative to TSA’s grope.
 
Further, the Homeland Security agency refuses to release exposure data to top non-TSA safety experts eager to evaluate any risk.
 
The complete AOL News piece is worth reading.
 
I certainly can’t vouch for the AOL News investigation about passenger exposure. But I continue to question why the TSA employees who spend time next to working x-ray equipment, – including the baggage handlers, and those working the body scanners – are not required to wear radiation badges for their own safety.
 
Or better yet, why not just use an alternative passenger screener that doesn’t use x-rays at all? As we discussed on Science Friday on November, 2010 these scanners are certainly available and would be a viable, easy option and not expose passengers, pilots, crew, or TSA employees to x-rays, except for the baggage screeners.
 
You’re welcome to join a lively, ongoing discussion of the issue on that page, too.
About Ira Flatow

Ira is the host and executive producer of Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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