TSA Puts Off Safety Study of X-ray Body Scanners

Previous independent observations  and studies have signaled how the body scanners do cause cancer due to the radiation. Furthermore, airport scanner operators have been diagnosed with cancer a few years after working next to the machines.

by Michael Grabell
ProPublica
November 16, 2011

The head of the Transportation Security Administration has backed off a public commitment to conduct a new independent study of X-ray body scanners used at airport security lanes around the country.

Earlier this month, a ProPublica/PBS NewsHour investigation found that the TSA had glossed over research [1] that the X-ray scanners could lead to a small number of cancer cases. The scanners emit low levels of ionizing radiation, which has been shown to damage DNA. In addition, several safety reviewers who initially advised the government on the scanners said they had concerns about the machines being used, as they are today, on millions of airline passengers.

At a Senate hearing after the story ran, TSA Administrator John Pistole agreed to a request by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to conduct a new independent study [2] of the health effects of the X-ray scanners, also known as backscatters.

But at a Senate hearing [3] of a different committee last week, Pistole said he had since received a draft report on the machines by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, or IG, that might render the independent study unnecessary.

“My strong belief is those types of machines are still completely safe,” Pistole said. “If the determination is that this IG study is not sufficient, then I will look at still yet another additional study.”

According to a summary obtained by ProPublica, the inspector general concluded the machines are within industry standards for radiation exposure limits. But the summary also suggests the report focuses mostly on how the TSA monitors and maintains the machines. The full report won’t be released for several weeks.

“I hope the Obama administration is not backing away from an independent study of the health effects of these radiation-emitting machines,” Collins said in a statement to ProPublica. “What I asked for — and what the administrator committed to — was an independent study on the health effects of [the] machines, not just a study on whether TSA is doing an adequate job of inspecting, maintaining and operating” them.

The inspector general’s report calls on the TSA to ensure that radiation surveys are conducted for unintended emissions, that calibrations are consistently documented and that airport screeners complete annual radiation safety training. The inspector general also advised the agency to determine how much on-the-job training is needed for screeners who operate the backscatters and to ensure that accidental radiation overdoses are properly reported.

It’s unclear whether the recommendations resulted from any problems found during the investigation, or are general reminders about best practices. It’s also unclear whether investigators measured the radiation doses from the machines themselves or relied on inspections conducted by the manufacturer.

The TSA uses two types of body scanners [4]. With the backscatter machines that have been the focus of health concerns, a passenger stands between two large blue boxes and is scanned with a pencil X-ray beam that moves rapidly left to right and up and down the body. With the other kind of scanner, called a millimeter-wave machine, a passenger enters a chamber that looks like a round phone booth and is scanned with a form of low-energy radio waves, which do not strip electrons from atoms and have not been shown to cause cancer.

In recent years, the TSA has commissioned tests of the X-ray scanners by the Food and Drug Administration and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. In addition, survey teams from the Army Public Health Command visit airports to check the machines.

Those tests have all shown that the X-ray scanners emit extremely low levels of radiation, equivalent to the radiation received in a few minutes of flying. But the tests haven’t doused questions from some outside radiation experts about why the TSA doesn’t use only the millimeter-wave machines, which the agency also deems highly effective.

The European Union on Monday prohibited the use of X-ray body scanners [5] in European airports “in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety.”

But others have pointed to problems with millimeter-wave machines. Germany announced earlier this year that it would forgo the machines after concluding that they produced too many false positives.

There are currently 500 body scanners, split about evenly between the two technologies, deployed in airports. The TSA plans to deploy 1,275 backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners covering more than half its security lanes by the end of 2012 and 1,800 covering nearly all lanes by 2014.

TSA Airport Scanner Operators Suffering from Cancer

by Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
June 28, 2011

It took only a few years for the consequences of exposure to airport scanner radiation to come out. TSA airport scanner operators and other personnel discovered what are called clusters of cancer in their bodies after only a decade or so of working with these machines. The discovery of this information was done after the Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained documents that show how TSA workers got sick with cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Instead of providing the workers with proper medical attention and actually evaluating the safety of the machines, the TSA sought to keep this matter quiet in order to avoid an even greater opposition to the full body scanners installed in many airports around the US and the world. It is the proximity and continuous exposition to body scanner radiation what caused that several airport workers who first began using the scanners back in the early 2000’s now suffer from irreversible medical conditions.

Even when employees and supervisors frequently requested radiation meters in order to realistically gauge how much radiation they were being exposed to, the TSA never honored those requests. In fact, the TSA never even had the scanners tested for safety. Although US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said several times that the machines were safe, the truth is that a study cited by the TSA and Homeland Security was bogus. The study that according to Napolitano had been conducted by NIST regarding airport scanner safety never actually took place. NIST came out recently ‘washing its hands’ and stating the the National Institute of Standards and Technology never conducted any safety tests on the full body scanners.

The alarm seems to have been first rang by the deputy federal security director at Boston Logan International Airport, who related concerns about the number of workers diagnosed with cancer.  In an e-mail whose subject line reads “Boston cancer+Radiation Safety and health risks concerns”, the director pleads once again for the radiation monitoring devices requested in multiple other occasions. He emphasizes his and everyone else’s concern about “the number of TSO’s thus far being diagnosed with cancer” and “our concern that TSA’s improperly non-monitored radiation threat facing both checkpoint and baggage assigned TSO’s”.

Some TSA workers manifested their concerns regarding radiation exposure in last several months alleging that the very own TSA had been less than forthcoming with its findings as they related to radiation exposure safety. According to Infowars.com, Dr. David Brenner from Columbia University had found that “the body scanners are likely to lead to an increase in a common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma, which affects the head and neck.” Additionally, Dr. Michael Love, from the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at the Johns Hopkins, said publicly that   “statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays”.

“There really is no other technology around where we’re planning to X-ray such an enormous number of individuals. It’s really unprecedented in the radiation world,” asserted Brenner. While scientists and doctors warned about the dangers of the scanners, the US government paraded around claiming the devices were safe.

Many other science professors and scientists warned the government about the little or no research that existed regarding the safety of the full body scanners. Some of them suggested that there should be different ways of accomplishing the same goals that the government intends to, without the need of harming the workers or the passengers. “There is still no rigorous, hard, data for the safety of x-ray airport passenger scanners,” said a group of professors from the University of California, as they pointed out that the only tests conducted were those performed by the full body scanner manufacturers.

It is worth remembering that this same full body scanning technology is now being deployed by Homeland Security to places such as sports arenas, stadiums, check points and in smaller sizes to Courthouses, Malls and even some schools.


Airport Body Scanners NEVER Tested for Safety

The supposed safety study performed by NIST and mentioned by TSA did not happenned.

Steve Watson
Infowars.com
June 27, 2011

Newly released internal government documents, obtained via the Freedom Of Information Act, reveal that the TSA, and specifically the head of the Department of Homeland Security, “publicly mischaracterized” the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in stating that NIST had positively confirmed the safety of full body scanners in tests.

In the private email response, NIST stated that the Institute had not, in fact, tested full body scanners at all for safety, and that the Institute does not even undertake product testing.

The email (below) states that the director of NIST was “not looking for corrections”, but wished to “offer clarification”, that the agency “doesn’t want any mischaracterization of their work continued.”

At the time, Prisonplanet.com published a response article to Napolitano’s claims, highlighting the fact that her statements regarding the safety of the scanners, as well as her claims that the pat down alternative was “discreet”, were manifestly false.

It is now clear that our concerns were shared by another government agency, in the form of NIST.

Another document obtained by EPIC even shows that, far from affirming their safety, NIST warned that airport screeners should avoid standing next to full body scanners in order to keep exposure to harmful radiation “as low as reasonably achievable.”

It is not clear whether or not the information and advice was ever passed on to TSA workers.

However, another document obtained by EPIC shows that a growing number of TSA workers diagnosed with cancers are voicing concern that the full body scanners and x-ray machines are indeed to blame for their illnesses.

The document also highlights the fact that the TSA has failed to issue employees with dosimeters, safety devices that would warn of radiation exposure, despite repeated requests from workers and their supervisors.

In an email sent by a TSA representative to employees at Boston’s Logan Airport, workers are assured that their complaints are being listened to and that a request to issue the radiation monitoring devices had been sent to TSA headquarters.

“I understand that some TSO’s who were diagnosed as having cancer have already left TSA employment but that BOS still has an alarmingly high number of cancer afflicted TSOs still working here.” the email states.

“Despite TSA management’s past assurances, many TSOs here do not feel safe from radiation threats that may go hand in hand with using x-ray screening technology, especially the newer [installed since TSA federalized airport security] technology…” the email continues.

In the same USA Today piece, Napolitano, or ‘Big Sis’ as she is now often referred to, also claimed that the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory had also independently affirmed the safety of the scanners.

However, yet another document obtained and released by EPICnow shows that a Johns Hopkins study actually revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit.”

At the time we pointed out that Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at the Johns Hopkins school of medicine hadpublicly stated two days previously that “statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays”.

“…we have a situation at the airports where people are so eager to fly that they will risk their lives in this manner,” Love said.

In addition, several other scientists have continued to speak out over the health hazards associated with the x-ray technology, noting that the body scanners are far from safe.

It is now even more clear that Napolitano’s statements to the public regarding the body scanners were misleading at best, and at worst were outright lies.

EPIC is currently engaged in a lawsuit against the DHS to force full disclosure of body scanner radiation risks. A second EPIC lawsuit is seeking to suspend the use of full body scanners altogether. Both lawsuits are ongoing.

The TSA previously refused to release internal reports on the safety of the body scanners.