Skip to Content

Body-Scanners May Not Work, But They Do Cause Cancer

Are you one of the millions of Americans flying this Thanksgiving weekend? Are you thinking about joining the national protest to opt-out of being run through an airport X-ray scanner?

If you’re worried about the alternative--getting groped by TSA screeners at the checkpoint--you might consider this: The government insists those back-scatter X-ray machines are perfectly safe, but many scientists disagree.

It’s not just a matter of some puerile TSA screeners giggling at your naked body. In a letter to John Pistole, administrator of TSA, New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt, a physicist and the Chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, raises the possibility that the machines might be carcinogenic. He writes:

In March, the Congressional Biomedical Caucus (of which I am a co-chair) hosted a presentation on this technology by TSA, as well as a briefing by Dr. David Brenner of Columbia University on the potential health effects of “back scatter” x-ray devices. As Dr. Brenner noted in his presentation and in subsequent media interviews, the devices currently in use and proposed for wider deployment this year currently deliver to the scalp “20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA and throughout the industry.”

Zap! You're on candid camera... and by the way, your skin was just friedZap! You're on candid camera... and by the way, your skin was just fried

Dr. Brenner has pointed out that the majority of the radiation from X-ray backscatter machines strikes the top of the head, which is where 85 percent of the 800,000 cases of basal cell carcinoma diagnosed in the United States each year develop. According to Dr. Brenner, excessive x-ray exposure can act as a cancer rate multiplier, which is why our government should investigate thoroughly the potential health risks associated with this technology.

Various experts have questioned whether older people and children ought to be subjected to scanners, and whether people susceptible to or having melanoma and cataracts should undergo the scan. 

Last April, four California scientists--biology and medical researchers--in a letter to the White House, warned that there had been no independent research done into the safety of backscatter X-rays, with the government relying entirely on the industry’s own claims of safety. They also said that the TSA’s claim that the X-rays were less dangerous than an ordinary chest X-ray were misleading because the dose isbeing calculated for the whole body, while in fact the entire X-ray is focussed on the skin of the body, which receives a much higher dosage--one they warned could lead to potentially serious cancer risk.

story | by Dr. Radut