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Cancer Risks Debated for Type of X-Ray Scan

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MATTHEW L. WALD
NY Times
Saturday, January 9th, 2010

The plan for broad use of X-ray body scanners to detect bombs or weapons under airline passengers’ clothes has rekindled a debate about the safety of delivering small doses of radiation to millions of people — a process some experts say is certain to result in a few additional cancer deaths.

The scanning machines, called “backscatter scanners,” deliver a dose of ionizing radiation equivalent to 1 percent or less of the radiation in a dental X-ray. The amount is so small that the risk to an individual is negligible, according to radiation experts. But collectively, the radiation doses from the scanners incrementally increase the risk of fatal cancers among the thousands or millions of travelers who will be exposed, some radiation experts believe.

Full-body scanners that are already in place in some airports around the country and abroad use a different type of imaging technology, called millimeter wave, that uses less powerful, non-ionizing radiation that does not pose the same risk.

But those machines also produce images that are less clear. And in the wake of the attempted bombing of an airplane traveling to Detroit from Amsterdam on Dec. 25, the United States is turning to backscatter scanners for routine security checks. Congress has appropriated funds for 450 scanners to be placed in American airports. On Thursday, President Obama called for greater use of “imaging technology” to spot weapons and explosives.

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This article was posted: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 5:18 am





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