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Really? TSA Says It Will Study Body Scanner Radiation Risks?

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Continues to roll out machines despite cancer warnings from experts

Steve Watson
November 3, 2011

TSA head John Pistole told a Senate homeland security committee hearing Wednesday that the agency will conduct its own research into the safety risks associated with full body scanners currently in use in almost all major airports in the U.S.

While the announcement may appease some lawmakers in Washington, it will almost certainly serve as nothing more than a further endorsement of the technology from the agency that continues to roll out hundreds of the radiation-firing machines across the nation.

Indeed, Pistole has previously made promises in testimony before the Senate, regarding TSA policy, that have simply been later ignored, forgotten about and flouted.

Pistole’s words speak volumes about just how rigorously the TSA will test the scanners:

“I am concerned that there’s a perception that they’re not as safe as they could be,” Pistole said after claiming that independent studies have already proven the technology safe.

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Peter Kant, executive vice president for Rapiscan, which makes the backscatter x-ray scanners said “We certainly support any additional testing to once again revalidate the safety.”

Adding that he shares Pistole’s concern about public perception, Kant declared that additional tests should help end “perpetuation of the falsehood that the machines are unsafe.”

The issue of body scanner safety was once again thrust into the spot light this week by renewed efforts on behalf of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) to force the Department Of Homeland Security to disclose documents containing radiation testing results, agency fact sheets on body scanner radiation risks, and images produced by the machines.

EPIC has filed a motion for summary judgment in its ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the DHS.

EPIC previously obtained hundreds of pages of documents detailing the radiation risks presented by the machines.

The documents revealed 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.

The documents, including internal TSA emails, also revealed that TSA employees are greatly concerned by a surge in cancer cases among their number. Agents stationed at Boston Logan airport directly voiced their concerns to a TSA representative who promised to relay them to TSA headquarters.

A new report published this week by independent reporters for ProPublica, in conjunction with PBS NewsHour, also details how the “U.S. Government Glossed Over Cancer Concerns” as it rolled out the scanners into airports.

The other major finding to come from the report indicated that the Food and Drug Administration went against the advice of a 1998 expert panel, which recommended the agency set a mandatory federal safety standard for the machines. Several members of that panel said they were concerned about widespread use of X-ray scanners, including in airports.

The TSA has thus far refused to address the scores of real independent scientists who have continued to speak out over the health hazards associated with the x-ray technology, noting that the body scanners are far from safe.

John Sedat, a University of California at San Francisco professor of biochemistry and biophysics and member of the National Academy of Sciences told CNet that the machines have “mutagenic effects” and will increase the risk of cancer. Sedat previously sent a letter to the White House science Czar John P. Holdren, identifying the specific risk the machines pose to children and the elderly.

The letter stated:

“it appears that real independent safety data do not exist… There has not been sufficient review of the intermediate and long-term effects of radiation exposure associated with airport scanners. There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations.”

The TSA has repeatedly stated that going through the machines is equal to the radiation encountered during just two minutes of a flight. However, this does not take into account that the scanning machines specifically target only the skin and the muscle tissue immediately beneath.

The scanners are similar to C-Scans and fire ionizing radiation at those inside which penetrates a few centimeters into the flesh and reflects off the skin to form a naked body image.

The firing of ionizing radiation at the body effectively “unzips” DNA, according to scientific research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The research shows that even very low doses of X-ray can delay or prevent cellular repair of damaged DNA, yet pregnant women and children will be subjected to the process as new guidelines including scanners are adopted.

The Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety concluded in their report on the matter that governments must justify the use of the scanners and that a more accurate assessment of the health risks is needed.

Pregnant women and children should not be subject to scanning, according to the report, adding that governments should consider “other techniques to achieve the same end without the use of ionizing radiation.”

“The Committee cited the IAEA’s 1996 Basic Safety Standards agreement, drafted over three decades, that protects people from radiation. Frequent exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cancer and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,”reported Bloomberg.

Scientists at Columbia University also entered the debate recently, warning that the dose emitted by the naked x-ray devices could be up to 20 times higher than originally estimated, likely contributing to an increase in a common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma which affects the head and neck.

“If all 800 million people who use airports every year were screened with X-rays then the very small individual risk multiplied by the large number of screened people might imply a potential public health or societal risk. The population risk has the potential to be significant,” said Dr David Brenner, head of Columbia University’s centre for radiological research.


Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.net, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

This article was posted: Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 9:36 am

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