The X-Ray(t)ed Truth: Airport scanners pose no health threat

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After the Transportation Security Administration announced the installation of new body scanners in airports last year, the mass media ran amok, hyping up the public’s fears of excess radiation exposure and privacy violations. But a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine assuages any health concerns by finding that the radiation exposure from a single backscatter x-ray scanner is equivalent to a mere three to nine minutes of background radiation people encounter on a regular day-to-day basis from atmospheric cosmic rays.

According to study authors Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman and Pratik Mehta of the University of California, San Francisco, going through an airport scanner 50 times amounts to the same level of radiation exposure received during a single dental x-ray. And because the risk associated with these scans is so remote, even for frequent flyers, calculating any cancer risk is even more difficult since these radiation doses are so minuscule.

Noting that the risks “are truly trivial,” the authors say that if people are distressed over radiation exposure associated with the scans, they should “reconsider flying altogether since most of the small, but real, radiation risk they will receive will come from the flight and not from the exceedingly small exposures from scans.”

ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross couldn’t agree more: “Even if the scanners are only able to nab a single terrorist, then they will have yielded more benefit than the sum of the hypothetical risks they may possess.”