A few days ago, I passed through the airport security checkpoint. I stood with my legs shoulder-width apart, my hand holding an invisible triangle, and tried not to think about how the burly security guard was looking at my x-rayed body right through my clothes. I wouldn’t say I’m a terribly private person. At any given airport, you can probably hear my big mouth in conversation. I’m a writer by trade, whose job it is to bare all my innermost thoughts, which you’re reading some of right now. I also feel it’s better to be safe than to be dead, which I think most people would agree with. Yet, with any quick solution that just surfaces out-of-the-blue, we’ve got to ask: Are the new airport scanners really safe?
Dr. David J. Brenner, Higgins Professor of Radiation Biophysics at Columbia University & Director of the Center for Radiological Research, contends that there is some concern over airline pilots, flight attendants and frequent fliers who may pass through these controversial scanners “anywhere from 200 to 400 times a year,” thus magnifying their exposure to radiation. Another concern, he says, are the 750 million people who pass airport security each year. “So we have a small risk, but we have an awful lot of people exposed to that small risk. And that gives you a public health concern as well as a concern for the individuals,” Dr. Brenner warns.
AOL News recently published an expose, attacking the Transportation Security Administration for making false claims of safety when, in reality, it’s all a bunch of hot air. For one, the TSA says the safety of the devices was determined by the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Army Public Health Command, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and the Health Physics Society… but when contacted, the groups said they had “no responsibility” in the matter. While medical x-ray machines are regulated by the FDA, they do not regulate identical machines used in nonmedical facilities.
John Sedat, a professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of California at San Francisco, told AOL News, "We found that essentially none of this information was known or made public, and more interestingly, it looked like this technology had not been independently vetted by the scientific community, published, peer-reviewed or even discussed openly. Essentially, all the information was coming from companies that were making the devices, and it looked like it was being parroted by the FDA and the TSA, which didn't seem reasonable.”
I would conclude that even a child would understand that small amounts of radiation may not be a terrible danger to the human body, but accumulated exposure over time could pose a greater risk. In some ways, these new machines seem like the Patriot Act – passed in a fly-by-night way, on little sound evidence that it’s necessary, doing very little to actually stop terrorists, and putting a lot of good people through stressful situations.