U.S. scientists are reportedly
warning that radiation from the controversial full body airport scanners has been dangerously underestimated and could lead to an increased risk of skin cancer -- particularly in children. The skin around the face and neck are most at risk.
Unlike other scanners, radiation from airport full body scanners is delivered at low energy beam levels, with most of the dose being concentrated in the skin and underlying tissue according to University of California biochemist David Agard.
Dr. Agard said
that "while the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high." Dr. Agard also says that ionizing radiation like the X-rays used in those scanners can potentially induce chromosome damage which can lead to cancer.
Of further concern is the fact that a failure in the device, such as a power or software glitch, can cause an intense radiation dose to a single spot on the skin.
Radiation dose actually 20 times higher than Official estimate
The concentration on the skin -- one of the most radiation-sensitive organs of the human body -- means the radiation dose is actually 20 times higher than the official estimate according to
David Brenner, head of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research.
Dr. Brenner, who was consulted to write guidelines for the security scanners in 2002, claims he would not have signed the report had he known the devices would be so widely used. He said a type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma, which occurs mainly on the head and neck and is usually curable, is the most likely risk from the airport scanners.
Dr. Brenner went on to note
that "there really is no other technology around where we're planning to X-ray such an enormous number of individuals," and "while individual risks will be extremely small, the population risk has the potential to be significant."
Research indicated that children were more vulnerable to radiation damage because they have more cells dividing at any one time than when they're fully grown and a radiation-induced mutation could lead to cancer when they reach adulthood.
U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials have tried allaying concerns, claiming that people would have to take thousands of trips through the scanners to equal the dose from one X-ray scan in a hospital, but have not addressed concerns raised by the researchers. TSA officials have not been forthright
concerning the use of full body scanners.
Airport scanners proving to be controversial in many ways
The group conducting the research addressed President Obama's science adviser of their concerns and are calling for more research to be conducted before the use of the full body scanners becomes commonplace. Dr. Brenner believes using millimeter-wave scanners that use radio waves instead of X-rays would be better because they have no known radiation risks.
As a result of the failed Flight 253 terrorist incident
-- Congressional hearings earlier this year revealed that the public has been routinely deceived about the incident
since it happened -- last Christmas day, the government announced that every airport in the U.S. will eventually be using full body scanners, allegedly as a precautionary security measure, regardless of privacy concerns
, including the fact that images taken by the scanners can be transmitted and stored
Full body scanners have also proved controversial in other ways: some say scanned images of children breach child pornography laws
, scanners are being criticised as ineffective and unlikely to detect many explosive devices used by terrorists, an airport screener was suspended for fighting with a colleague who joked about his small genitalia
after walking through a scanner, and a UK airport security worker is suing her bosses because a colleague leered at her 'naked' image
in a scanner.