Internal U.S. government documents show that the Transportation Security Administration, under the guidance of the Department of Homeland Security Secretary, deliberately misled the public on the health risks associated with body-scanning devices.
Documents recently obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reportedly revealed that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been caught covering up a growing number of cases of cancer among TSA airport body scanner operators who conduct the screenings in close proximity to the radiation-emitting devices.
Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of EPIC, told 9News Now "We think that the Department of Homeland Security has not been forthcoming with the public about the true extent of radiation risk with the airport body scanners" after reviewing the documents. EPIC found evidence that the Department of Homeland Security failed to properly evaluate the level of risk from airport body scanners.
Some of the documents indicate that a large number of TSA workers have fallen victim to cancer, strokes and heart disease. TSA workers are concerned that they are being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation while they're conducting the screenings. Union representatives in Boston have cited rising cancer cases (PDF) in the TSA's workforce there and asked the agency to allow its members to wear radiation monitoring devices. To date, the TSA has refused requests for dosimeters.
In response to the safety concerns, the TSA issued the following statement:
"TSA has implemented stringent safety protocols to ensure that technology used at airports to screen people and property is safe for all passengers, as well as the TSA workforce. In addition to regular maintenance, each individual machine that uses X-ray technology is regularly tested to ensure the radiation emitted falls within the national safety standards."TSA Relied on Tests from Manufacturers
But some scientists are leery of the TSA's science, noting that there is still no supporting data regarding the safety of x-ray airport passenger scanners and the TSA relied on tests performed by the machines' manufacturers, and that important information has been withheld from the public. UC professors suggested a moratorium on using the radiation-emitting devices until conclusive science answers the radiation questions. Secret tests using secret techniques engineered by secret researchers were literally used to deploy devices that invade privacy and are hazardous to your health at public airports.
A Bloomberg Report from February of this year found that passengers should be made aware of the health risks of airport body screenings and governments must explain any decision to expose the public to higher levels of cancer-causing radiation. Bloomberg cited numerous health and governmental agencies that have said that pregnant women and children should not be subject to the devices. Bloomberg noted that Governments must justify the additional risks posed by passengers and should consider other techniques to achieve the same end without using ionizing radiation. A recent letter to President Obama's Science Advisor from several University of CA professors extolled that there is still no rigorous, hard, data for the safety of the body scanning devices, and recommended an immediate moratorium on using the devices until health risks from the radiation could be studied independently.
Despite the growing concerns and cancer cases among TSA airport body scanner operators, the TSA maintains that the machines are safe. Since the questionable implementation of the airport body scanner machines, the TSA has compared radiation received from the body scanner to the radiation from a chest X-ray. Some scientists note that the TSA comparison is "very misleading" since the radiation produced by airport body scanners is much higher than the official estimate. Dr. David Brenner, head of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research, states that his research revealed that radiation produced by the scanners is twenty times higher than the official estimate. Dr. Brenner's concerns were echoed in February 2010 by the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety who warned that the devices increase the risk of cancer and birth defects and should not be used on pregnant women or children. Other scientists have voiced concern over what happens if the machine's break down.
Controversy over the TSA's use of the body scanning devices is growing, but long before the lawsuits and public outcry began to pile up, the TSA was caught using the body scanning devices elsewhere. Other documents reveal that the TSA tested similar technology at a commuter train station in New Jersey and signed contracts for more scanning in public places. The documents obtained by EPIC shed more light on the growing controversy and reveal that the TSA officers and the public have, again, been deliberately misled by the TSA and the DHS, which raises a lot more questions than answers, leading some to contend (PDF) that it's time to recalibrate the nation's approach to homeland security.
Docs Indicate DHS Misled the Public on Dangers Posed by Airport Body Scanners
Concern over the use of airport body scanners and the potential health effects to travelers is also rising. Scientists have argued that the concentration of radiation on the skin of individuals being scanned poses a serious cancer risk that has been largely dismissed. Complicating the obvious radiation problems for travelers is the fact that many of the devices can also reveal quite a bit about your health history. In addition to showing everything on the surface of the skin, the scanners see everything under the skin and close to the skin such as piercings, catheters, colostomy bags, breast implants and prosthetic testicles -- items most people want to keep private and out of the prying eyes of public and government officials.
The documents obtained by EPIC's FOIA reportedly concern radiation risks from scanners include agency emails, internal government documents, radiation studies, memoranda of agreement concerning radiation testing programs and the results of some radiation tests. Newly released internal government documents reveal that the TSA, specifically Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), deliberately mislead the public on the dangers posed by airport body scanning devices and falsely mischaracterized safety aspects of the devices. The head of the DHS erroneously cited findings from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) -- which never actually tested the devices -- and the John Hopkins School of Medicine to claim the devices were safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also claimed the devices were safe and quickly approved the devices for use on millions of U.S. travelers.
One document (PDF) shows that the NIST did not affirm the safety of those devices. The NIST warned that TSA screeners should avoid standing next to full body scanners to avoid exposure to harmful radiation. Other documents (PDF) show that a John Hopkins study actually revealed radiation zones around full body scanners could exceed the "General Public Dose Limit.” John Hopkins did not affirm the safety of those devices either.
The TSA, which has deployed at least 500 body scanners to at least 78 airports, is allegedly re-analyzing the radiation levels, and said three months ago that the machines meet all safety standards and would remain in operation despite its "calculation error" in safety studies. TSA workers have voiced concern over the radiation dangers of the airport body scanning devices since last December, claiming they were kept in the dark by the TSA despite multiple requests for more information. Since last December the TSA has refused to release radiation inspection reports to its employees and the public it purportedly protects.