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Are TSA Scanners Safe? New Report Draws Attention to the Debate

Updated on September 10, 2012

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) first introduced their full-body X-ray scanners en masse for use in airports in November 2010. Their use immediately sparked debate about their safety. While the TSA has always maintained that they are safe, Europe has banned their use, and scientists continue to assert that continued exposure will increase cancer cases. While the new report does not shed much light on the issue, it has brought the debate back into the spotlight.


What the “New” Report Says?

A new report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General repeats claims that the amount of radiation emitted from airport security scanners are low and within acceptable limits. In supporting their assertions, they claim that passengers would have to have 47 screenings per day for a year to reach doses that would cause harm. However, the report does shows that TSA scanners are not always properly calibrated to ensure appropriate levels of exposure.

What Scientists Say?

Scientists and researchers continue to assert that there is reason to believe that these scanners might cause harm. They are concerned about the lack of substantial testing on the machines, question the actual doses of radiation emitted, and are unconvinced that they are safe. Scientists have called for the TSA to undertake more rigorous testing, but this type of testing has not yet happened.

Why Should You Care?

For the occasional traveller, a few trips to the airport with a walk through the security scanner every now and then may not seem like reason enough to raise alarm bells. But what about a more regular traveller, someone who travels twice a month? What are the implications for that traveller if the calibrations are not accurate or the radiation dosage is different that we are currently led to believe?

And, for some people, like pilots, flight attendants, security personnel, and other people who work in airport terminals, repeated exposure on a daily basis may pose a real threat, especially when exposure to other carcinogens in our daily lives are considered.

There is still much that is unknown about the causes of cancer and other illnesses. Research is slow and difficult to conduct and the implications of multiple exposures of low-level carcinogens over time are not well understood. Isolating what factors cause cancer is tricky, as it is unethical to expose humans to multiple potentially lethal substances to see what happens. The truth is that we may never know exactly how all of our daily exposures may impact our health.

Consumers need to stay educated, and put pressure on the powers that be to prove that scanners are safe. Consumers should refuse to use technologies that may cause harm. Next time I travel, I will Insist on a pat down. Will you?

Scanner or Pat Down Poll

When you travel, will you ask for a pat-down instead of using the security scanner?

See results


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    • LauraGT profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from MA

      Good point Scottye. It is a delicate balance between ensuring safety and stepping over the privacy line. Another huge issue in our society these days!

    • Scottye Davis profile image

      Scottye Davis 

      6 years ago

      Personally I think those scanners and pat downs are invasive and degrading. I realize after 911 security was stepped up because of the scare, but I think they take it way too far and need to let up, more people will fly if they do.

    • LauraGT profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from MA

      Happyboomernurse, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I appreciate the vote!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      6 years ago from South Carolina

      Well written article that raises valid points about TSA scanners.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.


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