While we were abroad – after passing through five different security checks – it struck me that I wasn’t seeing the familiar scanners ever so prevalent in American airports. And it seems with good reason.
The European Union that month had officially prohibited their use, leaving the United States and only a handful of other countries continuing to employ such technologies.
The Commission’s decision was reached as they felt even the chance that a small number of passengers could contract cancer as a result of their use, violated their mandate to not jeopardize the health and safety of travellers passing through their airports.
Unfortunately given the Transportation Security Administration’s decision to install approximately another 1000 by 2014 in addition to the 250 x-ray scanners already in use, we’ll continue to see them in use.
Frightening when you consider that as far back as 1998 radiation safety experts convened by the Food and Drug Administration raised questions about the machine because of a long standing convention that humans shouldn’t be x-rayed unless there’s a medical reason for it.
A practice that had grown from the 1950s when shoe stores employed x-ray machines called fluoroscopes to check whether a shoe was the right fit. But after cases of leg amputations and clerks developing dermatitis in their hands from helping adjust shoes, the general practice of limiting x-rays for medical purposes as a result arose.
But because the machines aren’t designated as medical devises, the decision to employ the scanners ultimately lay with the TSA, whose primary focus is counterterrorism security, and not the FDA, who oversees the safety of medical and health related products.
Ironically however there’s an FDA safety regulation in place for the x-ray machines in use for scanning baggage, but not for the travellers being scanned.
You can watch the below PBS Newshour story on x-ray scanners for more information.
Watch For Frequent Fliers, How Big a Concern Is Backscatter Body Scan Radiation? on PBS. See more from PBS NEWSHOUR.