Forget nudity, radiation may be reason to opt-out of body scanners

By Alison Hawkes

On one of the biggest travel days of the year, a campaign has been launched urging people to opt-out of the body scan machines at the airport. National Opt-Out Day, set for tomorrow (Wednesday), is about not letting TSA officials see your junk, a last-straw move by airline passengers fed up with the ever increasing indignities associated with getting on a plane.

The problems associated with airport body scanners seem to strike people differently. Nudity may not be as much a concern for San Franciscans. After all we regularly see each other in the buff at such events as the Folsom Street Festival or Bay to Breakers, or even on a casual stroll down Baker Beach. Rather, passengers from our fair city passing through SFO or OAK might be worried about the lesser covered concern of radiation.

The TSA has been telling everyone there’s nothing to worry about on the x-ray front, that the amount of zapping you get in a body scanner is the equivalent of two minutes of flight time. To hear the federal government tell it, safety concerns over the body scanners is minor compared to the threat of terrorism.

I took a look at some of the dangers. Sounds like there’s some evidence that the government’s estimates on radiation exposure may be a bit off. Its estimates are based on radiation exposure across the entire body, but the scanners concentrate at skin level. That means on a localized spot — namely your skin — the radiation exposure may be on the order of 20 times higher.

Also some people seem to have lesser ability to repair themselves from radiation exposure and they amount to about one person in 20. You never know whether that person is you.

What I really don’t get is why the TSA is even using the x-ray machines when it has a perfectly sound alternative that it’s also deploying — millimeter-wave machines that make use of radio waves. NPR does a nice summary of the TSA’s rationale, which is essentially that the agency wants to use more than one vendor (producing more than one kind of machine) for competitive pricing reasons. Really? People are being exposed to unnecessary radiation because of government purchasing concerns?

Well, happy trails this Thanksgiving. You can always opt-out — at least for now.


One Response to Forget nudity, radiation may be reason to opt-out of body scanners

  1. libhomo on 11/24/2010 at 3:03 am

    The scanners pose a huge health risk.

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