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Dept of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano in a press conference at the Mobile command center on May 11, 2010. (BP America/Flickr) Dept of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano in a press conference at the Mobile command center on May 11, 2010. (BP America/Flickr)  

TSA screening study leaves health questions unanswered

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Betsi Fores
The Daily Caller News Foundation

Republican Sen. Susan Collins and other lawmakers recently asked the Transportation Security Administration to thoroughly study the health effects of its body scanners. Instead, like a nervous passenger, the agency seems to have “opted out” of that particular request.

Sen. Collins, along with other lawmakers, requested a new report to address the effects of TSA’s ubiquitous full-body scanners on travelers in the United States. The X-ray body scanners use backscatter technology, meaning they emit tiny amounts of radiation to acquire images of travelers, sans clothing. That radiation might increase passengers’ risk of developing cancer.

“This report is not the report I requested,” Collins said in a statement to ProPublica. “An independent study is needed to protect the public and to determine what technology is worthy of taxpayer dollars.”

Instead of issuing a new, independent study, TSA “instead relied on previous radiation tests, most of which have been available on the TSA website,” reports ProPublica.

TSA’s reports, though outdated, did uncover that not all of the agency’s human screeners have passed the required radiation training. This lack of training, the report says, might have led to potentially dangerous inconsistencies in machine calibration. Within their first years of usage, the machines on average needed service several times per month.

“TSA has glossed over the scientific nuance in declaring the machines safe,” ProPublica wrote in an earlier story. The U.S. is the only country that deploys X-ray machines to screen passengers.

Even the Food and Drug Administration “went against its own advisory panel in allowing the machines to fall under voluntary standards,” ProPublica noted.

TSA, for its part, maintains that its research stands on its own.

“We believe the report fully endorses TSA’s extensive efforts to keep the traveling public safe,” said TSA administrator John Pistole. “As a result of intense research, analysis and testing, TSA concludes that potential health risks from a full-body screening with a general-use X-ray security system are minuscule.”

According to TSA’s website, there are currently more than 600 scanners in use at approximately 140 airports. Tens of millions of travelers are screened with the X-ray machines each year, and questions of the effects of the tiny amount of radiation omission remain unanswered.

The website also adds that, according to a CBS poll, four in five Americans support TSA’s use of the advanced image screening.

Collins and other lawmakers are moving to pass a bill requiring TSA to post a sign above every X-ray machine explaining the potential harmful effects from radiation, such as the machine’s known connection with cancer.  Collins also hopes to commission an independent laboratory to determine the health effects of the machines.

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