Lawmaker to introduce legislation to require independent radiation tests of X-ray scanners
January 31, 2012
The ranking Republican Senator on the Homeland Security Committee is poised to introduce legislation this week that would force the TSA to have independent tests carried out on the Backscatter radiation body scanners currently in use in hundreds of airports nationwide.
“Our bill would require the independent study on the possible health effects of the x-ray radiation emitted by some of the scanning machines and give airline passengers, especially those passengers in sensitive groups, such as pregnant women, clear notice of their ability to choose another screening option in lieu of exposure to ionizing radiation,” Senator Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) told The Register in an email.
Propublica reports that Collins’ bill would make it a requirement for the TSA to find an independent laboratory to thoroughly test the levels of radiation being emitted by the scanners and evaluate the potential health risks.
“The peer-reviewed study, to be submitted to Congress, would also evaluate the safety mechanisms on the machine and determine whether there are any biological signs of cellular damage caused by the scans.” the report states.
A draft of the bill requires the DHS’s Under Secretary for Science and Technology to identify and contract with an independent testing lab “in consultation with the National Science Foundation, from among laboratories with expertise in the conduct of similar studies.”
“I have urged TSA to move toward only radiation-free screening technology,” Collins said in a statement to ProPublica. “In the meantime, an independent study is needed to protect the public and to determine what technology is worthy of taxpayer dollars.”
Back In November, TSA head John Pistole reneged on a promise to the Senate to instigate further studies into the safety of radiation firing body scanners. Pistole had promised to commission further independent research into the safety risks associated with full body scanners, following a Europe wide ban on the machines. However, within two weeks the TSA head had backtracked, saying further study was unnecessary at this time.
Furthermore, despite numerous reports earlier this month suggesting that the TSA had agreed to buy equipment to test employees for radiation exposure, the agency itself later announced it has no intention of doing so.
The LA Times reported that the agency was planning to equip its security officers with individual radiation dosimeters, to test the levels of radiation they were being exposed to from backscatter x-ray body scanners.
However, a post from the TSA’s official blog said that the Times report “missed the mark” and that there was no need for further testing.
Despite these claims, documents obtained by The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) show how the TSA “publicly mischaracterized” the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in stating that NIST had positively confirmed the safety of full body scanners in tests.
Numerous other studies conducted by prestigious universities and health authorities, including Johns Hopkins, Columbia University, the University of California, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety, have warned that the devices will lead to an increase in cancers.
Despite the fact that almost every independent study has concluded that the machines will cause cancer cases to increase, the TSA routinely denies the threat, and has even claimed that the Johns Hopkins study validated the safety of the scanners, when in fact it said the opposite.
Johns Hopkins’ biophysics expert Dr Michael Love warned that, “statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays,” after conducting a study of the naked body scanners.
Scrutiny over radiation exposure was heightened recently following apparent efforts by the TSA to cover-up a “cluster” of cancer cases amongst scanner operators at Boston-Logan airport. According to FOIA documents obtained by the EPIC, when Union representatives in Boston discovered a “cancer cluster” amongst TSA workers linked with radiation from the body scanners, the TSA sought to downplay the matter and refused to issue employees with dosimeters to measure levels of exposure.
The documents indicated how, “A large number of workers have been falling victim to cancer, strokes and heart disease.”
As we reported earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security is also set to expand the use of X-ray scanning machines at US border crossings, despite the availability of millimeter-wave machines that do the same job without emitting harmful radiation.