TSA Tests: Radiation From Scanners At Acceptable Levels

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imageRadiation emitted by full-body scanners installed at airports is within acceptable levels, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said on Tuesday. The agency performed new tests on the scanners as a follow-up to checks conducted earlier this year. Such checks showed several anomalies, including missing data or calculation errors unrelated to safety. The agency subsequently ordered new tests of the scanners, as well as of other x-ray equipment that is presently used to screen baggage and had problematic reports.

About 486 full-body scanners can currently be found in 78 U.S. airports in the U.S. Of these, 247 are so-called “backscatter machines” manufactured by Rapiscan Systems, a Torrance, California-based unit of OSI Systems Inc. The latter units, which expose individuals to approximately 0.0025 millirem of radiation and have raised health concerns about excessive radiation exposure, have been deployed at airports primarily to thwart attacks on the U.S. aviation system given its status as a prime target of al Qaeda militants. The full-body scanners have also evoked protests from some travelers who were upset because the units produce revealing body images.

“The latest reports confirm previous testing and show that every backscatter unit currently used for passenger screening in U.S. airports is operating well within applicable national safety standards," says TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball.

TSA claims the “backscatter machines” cannot produce more than 0.005 millirem of radiation per scan. In comparison, the agency says, a chest x-ray exposes patients to 10 millirem of radiation, and the maximum recommended exposure to radiation from man-made sources is 100 millirem per year. The agency has stepped up its deployment of full-body scanners and other machines to detect explosives after a Nigerian man unsuccessfully attempted to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam as it approached Detroit on December 25, 2009.