February 27, 2012 The results of a new report on the safety of airport body scanners by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General will be revealed on Tuesday, Propublica is reporting.
If you were hoping a new report would reveal new answers about the health concerns of the backscatter rays emitted from the technology, the subject of a heated debate between the TSA and a growing number of radiation experts and scientists including several from The National Academy of Sciences, you would be disappointed.
On January 31, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and four other Senators introduced legislation in Congress to require a new independent health study of the full body X-ray scanners deployed at U.S. airports across the country since 2009. The proposed bill also calls for large signs at security checks warning about the possible health risks and a reminder to travelers that they may opt for a pat-down instead.
The bi-partisan legislation was introduced after news that TSA Chief John Pistole, who under pressure agreed to an independent study during testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, in which Collins is a ranking member on November 2, renigned a week later.
A defiant Department of Homeland Security and the TSA have ignored warnings by experts and scientific studies since the full body scanners debuted, maintaining that the low levels of radiation emitted are perfectly safe, with no scientific evidence on which to base the claim.
On November 9, Pistole explained during his testimony before the Senate transportation committee that since independent studies had already demonstrated that the machines emit a “minute” amount of radiation and a draft of a new report by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security validated earlier conclusions that the machines are not harmful, there is no need for a new study.
Senator Collins first questioned radiation levels in March, 2011 after TSA posted test results on the agency’s website. In a statement, Collins called the results of TSA tests “completely unacceptable.” The tests revealed calculation errors, missing data, and anomalies in the radiation emitted from certain passenger and luggage screening equipment.
The report (PDF) dated February 14, cites questionable results displayed on TSA website from 2010 and 2011.
The new IG report notes that unlike traditional x-ray machines like you see at medical facilities which x-ray through the object, the general backscatter technology reflects off the object and therefore exposes individuals to a negligible dose of ionizing radiation.
However, dozens of radiologists and scientists say that decades of research has not established any dose of radiation as safe.
The IG report stopped short of calling TSO’s incompetent to operate backscatter units, However, the report states that:
“additional OIT requirements could provide
better assurance that TSOs receive training that fully prepares them to operate backscatter units independently.”
Field Inspectors, as in previous reports found inconsistencies in how the machines are calibrated to ensure radiation safety and image quality.