Cellular damage/potential cancer risk? A small price to pay for flight safety

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Published to Health Risks on Oct 02, 2010

In a letter dated April 6th 2010 to President Obama's Science & Technology advisor John P. Holdren, scientists from the University of California have expressed their concern over the use of backscatter X-ray security scanners. Describing what they call an urgent situation, the scientists list a series of 'red flags' that they believe warrant an urgent independent evaluation of this latest airport security measure.

Red Flags

  • The scientists state that the majority of the energy released by the scanners is focused on the skin and underlying tissue leading to concerns that the dose may be dangerously high as it is not distributed evenly throughout the body
  • A comparison, often made in the media, of the scanner X-ray dose to cosmic ray exposure during airplane travel is, according to the scientists, very misleading. They explain this is due to cosmic rays having higher x-ray energies and associated health risks are related to whole body exposure. In contrast the airport scanners deposit their energy largely into the skin, resulting in localised exposure at much higher dosage rates
  • Independent safety data does not seem to exist (something that is inconceivable given the public exposure to radiation through these devices)
  • How is the system regulated to prevent increase in radiation dose should a hardware/software glitch or power spike occur?
  • What oversight exists to prevent scanner manufacturers/operatives from raising the radiation dose to improve image scanning resolution?
  • Travellers aged 65 years and above are at risk of mutagenic effects (increasing the frequency of cellular mutation, a potential risk factor in causing cancer) of X-ray radiation
  • Lack of full evaluation of the effects of radiation exposure to children and adolescents
  • Potential for sperm mutagenesis due to close proximity of the testicles to the skin
  • Risk of cancer induction to immunocompromised individuals such as HIV and cancer patients

And this is the potential price for 'protection' against 'terrorists'?

It's not just airport scanners

Worryingly, there are growing questions about the potential cancer causing effects of CT scans used in medical imaging. A CT Scanner uses several x-ray beams simultaneously from different angles to 'map' the area being scanned.

Researchers are warning that the exposure to CT radiation will cause thousands of extra cancers in the near future. Dr Rebecca Smith Bindman has stated in reference to natural radiation exposure at high altitudes that "a CT scan can be comparable to 500 transcontinental flights." Add to this reports that a series of medical scanners in use in hospitals across the US were improperly calibrated leading patients to receive dangerously high doses of radiation.

When it comes to officially sanctioned radiation exposure can you say Russian roulette?

Sources

Tags: airport, Backscatter, Cancer, mutagenic, scanners, scientists, terrorism, terrorists

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