Security body scanners like those used at major airports across the country may pose a significant cancer threat, particularly to people older than 65 and women genetically at risk of breast cancer, some medical experts have warned.
One such expert is Dr. Edward Dauer, head of radiology at Florida Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale who said the scanners’ low-dose radiation penetrates the body just below skin level where it could “imperil the lens of the eye, the thyroid and a woman's breasts,” reported the SunSentinel.
"I think it's potentially a real danger to the public," he said, noting that even a small dose could be risky for people predisposed to cancer. "This is an additional exposure," Dr. Dauer told the newspaper.
The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) uses two types of imaging technology, millimeter wave and backscatter. Currently, there are approximately 540 imaging technology units at more than 100 airports.
The scanners in question use backscatter technology to create an image of a passenger, enabling security officers to see if contraband is hidden beneath clothing. The problem, Dauer said, is the machines emit ionizing radiation.
"Ionizing means it knocks the electrons out of your body, which breaks your DNA chain, which can cause death or cancer," he said.
“Advanced imaging technology is safe and meets the national health and safety standards,” according to the TSA website.
“Backscatter technology was evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).
Its website says the TSA maintains that all results confirmed that the radiation doses for the individuals being screened, operators, and bystanders were “well below the dose limits specified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).”
Despite the TSA’s reassurance, experts like Dauer are not convinced.