Currently, there are 464 new airport scanners in 75 U.S. airports. The new airport scanners are called backscatter scanners or body imaging X-ray machines. The new scanners are causing a bit of a stir with some air travel passengers because they emit ionizing radiation or X-rays. The backscatters send low density X-rays through your clothes but not through your skin. The scanners' low density X-rays help detect hidden items under your clothes.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesman Nick Kimball said the scanners are safe. Kimball noted that unlike medical workers who deal with more potent radiation, TSA employees do not need to wear protective gear while operating the scanners.
The TSA stated that radiation from one scan is about the same as a person would receive from flying for about three minutes in an airplane at 30,000 feet, where atmospheric radiation levels are higher than on the ground. That amount is vastly lower than a single dental X-ray.
Also, the TSA says that the scanners deliver 0.01 millirem (the unit used to measure radiation). 10,000 millirem is considered the danger threshold.
Not everyone likes these machines, including Captain Chesley ʺSullyʺ Sullenberger. Recently, Sullenberger told CNN that he’s concerned about possible risks of radiation from these body scanners, and he also said they are a waste of limited resources.
Dr. Philip Rothbart, a Wilmington, DE physician and attorney, said, ʺIn no case are the backscanners safe for pregnant women or small children who are highly sensitive to ionizing radiation.ʺ Rothbart recommended that all pregnant women and children under 12 undergo the TSA pat-down procedure. Rothbart added, ʺOn its face, it appears safe due to the small doses. But any dose of radiation increases your chances for cancer and leukemias."
In a letter last month to White House science adviser John Holdren, officials from the United States Food and Drug Administration and the TSA wrote, "We are confident that full-body X-ray security products and practices do not pose a significant risk to the public health."