Analysis affirms safety of full-body scanners

    A new analysis of radiation emitted by the full-body scanners installed at Philadelphia International Airport and around the country affirms their safety, calling the radiation they emit “trivial.”

    Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, radiology professor at the University of California San Francisco, used models to predict the increased cancer risk for frequent travelers who go through the scanners. Even for very high risk groups, such as 5-year-old girls who traveled every week, the increased cancer risks based on the models were small.

    “Even in such a group of high-volume travelers, who are potentially at higher risk, it would take 2 million girls traveling every single weekend to result in a single extra cancer over the course of their lifetime,” Smith-Bindman said.

    According to Smith-Bindman, 250,000 cases of breast cancer would normally occur in that population. The doctor said she used to avoid scanners when possible before her analysis, just to be safe. No longer.

    “What these calculations helped me to see is that the risk of these scanners is really trivial and really shouldn’t be on our list of things to be concerned about,” Smith-Bindman said.

    Still, not everyone is convinced. Gregg Overman, with the Allied Pilots Association, the American Airlines pilots union, said his group still recommends its members to opt for pat-downs rather than scanners, citing concerns about the cumulative effects of radiation exposure.

    “We question whether that very minimal status (of radiation) will always be the case,” Overman said. “All it takes is one good malfunction.”

    Overman said the union is working with the Transportation Security Administration on scanner-bypass procedures for pilots. The TSA maintains the safety of full-body scanners.

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