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X-Ray Full-Body Scanners for Airport Security


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To improve airport security in the
light of terrorist threats new full-body
scanners have been developed to
complement existing metal detectors
and hand searches.
Scanner types that do not use X-rays
– “millimeter wave scanners” –
are already allowed in the EU and
deployed in some airports. Other
types of scanners already used in the
USA expose passengers to low levels
of X-rays. They are not yet authorised
in the EU because of concern about
potential health risks. How safe
are such X-ray security scanners for
passengers, in particular for frequent

Published in: Health & Medicine
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X-Ray Full-Body Scanners for Airport Security

  1. 1. X-Ray Full-Body Scanners for Airport SecurityTo improve airport security in the 1 OW MUCH RADIATION ARE H the tolerable limit. In practice, mostlight of terrorist threats new full-body PEOPLE EXPOSED TO IN X-RAY passengers would not be exposed soscanners have been developed to SCANNERS? frequently to these scanners. This maycomplement existing metal detectors however be a concern for airline crewand hand searches. When exposed to X-rays our body or people who fly very frequently. absorbs energy, the amount of energyScanner types that do not use X-rays effectively absorbed over time is 1 OES EXPOSURE TO X-RAYS FROM D– “millimeter wave scanners” – expressed in “sievert” (Sv). Over the SCANNERS PRESENT HEALTH RISKS?are already allowed in the EU and course of one year, a person should notdeployed in some airports. Other be exposed to more than a total of 1 Exposure to high levels of X-raystypes of scanners already used in the millisievert from man-made sources can increase the risk of cancer andUSA expose passengers to low levels such as medical diagnostic devices or cardiovascular diseases, lead toof X-rays. They are not yet authorised security scanners. This is the maximum cloudiness of the lens of the eye andin the EU because of concern about acceptable limit set for the general hereditary effects.potential health risks. How safe public and is roughly equivalent to the However, there is no evidence that theare such X-ray security scanners for amount of natural radiation we are low radiation doses received from full-passengers, in particular for frequent also exposed to. body scanners would induce any healthflyers? Transmission scanners that see into the problems. Nonetheless, each exposure1 OW DO THOSE FULL-BODY H body use higher energy X-rays than adds to the overall radiation dose we SCANNERS WORK? Backscatter scanner that only view the receive in the course of our life and in surface and as a result the dose absorbed the long term, the risk of developingWhole body scanners provide a picture is 10 times greater. A single scan is cancer increases with radiation dose.of the person’s body through the roughly the equivalent of one hour of While no dose can be consideredclothes to reveal hidden objects. Four background radiation at ground level, completely safe, it is likely that thetechnologies are currently on the or 10 minutes at cruising altitude in an increased cancer risk from exposure tomarket: airplane. In the worst case scenario, of a radiation from security scanners is soMillimeter-wave scanners, that don’t person being scanned three times a day low that it cannot be distinguished fromuse X-rays: every working day throughout the year, the effects of natural radiation or the1. assive scanners detect the very low P a backscatter scanner would contribute background risk due to other factors. levels of natural radiation emanating 0,3 millisievert to their annual dose. A Direct evidence of an increased cancer from the body surface. transmission scanner, however, would risk has only been found for cumulative2. ctive scanners emit radio waves A contribute 3 millisievert and exceed doses higher than 100 millisievert. that are reflected back by the body surface.X-ray scanners: 1 S THE USE OF FULL-BODY X-RAY SCANNERS JUSTIFIED ? I3. ackscatter scanners emit low energy B X-rays that are reflected back by the To decide whether or not the use health risks. So, whether or not X-ray body surface. of X-ray scanners is acceptable, it is scanners are acceptable for passenger4. Transmission scanners send higher necessary to weigh the benefits and screening is ultimately not a scientific, energy X-rays through the body in risks but this is not straightforward. The but a political decision that needs to the same way as a traditional medical main benefit is improved flight safety take into account various factors. X-ray machine and can reveal objects but there are economic costs and low inside the body. This fact sheet is based on the scientific opinion “Health effects of security The detailed and nuanced view of the European Scientific Committee scanners for passenger screening (based on X-ray technology)” adopted on Consumer Safety on this issue is available at: on 26 April 2012 by the independent European Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risk. emerging/docs/scenihr_o_036.pdf SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEES