Airport security the world over has been tightened even more than usual due to last December’s terrorist attack attempt. One of the hottest issues in improving security is the use of the so-called full body scan. In the US, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is deploying the scanners at security check points all over the country.
What do the scanners do?
The full body scanner produce images of the body which are anatomically accurate and can therefore detect hidden objects and substances hidden underneath people’s clothes.
What are the possible concerns over the scanners?
- The main objection to the use of the full body scanner is privacy. According to one passenger, a 35-year old woman: “To use these scanners, I would feel rather violated. Just hearing that doesn’t really make me comfortable.”
- The second is the question about its radiation levels. After all, radiation can cause cancer.
How does the scanner work and does it have adverse effects on human health? According to the American College of Radiology (ACR), the TSA has deployed two types of scanning systems, namely:
- Millimeter wave technology uses low-level radio waves in the millimeter wave spectrum. Two rotating antennae cover the passenger from head to toe with low-level RF energy.
- Backscatter technology uses extremely weak X-rays delivering less than 10 microRem of radiation per scan — the radiation equivalent one receives inside an aircraft flying for two minutes at 30,000 feet.
The ACR further reports thewre is currently no evidence indicating that one of the technologies used in the TSA scanners may present significant biological effects on those who are screened. Here are figures given by the ACR:
- One hundred (100) backscatter scans per year is needed to reach what the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement (NCRP) classify as a Negligible Individual Dose.
- Based on these measurements, the ACR estimates that it will take 1,000 such scans in a year to reach the effective dose equal to one standard chest x-ray.
- In fact, an airline passenger is actually exposed to more radiation during the flight than at security checks at the airport.
It is therefore safe to assume there is very little cancer and other health risks involved in the use of full body scanners.
Considering the recent concerns about cancer-causing radiations produced by mobile phones, mammograms, and CT scans, devices which are very useful and are vent meant to save lives, these assurances from the ACR will help passenger as well as security personnel alike.
A poll conducted by the USA Today in early January revealed that 78% of travellers were agreeable to getting a full body scan. 20% were not, and 2% had no opinion.
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