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No radiation danger from airport body scanners

February 24, 2010 |  6:00 am

There are two kinds of exposures to think about with regard to airport body scanners that are increasingly used to screen passengers. One is exposure to radiation. They other is just, well, exposure.

According to an editorial published Wednesday, consumers need not worry about the radiation dose from an airport scanner. The machines produce so little low intensity x-ray radiation that a person would have to undergo 1,000 to 2,000 screens to receive radiation similar to one chest x-ray.

The machines even appear safe for children and pregnant women, says the author of the piece, Dr. Mahadevappa Mahesh, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. However, operators of the equipment should receive safety training to make sure they avoid inadvertent exposure.

The privacy issue is a bigger concern, Mahesh said. Scanning has  been called "a virtual strip search." But, he said, privacy concerns should be alleviated by having viewing stations at remote locations and ensuring the system cannot save images.

The machines may one day become mandatory, so it's time to start thinking about their repercussions, Mahesh said. "When considered in the context of a potential increase in security, the benefits outweigh the potential for harm," he wrote.

The editorial is published online in the British Medical Journal.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: A combination of images shows a security guard demonstrating a body scanner at London's Heathrow airport and a computer screen showing a scan of a security guard with a gun in his possession. Credit: Stringer / AFP / Getty Images