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Medical report says airport scanners pose no significant health threat

March 29, 2011 | 12:01 pm

Scannerlatlax The radiation doses emitted by the most common airport scanners are extremely small and pose no significant health risk, according to a new report by a doctor at UC San Francisco.

Still, Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a doctor at the university's radiology and biomedical imaging department, recommends more independent testing of the scanners to ensure they are operating as designed.

The report published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, comes in response to opposition from privacy groups and others to the use of full-body scanners that rely on low levels of radiation to create what looks like a nude image of a screened passenger to spot weapons or contraband hidden under clothes.

The federal Transportation Security Administration has installed more than 500 scanners at 78 airports. Just over half of the units use x-ray radiation, while the rest use radio waves to create the images.

But the report concludes that passengers who pass through the full-body scanners are exposed to "an amount of radiation equivalent to 3 to 9 minutes of the radiation received through normal daily living. Furthermore, since flying itself increases exposure to ionizing radiation, the scan will contribute less than 1% of the dose a flier will receive from exposure to cosmic rays at elevated altitudes."

The report also calculated the potential cancer risk to all fliers, frequent fliers and 5-year-old girls, who are more sensitive to the effects of radiation. Still the report concluded that "passengers should not fear going through the scans for health reasons, as the risks are truly trivial."

-- Hugo Martin

Photo: A TSA official demonstrates the X-ray scanner at Los Angeles International Airport. Credit: Los Angeles Times