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FDA says health risks from airport scanners are 'minuscule'

November 12, 2010 | 12:38 pm

Bodyscanner@lax Responding to concerns over the health risks of airport scanners, the Food and Drug Administration issued a letter Friday calling the potential health risks "minuscule."

The letter by the FDA came in response to concerns raised in April by a group of doctors and professors from UC San Francisco. The doctors and professors said they feared the scanners used at airport security checkpoints may expose the skin of passengers to excessive doses of radiation that could increase the risk of cancer and other health problems.

The Transportation Security Administration has deployed 385 full-body image scanners at 68 airports across the country. The units expose the passengers to low levels of radiation to create what resembles a nude image of the passenger to uncover any weapons or contraband hidden under the clothing.

Of the 385 image scanners, 211 units, built by Torrance-based Rapiscan, use X-rays to create the image. The other 174 scanners,  built by L3 Communications of New York, use millimeter wave radiation to create such an image.

The FDA letter addresses only the concerns raised about the potential health impacts of X-ray radiation on the skin of scanned passengers.

In the letter to John P. Holden, President Obama's science and technology advisor, John L. McCrohan, deputy director for technical and radiological initiatives at the FDA, said the "concern that the dose to the skin may be dangerously high is not supported."

The letter also says that the X-ray scanners have been tested extensively by government and independent experts.

"As a result of these evidence-based, responsible actions, we are confident that full-body X-ray security products and practices do not pose a significant risk to the public health," according to the letter.

-- Hugo Martin

Photo: A TSA official demonstrates the use of a full-body image scanner at Los Angeles International Airport. Credit: Los Angeles Times