By Dr. Mercola
On November 14, 2011 the European Commission banned X-ray body scanners that use "backscatter" technology from airports.
The scanners, which are still in use in the United States, project X-ray beams onto your body using ionizing radiation to create a detailed reflection of your body that is displayed on a monitor viewed by a remotely located officer.
Ionizing radiation causes DNA damage that can lead to cancer, and its effects are cumulative.
This means that every time you pass through an X-ray scanner, your risk of developing cancer, and other unintended adverse effects, increases.
Ever since the machines were introduced, concerns over both privacy and public health have been voiced, which is why the European Commission's decision to take a proactive stance by using alternative scanners to protect their citizens' health is likely to bring the issue front and center once again.
Why Did Europe Ban X-Ray Body Scanners?
The European Commission did not give specifics, only noting:
"In order not to risk jeopardising citizens' health and safety, only security scanners which do not use X-ray technology are added to the list of authorised methods for passenger screening at EU airports."
Most likely, they decided that exposing millions of travelers to radiation for a non-medical reason is simply too big a risk to take, not to mention taboo in much of the world.
While the radiation levels used are reportedly very low, there is concern that the type of radiation used, namely, backscatter radiation, is uniquely toxic to the human body.
Screening at an airport X-ray scanner reportedly produces .02 microsieverts of radiation. For comparison, you will be exposed to 20 microsieverts of radiation on a typical transcontinental flight at 30,000 feet.
The problem, however, is that we are comparing apples to oranges, and backscatter radiation – being manmade – may have adverse effects far beyond that of the natural background and cosmic radiation to which it is often compared -- as if to say "it's harmless," which it is not.
There is also the problem that this calculation of radiation risk is based on the reported radiation levels. If we are being lied to then many will be exposing themselves to a health risk they might otherwise reconsider … and there are indications that there might be sound reason to question the reported radiation levels.
Are We Being Lied to About the Scanners' Radiation Levels?
A letter written by five professors revealed that there has not actually been any verifiable scientific testing of the safety of airport scanners -- and that the levels of radiation being used are likely much higher than the public has been led to believe.
These scientists believe that the high-quality images produced cannot possibly be obtained with the low levels of radiation described, and that the actual level may be 45 times higher than what the manufacturer is claiming.
The supposed "testing" of the Rapiscan Secure 1000, the most widely deployed X-ray scanner, was actually performed on a mock-up of spare parts "said to be similar to those that are parts of the Rapiscan system." In addition, none of these tests have ever been peer reviewed -- the data and even the names of the researchers who carried out the tests have been kept secret from the public.
Furthermore, as in so many other instances, our legal and civil rights are being willfully manipulated and trampled for the sake of private and corporate profits.
In this case, the former Homeland Security chief and co-author of the PATRIOT Act, Michael Chertoff, is now one of the primary promoters of full-body scanners, and is a paid consultant for the companies that sell them!
This is an issue that is still being unraveled, so it makes complete sense to use the precautionary approach. After all, we know there is no safe dose of X-ray radiation, and that every time you walk through an airport scanner, you're adding to your body's lifetime radiation load – a genetic time bomb that can detonate in the form of cancer, and other serious diseases, once the burden becomes too high. .
Radiation Technologies Can Malfunction
Even if we're not being lied to, common sense would dictate that we need to proceed with caution and not expose millions of travelers of all ages, and with any number of medical conditions, to unknown risks -- including risks from human error or technological malfunction.
The New York Times published an article in January 2010 about the alarming rise in radiation-related injuries and deaths. People know very little about the harm that can ensue when safety rules are violated and these powerful and technologically complex machines go awry.
For instance, the difference between a routine CT scan, which also uses ionizing radiation, and a debilitating injury is as simple as a computer error causing you to be blasted with errant beams of radiation, leaving you in unspeakable pain, or worse.
How can we be certain that similar errors will not occur with the X-ray scanners when malfunctions are always a risk of using technology? Furthermore, we must keep in mind that even CT scans were once deemed to have far lower levels of radiation than we know they have today.
As Dr. Russell Blaylock says:
"As for the assurances we have been given by such organization as the American College of Radiology, we must keep in mind that they assured us that the CT scans were safe and that the radiation was equal to one chest X-ray.
Forty years later we learn that the dose is extremely high; it is thought to have caused cancer in a significant number of people, and the dose is actually equal to 1,000 chest X-rays."
Indeed, a 2009 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that .4% of all cancers in the US may be attributable to the radiation from CT studies – confirming how profoundly inaccurate original safety assessments of this technology were, as well as how harmful X-ray-based diagnostic technologies really are.
These errors of the past should indeed serve as cautionary tales when making safety claims for brand new technologies. How many times will a belated "oops!" suffice before we demand the return of the precautionary principle, as is already being followed in Europe?
Radiation from Scanner Beams Concentrates on Your Skin
As summarized by WeWontFly.com, the dosage of radiation from the backscatter X-ray machines is absorbed almost entirely by your skin and the tissue right beneath it. Because of this, the normal way of understanding radiation risk by calculating the absorbed radiation dose across the volume of the entire body vs. the specific organs affected, will not provide an accurate picture of the real world risks involved.
Scientists from The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have echoed these concerns. Because the radiation beam from the scanners concentrates on your skin, researchers believe the dose may be up to 20 times higher than is being estimated. Another potential outcome of such exposure is skin cancer.
Dr. Jane M. Orient, M.D. has also brought up this concern. In an article for The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), she details what the medical community considers to be the REAL health hazard of full-body scanners using low-energy backscatter technology.
Dr. Orient explains:
"They use an ingenious low-energy backscatter technique, which is apparently wonderful for identifying explosives in cargo. Since the radiation doesn't penetrate far, it wouldn't affect an unborn baby. But it does concentrate the dose in the skin.
Some scientists warn that this effect has not been properly studied, and one nuclear medicine expert told me that he is going to opt out of the scan. I think this much is clear: if you had a deadly disease, and the scanner were an FDA-regulated device that might save your life, your doctor wouldn't be allowed to use it, because of inadequate study."
Dr. Russell Blaylock has also published his viewpoints on this issue, warning that skin cancer is a very real health risk of these machines.
How to Identify the Two Types of Body Scanners
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began using advanced imaging technology (AIT) in airports nationwide in 2007. Today, there are about 510 AIT units at more than 90 U.S. airports that use one of two types of imaging technology: millimeter wave and backscatter.
Backscatter technology is the type noted above, which uses X-rays (ionizing radiation). This type of machine looks like two large blue boxes (you can view an image on the TSA's web site). The second type of technology, millimeter wave, uses electromagnetic waves to create a generic image of passengers. The millimeter wave unit looks more like a round booth and is subject to less controversy because it does not use ionizing radiation and therefore does not carry the same health risks.
Once you know what each type of machine looks like, you can opt-out accordingly or instead receive a manual pat-down. At this time, Scientific American reported that major airports like Los Angeles International, Chicago O'Hare and John F. Kennedy in New York (among others) use the backscatter machines, while airports in San Francisco, Atlanta and Dallas use millimeter wave technology.
Personally, as a very frequent air traveler, I ALWAYS opt-out of the x-ray scanner. Even if the radiation dose is minute (and that's a big IF), I'm not willing to risk my health by exposing my entire body to any avoidable dose on a regular basis.
Europe has already taken a strong stance against the use of these scanners, and in the United States if we have enough people objecting to this new technology we can get them to stop using it altogether. It is far too man-power intensive for agents to manually inspect everyone with the enhanced pat down.
In 2010, when massive numbers of people were planning on opting out in protest, they shut all the X-ray scanners off that day and ran people through the older ones. If 10 percent of us choose to opt out regularly, my guess is that they will shut the machines off permanently.
Currently the TSA reports that more than 99 percent of passengers choose to be screened by the x-ray scanners, so please remember you CAN make a difference by opting out.
Tips for Reducing Your Cumulative Radiation Load While Flying
If you're exposed to other forms of radiation through CT scans, mammograms and other medical procedures, your exposure could easily reach dangerous levels, and this is why it makes sense to avoid unnecessary radiation exposures as much as possible.
One way to reduce your radiation exposure by 99 percent while traveling by air is to fly at night. Just as it is impossible to get a suntan at night, you will avoid virtually all of the sun's radiation when you fly after sunset.
That's why I try to fly exclusively at night now, or as far away from noon as practically possible—in addition to opting out of the full-body scanner. I also take 8 mg of astaxanthin every day, which is believed to radically limit damage from ionizing radiation.