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The Best Bomb Detectors for Airports - Why Aren't We Using Them?

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By Dr. Mercola

As you probably know, 486 full-body (aka "naked") scanners are now being used at 78 airports across the United States. Along with the US, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea have also started using the scanners.

According to, the scanners have been wholly rejected in Dubai due to ethical concerns and religious objections, and there are no plans to roll them out in Central or South America either.

A small number of airports in Finland, the UK, the Netherlands, France and Italy are currently evaluating the technology. The UK, however, has banned the use of full-body scanners on children under the age of 18.

Dubbed "naked" scanners because they give a graphic image of your body, including genitalia and other personal effects like sanitary napkins, the devices have raised all sorts of health- and privacy concerns.

I covered a number of them in this previous article, and in this follow-up I'll review a few more.

Naked Scanners May Promote DNA Damage and Skin Cancer

Adding his voice to the growing list of scientists and doctors speaking out about their concerns about these scanners, Dr. Russell Blaylock recently published his own viewpoints on this issue.

"Radiation increases cancer risk by damaging the DNA and various components within the cells," Blaylock writes. "Much of the damage is caused by high concentrations of free radicals generated by the radiation.

Most scientists think that the most damaging radiation types are those that have high penetration, such as gamma-rays, but in fact, some of the most damaging radiation barely penetrates the skin.

One of the main concerns is that most of the energy from the airport scanners is concentrated on the surface of the skin and a few millimeters into the skin. Some very radiation-sensitive tissues are close to the skin — such as the testes, eyes, and circulating blood cells in the skin.

This is why defenders using such analogies as the dose being "1,000-times less than a chest X-ray" and "far less than what passengers are exposed to in-flight" are deceptive. Radiation damage depends on the volume of tissue exposed."

In my previous article on this subject, I too mentioned that your health risk might not be as great as feared, for the very reason that the radiation from the scanner is likely less than the radiation dose that you'd be exposed to during the flight itself.

The caveat, of course, was that this would only be the case if we were indeed given accurate and truthful information about the radiation from these scanners. Well, there may still be too many unanswered questions to determine exactly what, or how high, the risk is…

In a joint memorandum to Dr. John Holdren, the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, dated April 6, 2010, a group of physicians expressed their concerns about the lack of safety data and the potential health risks of these full-body scanners, and asked for an urgent independent review of ALL the available and relevant data.

Co-signers of this letter included:

  • Dr. John Sedat, PhD, Professor Emeritus in Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF with expertise in imaging
  • Dr. Marc Shuman, M.D, an international cancer expert and UCSF Professor
  • Dr. David Agard, PhD, UCSF Professor, x-ray crystallographer and imaging expert
  • Dr. Robert Stroud, PhD, UCSF Professor, x-ray crystallographer and imaging expert

In their letter they cite several "Red Flags."

"The physics of these X-rays is very telling: the X-rays are Compton-Scattering off outer molecule bonding electrons and thus inelastic (likely breaking bonds). Unlike other scanners, these new devices operate at relatively low beam energies (28keV). The majority of their energy is delivered to the skin and the underlying tissue.

Thus, while the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high."

Currently, the general consensus (with regards to what the potential danger might be) among experts in the field appears to be the potential for cellular damage to your skin, or to organs close to the surface of your skin.

The memorandum also specifies certain very-high-risk groups, such as:

  • Babies and small children
  • Pregnant women
  • The elderly
  • Immuno-suppressed individuals
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Other Health Problems May Aggravate Risks

Blaylock also points out that:

"As we grow older, our DNA accumulates a considerable amount of unrepaired damage, and under such circumstances even low doses of radiation can trigger the development of skin cancers, including the deadly melanoma. I would also be concerned about exposing the eyes, since this could increase one's risk of developing cataracts.

About 5 percent of the population has undiagnosed abnormal DNA repair mechanism. When exposed to radiation, this can put them at a cancer risk hundreds of times greater than normal people.

It also has been determined that when skin is next to certain metals, such as gold, the radiation dose is magnified 100-fold higher. What if you have a mole next to your gold jewelry? Will the radiation convert it to a melanoma? Deficiencies in certain vitamins can also dramatically increase your sensitivity to radiation carcinogenesis, as can certain prescription medications."

These are important questions to which there are no definitive answers at present.

Differing Technologies Make Matters Even More Complex…

Complicating matters even further is the fact that not all full-body scanners employ the same type of radiation technology.

According to a recent article by USA Today, nearly half of the full-body scanners deployed so far use an electromagnetic wave technology called "millimeter wave," as opposed to the ionizing radiation known as "backscatter x-ray." At the time of this writing, it appears as though the majority of health concerns are related to the backscatter technology.

Still, 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.

As 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."

Yes, 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?

The fact of the matter is:

  1. We still have a lot to learn about the health impact of different technologies
  2. Any time you use technology,  malfunctions can occur, and
  3. X-ray machines are only as accurate as the people maintaining them

Another example that addresses all three of these factors comes from USA Today. It appears as though baggage x-ray machines—just like CT scans—can emit far more radiation than they're "supposed to."

The USA Today explains:

 "When investigators with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) workplace safety team visited a dozen airports in 2003 and 2004, what they found was disturbing — at least to federal airport workers.

Although most radiation levels around baggage X-ray machines were low, six of 281 machines used to screen checked luggage violated federal radiation standards, some emitting two or three times the allowed limit, the CDC found.

… Because TSA workers at airports in Boston and San Juan were troubled by what they saw as possible cancer clusters among colleagues, the TSA this year requested health hazard evaluations of their work areas to address radiation concerns, CDC records show.

The CDC found nothing unusual about the number of cancer cases and determined they were likely unrelated to airport X-ray machines, the reports say."

So far, the TSA has refused to release inspection reports for the baggage x-ray machines and the full-body scanners, stating simply that "they all passed inspection." This despite the fact that the CDC's investigation revealed the agency had clearly failed to identify and correct a number of faulty machines.

Still, we're supposed to trust that the TSA will ensure the proper maintenance and function of all full-body scanners as well…

"Peter Rez, a physics professor at Arizona State University, worries about the possibility of higher doses or even radiation burns if a machine malfunctions and the scanning beam stops on one part of the body," the USA Today reports.

"Rez, who has reviewed a patent application for the backscatter system, notes that the scanner has a fail-safe system that is supposed to shut down the X-ray beam if there's a problem."But we all learned this summer that fail-safe systems do fail," Rez said, referring to the mechanical failures that resulted in the massive Gulf oil spill."

Full-Body Scanners NOT Designed to Detect Powdered Explosives?

Can that be right?

I've not been able to independently verify this, but according to, research shows these scanners cannot detect the type of powdered explosives used by the so-called "underwear bomber," whose bizarre stunt is what prompted the widespread use of these scanners in the first place. If that's correct, then that raises even further questions.

Why insist on an invasive peep show if the machine cannot pick up the very thing they're looking for? Namely explosives!  

What's Next?

Another question that remains to be answered is whether or not we'll end up getting radiated in places other than the airport.

According to an article posted on, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, has "introduced legislation that would authorize testing of body scanners at some federal buildings."

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has also stated that they're thinking about ways to strengthen security for other popular modes of transportation, such as buses, trains and boats. She did not mention the use of body scanners, but if scanners are implemented in federal buildings, then what's to stop them from being implemented elsewhere?

The answer is probably "nothing," which makes fighting back against their use in airports all the more important.

Who Stands to Gain Financially from Full-Body Scanners?

As in so many other instances, our legal and civil rights system is 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 the primary promoter of full-body scanners, and is a paid consultant for the companies that sell them!

As Dr. Orient said in her AAPS article:

"… if your doctor had an ownership interest in the scanner, he might go to federal prison for referring you for a scan. These anti-kickback laws, however, do not apply to the influential government cronies who stand to make a fortune from the scanners."

It's just the latest in a very long line of blatant conflicts of interest and corporate agendas that have, and continue to, erode our personal freedoms in the name of "security."