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Are TSA X-rays Dangerous?

When it comes to the scan and the pat down, you should know that there are 244 full-body "backscatter" X-ray scanners in use at 36 airports in the United States. Other airports use millimeter wave scanners, which do not use radiation, or metal detectors.

Pregnant women are especially nervous about going through these scanners. In the August 7th edition of the New York Times, Roni Caryn Rabin quotes Yolanda Marin-Czachor as saying, "I had two miscarriages before this pregnancy, and one of the first things my doctor said was: 'Do not go through one of those machines. There have not been any long-term studies. I would prefer you stay away from it.'"

Most experts say that as long as the X-ray backscatter machines are functioning properly, they expose passengers to only extremely low doses of radiation (but that's what they're GOING to say, isn't it).

But some experts are question the safety of using X-ray machines on such a large scale. A recent study estimated that one billion X-ray backscatter scans per year would lead to as many as 100 radiation-induced cancers in the future. That's a small number, if you consider the number of people who fly every year, but it's not small if it happens to YOU. The European Union has banned body scanners that use radiation.

Biochemist John Sedat thinks the dose of radiation that fliers receive could be a much as 45 times as high as TSA estimates, or about 10% a single chest X-ray. These days, even your dentist doesn't take as may X-rays as he used to.

For security reasons, much about how the TSA machines work has been kept secret. The TSA claims that the full-body scanners have been assessed by the FDA, the US Army Public Health Command and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. But some of the published reports about them have been heavily redacted, with the authors' names removed.

But the biggest risk may be to TSA employees and other people who work in the airport terminals and have to go through security every day to get to their jobs.

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