Thursday, December 30, 2010

AOL News: Are TSA Scanners Safe?

As long as I'm already making friends at Dept. of Homeland Security, I'll stick with the TSA stuff for one more post.  An investigation by AOL news shows that the job of maintaining and calibrating the TSA's funky new body scanners belongs to "somebody else," although nobody is really sure who.

According to
The Transportation Security Administration says that when working properly, the backscatter Advance Imaging Technology X-ray scanners emit an infinitesimal, virtually harmless amount of radiation.

The problem is that the TSA offers no proof that anyone is checking to see if the machines are "working properly."

The TSA ticks off a litany of groups that it says are involved with determining and ensuring the safety of the controversial devices, including:

•The Food and Drug Administration
•The U.S. Army Public Health Command
•Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
•The Health Physics Society

However, AOL News has found that those organizations say they have no responsibility for the continuing safety of the alternative to TSA's grope.
Why worry about maintaining the machines?

To assure that the doses are as low as they are billed to be, it is imperative to accurately calibrate the machines and carefully monitor their performance.

A spike in the intensity of the scanning beam, or a slowdown or pause in the timing of that beam's sweep across a traveler's body, could cause significant radiation damage, AOL News was told by a radiologist and two radiological health physicists, who are trained and certified to ensure the safety of those exposed to or working with radioactive material.

The FDA and many state radiation safety offices license, inspect and monitor almost all medical radiation devices everywhere they're used. But even identical X-ray machines used in nonmedical government venues fall outside FDA scrutiny, the agency said last week.

Nevertheless, the TSA maintains that when it comes to the safety of the full-body scanners, "everything is working fine," an agency spokesman told AOL News.
So who does verify the safety of these machines?

"The safety of our scanning systems are routinely and thoroughly tested by the manufacturer, FDA, the U.S. Army, the Health Physics Society, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and others," the spokesman said when asked last month how the TSA knows if the scanning system is safe.

But in interviews with those same safety sentinels, AOL News found that none of the groups was doing any routine testing of operating scanners in airports. Further, they all said they have no responsibility to monitor the safety of those passing through the airport scanners.

For example, the FDA says it doesn't do routine inspections of any nonmedical X-ray unit, including the ones operated by the TSA.

The FDA has not field-tested these scanners and hasn't inspected the manufacturer. It has no legal authority to require owners of these devices -- in this case, TSA -- to provide access for routine testing on these products once they have been sold, FDA press officer said Karen Riley said.
You can read the entire article here.

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