Are Backscatter X-Ray Scanners Harmful?


A couple of days ago when I explained How Full-Body Scanners Work – and Fail, I didn’t mention any potential health risks because millimeter wave signals are inherently non-ionizing and the power levels associated with the potentially ionizing backscatter X-ray scanners seemed at first glance to be negligibly small. However, the negligibly small risk from the scans turns out to be about the same as the risk of terrorism itself. MSNBC reports:

Peter Rez, a physics professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, did his own calculations and found the exposure to be about one-fiftieth to one-hundredth the amount of a standard chest X-ray. He calculated the risk of getting cancer from a single scan at about 1 in 30 million, “which puts it somewhat less than being killed by being struck by lightning in any one year,” he told me.

While the risk of getting a fatal cancer from the screening is minuscule, it’s about equal to the probability that an airplane will get blown up by a terrorist, he added. “So my view is there is not a case to be made for deploying them to prevent such a low probability event.”

More on the subject from Discover.

And Robert Poole, writing at Reason, has some cogent ideas on how to reform passenger screening and avoid wasting further money on unnecessary scanners.

Previously on ÆtherCzar:

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