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EU Bans X-Ray Body Scanners-What About the U.S.?

+ CV Skinlabs Team

I wrote in an earlier post about the potential radiation exposure from those new full body scanners used in airports. Well, seems I wasn’t the only one concerned! The European Union (EU) has already banned some of these scanners, and one airport in Florida is considering a similar move because of potential health hazards.

Florida Considering a Ban

The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FTL) in Florida may soon no longer have the full body scanners. Broward County, where the airport is located, is considering a measure that would ban the devices.

Mayor John Rodstrom feels the scanners pose potential health risks to flyers. “The Europeans have outlawed them,” he said. “I don’t think they do things lightly, and I want to know if our flying public is safe.”

The Mayor can’t tell the Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) to remove the scanners, but he and other Broward commissioners want to ask the TSA to stop using those that emit radiation. Whether or not they will listen is another matter. So far, the agency is sticking with their belief that the scanners are safe, even though the early results from some studies suggest that the type of scanner used at Broward’s airport has been linked to a small number of cancer cases.

EU Has Already Banned X-Ray Scanners

Mr. Rodstrom began to be concerned after he heard about the EU ban, which occurred on November 14, 2011. The European Commission issued new guidelines for the use of body scanners at European airports, allowing only those that use millimeter wave technology, a type of low-energy radio wave that does not cause radioactive damage and so far has not been linked to cancer. The backscatter X-ray variety used in the U.S. is off limits there now due to safety concerns. The German government, as well, halted the roll out of American body imaging scanners after the Interior Minister said the devices sound too many false alarms.

X-ray body scanners, which use backscatter ionized radiation technology, emit enough radiation to theoretically damage DNA and cause cancer. The studies on the topic are limited so far, but do suggest a possibility of increasing the risk for passengers. According to a PBS NewsHour story on X-ray body scanners, the FDA raised concerns about the technology as far back as 1998. Yet according to business magazine “Forbes,” the TSA plans to deploy over 1,000 backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners by the end of 2012.

My Take Away

What does this mean for those of us having to make the choice between scanners and pat-downs? One thing you can do is ask-is the scanner the backscatter X-ray type, which has been linked to cancer, or the millimeter wave, which has not? (Note: the millimeter wave scanner looks like a round glass booth.) Then it’s up to you to decide what you feel most comfortable with.

As to whether or not the U.S. would ever follow the EU’s lead, right now it looks unlikely. I wasn’t able to find out yet what happened in Florida, and there’s no news of a slow-down of the TSA’s deployment of the scanners across the nation. If you feel strongly about the subject, I would say to write your Congressmen and spread the word. Right now, the X-ray scanner is used at the Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy in New York, and Chicago’s O’Hare, among others, while the millimeter-wave scanner is used in San Franciso, Atlanta, and Dallas, and others.

What do you think about the increase in X-ray scanners in airports? Please add your opinion.


“Local Mayer Wants Ban on Airport Body Scanners,” 7 News WSVN, December 13, 2011.

Brittany Wallman, “Broward Mulls Request to Ban Body Scanners at Airport,” Sun Sentinel December 13, 2011.

Michael Grabell, “U.S. Government Glossed Over Cancer Concerns as it Rolled Out Airport X-Ray Scanners,” PBS NewsHour in conjunction with ProPublica November 1, 2011.

David DiSalvo, “Europe Bans Airport Body Scanners for ‘Health and Safety’ Concerns,” Forbes November 15, 2011.

“The U.S. Airport Full Body Scanners Too Unreliable to Use, Germany Says,” ABC News September 1, 2011.

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