TSA workers are blaming body scanners for cancer; D.C. public interest group calls for independent reviews

Workers for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from locations around the country are reporting higher-than-usual rates of cancer, strokes and heart disease amongst employees who work on or near new full-body scanners.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. recently obtained information under the Freedom of Information Act that shows TSA employees at Boston’s Logan International Airport reported a suspected “cancer cluster” to their supervisors, only to have the higher-ups downplay the problem and refuse their request for dosimeters, badges that monitor radiation exposure and are routinely used in other industries where workers come in contact with X-rays and other potentially harmful forms of radiation, states Seattle Weekly.

EPIC has filed a lawsuit to suspend the deployment of body scanners at US airports, pending an independent review.

TSA’s official statement is that they have “implemented stringent safety protocols to ensure that technology used at airports to screen people and property is safe for all passengers, as well as the TSA workforce.”

Still, existing studies cannot confirm or deny that the full body scanners are safe. Are frequent travelers also at risk?

“We’ve said to TSA, ‘If there’s all this info that you have that can show people than they’re not at risk, that the levels are that low, why not share that information?’ It has given employees the idea that if they’re not given the information, there must be something to hide,” said Milly Rodriguez, an occupational health and safety specialist for the American Federation of Government Employees.

Reports from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology–both of which were “publicly characterized” by TSA, according to EPIC–found that the radiation from the scanners could exceed the “general public dose limit.”

Still, proving a direct correlation between radiation emitted from the scanners and cancer or disease in any working population is difficult.

“[Cancer clusters] are very difficult to show,” Rodriguez told Seattle Weekly yesterday. “There are so many things that can cause cancer in a group of workers. They live in same community, so it could be something there. They’re all in similar age groups. It’s just so difficult to isolate the cause.”

[Image via Flickr user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com]