TSA Removes X-Ray Body Scanners From Major Airports, But Some Will Remain

For all those who are against having to go through X-ray body scanners at airport security, you’ll be happy to know some are now being removed. During the past few weeks, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been quietly switching them out for safer radiation machines.

While the main goal of the change is to speed up the lines at security checkpoints in major airports, the transition will also lead to less passengers being exposed to radiation.

So far these X-ray machines, called backscatters, have been replaced at Boston Logan International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Chicago O’Hare, Orlando and John F. Kennedy in New York.

One concern people have with the backscatters is the fact that the radiation has been linked to cancer at higher levels. Moreover, the machines produce images of passengers’ naked bodies. The new millimeter-wave scanners help these problems by instead emitting low-energy radio waves similar to those in cellphones, as well as producing generic cartoon images instead of the person’s actual body.Before you get too excited, know the backscatters are not being phased out altogether. They are still being used at certain airports, including some major ones. Additionally, in late September the TSA awarded three companies potential contracts for the next generation of body scanners. One of the systems, made by American Science & Engineering, uses backscatter X-ray technology.

“They’re not all being replaced,” TSA spokesman David Castelveter told ProPublica. “It’s being done strategically. We are replacing some of the older equipment and taking them to smaller airports. That will be done over a period of time.”

The upside to this is research has found the radiation emitted from the body scanners is trivial and nothing to worry it. That being said, many scientists are also arguing that if there is a safer alternative that allows passengers more privacy, the TSA should use it.

“Why would we want to put ourselves in this uncertain situation where potentially we’re going to have some cancer cases?” David Brenner, director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, told ProPublica last year. “It makes me think, really, why don’t we use millimeter waves when we don’t have so much uncertainty?”

Nothing is simple, however. Research has shown the millimeter-wave scanners have a much higher false-alarm rate, 23% to 54% compared to 5% with backscatters. The TSA hopes using both machines in different airports will lead to competition, creating better technologies at a lower cost.

[Image via Carolina K. Smith, M.D. / Shutterstock.com]

[Via Chris Elliott]