The risk of cancer increases with the use of full-body airport scanners with their emission of ionized radiation, warn experts in the latest issue of Radiology.
Although airport scanners have become a necessity to keep passengers safe, the question now is if they are facing another kind of danger.
The scanner which is known as backscatter X-rays locates objects hidden under the clothing, such as nonmetallic explosives and weapons. But in doing so, it emits a tiny amount of radiation that the passenger is exposed to as he walks though the scanner.
David J. Brenner, PhD, DSc, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center, says that the risk is infinitesimally small. On the other hand for every billion scans done, it amounts to about 100 deaths. He warns that individual lifetime cancer risks could be somewhat higher for children, people who are sensitive to radioactivity and people who spend a lot of time flying, like flight attendants, pilots and frequent fliers.
On the other hand, David A. Schauer, executive director of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, writes that if scanners are used appropriately, only when a security threat exists, then there need not be any undue anxiety about the danger of radiation and the risk of cancer.
Although both the researchers acknowledge the threat of a health risk in the use of this scanner, and both also admit that if used judiciously, the scanner could be safe, both Brenner and Schauer have spoken in favor of an alternative, the millimeter wave scanner, which does not involve ionizing radiation.
And, Brenner remarks, "Whatever the actual radiation risks associated with X-ray backscatter machines, a comparable technology that does not involve X-rays is a preferable alternative."