I had schadenfreude for a second. Then I realized that the ones who should have the cancer are the fools who started this mess, not the hired goons who eat their salt and carry out the plans.  But still — told you so. Told you so more than once.

The documents raise new questions concerning the radiation risks posed by the TSA full body scanner program. The records demonstrate:

  • TSA employees have identified cancer clusters allegedly linked to radiation exposure while operating body scanners and other screening technology. However, the agency failed to issue employees dosimeters – safety devices that would warn of radiation exposure.
  • The DHS has publicly mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, stating that NIST “affirmed the safety” of full body scanners. NIST stated that the Institute did not, in fact, test full body scanners for safety, and that the Institute does not do product testing.
  • A Johns Hopkins University study revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit.”
  • A NIST study warns airport screeners to avoid standing next to full body scanners.

In other words, pretty much everything I suspected.

As far as the cancer clusters go, based on the dates, it’s unlikely to be the new pornoscanners.  It is more likely that they had a malfunctioning luggage scanner, and it’s killing everyone who was near it for more than a few hours.  What they have been hiding is that they were warned not to let employees stand around this thing, and avoided giving them the safety equipment that would show if something was malfunctioning and putting them in danger.

But even if it was one of the luggage scanners — a known technology, in use for decades, with long long service histories — that was malfunctioning this horribly, how in the hell can we trust them with a new, unstudied technology?  If they are this incompetent with the known stuff, how can we trust them with the known unknowns?

I also find it amusing (as in, horrifying) that they have redacted the John Hopkins recommended limit on how many scans you can have a year.  Because we don’t need to know if we are too frequent a flier.  After all, it’s only more radiation on top of the radiation you already get and can’t avoid while flying.

Oh, and on top of it all?  There’s a beam shooting out of the top of it where you can end up exceeding 100 mrem per year.  Do you know if that is pointed at any balconies above screening areas irradiating airport employees?  I don’t.  You’re welcome.


  1. Timothy says:

    I brought this up with my local TSA scanners when I flew last Fall. As a former military NBC specialist, I was horrified to find TSA agents working around radiation sources without any kind of dosimetry. No one seemed concerned when I mentioned the probable OSHA violations occuring. The family and I will continue to drive and take the bus as much as possible to avoid amateurs with ionizing radiation devices.

  2. Phelps says:

    I do as well when they are feeling me up. I relate to them the story about the old shoe store fluoroscopes — and how the shoe salesmen who operated the machines were maimed and contracted cancer much more than any customers.

  3. kbiel says:

    After all, it’s only more radiation on top of the radiation you already get and can’t avoid while flying.

    Yes and there is no difference in intensity or type of radiation too right? Hey TSA bureaucrat, let me shine a laser in your eye for two seconds. There should be no harm after all; it’s the same amount of light exposure you get sitting in front of the TV for 2-4 hours.

  4. Phelps says:

    In case it wasn’t clear, mine was sarcasm. Airborne radiation is unavoidable as part of the process — the screening BS is completely avoidable and not worth the added risk.

  5. Rich Hailey says:

    First, I was a Navy nuke for 9 years and I’ve worked in radiation areas for over twenty five years. While the TSA redacted the text in the document from Johns Hopkins, they didn’t redact the numbers on the illustration. That means we can work backwards to figure out a reasonable estimate of the b lacked out doses.

    According to the illustration, the dose rate at 70″ is 1.6 urem per scan. Using the inverse square law, if we reduce the distance to 36 inches, we get a dose per scan of 6urem to the traveler. I chose 36″ as an estimate since the focal point of the exposure is located about chest high, but the whole body exposure will vary according to reason. A 3 foot distance would cover 6 feet, or head to toes. running the numbers, I come up with about 6 urem/scan for a traveler.

    This is not an exact estimate, but a reasonable approximation of the total exposure.

    Given 6 urem per scan, a traveler would have to be scanned about 12 times a day every day to exceed the 25 mrem guidance.

    Let’s look at the most conservative estimate, that the scanner imparts a dose of 10urem, the legal limit. IN the worst case, a traveler would have to be scanned 7 times a day, every day, for the dose to reach 25 mrem.

    For comparison, smoking one pack of cigarettes will give you an effective dose of 25 mrem.

    One pack of smokes gives you the same dose as one year of 7 scans per day.

    I’m no fan of the TSA by any means (haven’t flown since the new regs came into effect) but save your protests for issues with some basis in reality.

  6. Phelps says:

    I chose 36″ as an estimate since the focal point of the exposure is located about chest high, but the whole body exposure will vary according to reason.

    There’s a problem with that, Rich. This isn’t a whole body exposure. This is a scanning beam, irradiating a point with the entire source intensity in a spot a few millimeters wide. We haven’t studied the effects of that sort of exposure with any sort of depth.

    Like kbiel said, we’re talking about the difference between standing in sunlight and having a laser pointed at you.

  7. jmcelwee says:

    My Navy nuke-fu is getting old, but there is another problem with the whole body dose thing. It isn’t whole body dose. The wavelength of the beam is such that its entire energy is deposited in the skin (up to 1cm deep). If I recall correctly, the difference between whole body dose and skin dose is about an order of magnitude, so the 6urem per scan is actually more like 60urem, which your math says equates to 0.7 scans per day, something a frequent flier could easily do. This also assumes that the scanning beam scans correctly and does not get stuck and pore energy into one spot. The spot dose to the skin in that case would be hundreds of times higher, possibly enough to physically burn, but not necessarily. That would greatly increase the chance of cancer in the skin or gonads or cataracts in the eyes depending on where you were unlucky enough to be hit. Until DHS and TSA are willing to allow independent third party safety testing, I will not go through the scanners.

  8. Old Doctor Weasel says:

    As I understand, there are two different types of scanners. One is X-ray, the other is millimeter wave. X-rays are ionizing, and thus comparable to nuclear radiation, cosmic rays that hit you harder when flying at altitude, etc. The Navy nuke guys above know more than I do about that. Millimeter-wave energy is non-ionizing, and thus not a cancer threat at all unless you got burned by the beam (you can’t). All the millimeter wave beam can do is induce surface heating on your skin, so slight you’ll never notice it. Seriously, it’s not an issue.